Finding a way to 'yes'
Signs of spring have arrived in our great part of the world. Snow shovels have been stored, temperatures have begun to climb, and even the early-bird tourist can be found wandering the streets in search of an open business. Spring is also a symbol of change, newness and renewal, and there is much evidence of this abound.
As our great island wrestles with the realities of an aging and dwindling population, a shortage of housing, a lack of childcare, a dearth of healthcare and many other challenges, there is a silver lining sprouting through the ground next to the crocuses.
The 2016 Statistics Canada Census revealed that although Victoria County lost 26 people since 2011, the Village of Baddeck population grew ever so slightly. It in no way constitutes a tide, but a small trickle of new blood does appear to be flowing in. Some are new immigrants, others are domestic transplants, and others still, are islanders returning home from abroad. With this new cohort, comes new energy. A determination that the place they have chosen to come to, or come home to, should be the best damn place it can be.
Better still, this energy is contagious, acting like a fertilizer for nearby plants long-rooted in the rugged soil. As a result, I have witnessed the ‘renewal’ part of spring in which long-time characters have become committed to new ventures or found new enthusiasm to take on local challenges. For many, this energy has always been within them, it simply became temporarily dormant.
Let me step outside the metaphorical, and point to an example of this cross-pollination taking place. For some time now, staff and patrons of the Baddeck Library have realized that the current space is inadequate for the level of services and programs that the library offers, and that the community wants to see.
Since coming here three years ago, I have heard many ruminations about people organizing a committee or holding a public meeting to deal with the issue. And then one wintry evening this year, someone did just that. Baddeck Bay resident Jim Difiore rented the Masonic hall and invited people to come talk about what kind of library the community wanted. The event drew out approximately 25 people, some whose feathers were rustled because they had been quietly organizing a group to deal with the issue. They weren’t sure if another group was needed. But after discussion, the new folks, and the fairly-new folks decided to work as one.
This new group of people then held a bigger public meeting at the community hall where nearly 70 people attended. There was lively conversation, slides of libraries from around the world, and that energy that I spoke of earlier, filled the room. Young and old. From here and from there. All working towards a common goal. And for the moment, dreaming that money was no obstacle in creating a new library. From that meeting came a long list of ideas, wishes and names of people wanting to stay involved.
Flash forward to this past weekend where another planning meeting took place at St. Michael’s Hall. Only, this meeting didn’t seem to have the same vibe as the first. With approximately fifteen people around a table and a giant elephant lurking off to the side, proponents of a new library met immediate concern from a much older, more established group: The Baddeck Pubic Library Society. Formed in 1891, this group literally goes back to the days of Mabel Bell and her colleagues who were instrumental in seeing a library form in the village. At first, they were instrumental in housing and running the library. More recently, they have acted as stewards of the library by providing much-needed supplies and furnishings. So, on this day, members of the Society had come to ask why a new group was needed, when they had a fine one already set up to help the library.
At that point, the morning could have gone one of two ways. And, in the moment, I feared for the worst. But then a magical thing happened. Calmer winds prevailed. People voiced their fears and assumptions about the intentions of the groups, while others listened. Civility reigned while grievances were aired, and unintended wounds began to scab over before one’s eyes. In the end, the young and the old, the new and the not-so-new, came to realize that they could work together under one umbrella, even as they seemed to maintain differences on what a new library should look like, and how it could be afforded.
And while the new blood has much to learn from this fable, I want to point out a transformation that I think is equally important for the future of our island. When members of the Library Society initially began to speak, several talked of their skepticism that money for a new building could ever be raised. In other words, they started the conversation with ‘No’. But by the end of the conversation, as folks were shaking hands, I’m sure there were still those who doubted the possibility of a successful fundraising campaign. The attitude had shifted however, to “let us give you the tools we have so that you can see how far you can get with the idea.” That constituted a monumental shift in approach.
When Guysbourough County Fire Services Coordinator Shawn Andrews presented to Victoria County council last fall, he said his county’s CAO instructed him when he was hired to “find a way to yes”, anytime a firefighter needed something. And that is the attitude we must all try to adopt. Saying we can’t afford it, or it’s too hard a task is much too easy an answer. And we all know it will get us no further along.
Whether it be a repaired wharf in Baddeck, a bold economic vision for the tip of the island or a revised zoning plan in Ingonish, let us find success here at home by attempting to get to yes together.