The year we went into defence mode
They are barely hanging on. That is one of the more memorable signature lines uttered by the great, ageless, much imitated broadcaster Bob Cole. The phrase, used to describe a hockey team, back on its heels, clinging to a one-goal lead, could also aptly summarize the year 2016 for many Glengarrians.
Over the last 12 months, it seemed that at every turn a landmark, institution or service was being menaced. Libraries and schools were jeopardized by the human decision makers who were acting in the name of efficiency. Other forces, such as fire, felled familiar structures. The Bonnie Glen Pavilion in Alexandria, the Roman Catholic church in StIsidore and a barn at Leducdale Farms near Dunvegan were among the buildings ravaged by flames.
In many respects, Glengarrians were hunkering down in 2016, trying to protect what was near and dear to them, attempting to fend off the figure-obsessed outsiders who could not calculate the true impact of closing valuable services.
The Save Our Libraries movement failed to salvage the branches in Dalkeith, St. Andrews West and Morewood. However, a group of citizens, with the help of North Glengarry, did manage to resurrect the Dalkeith library, as a volunteer-run community centre.
In the library controversy, the branch defenders contended that closure advocates were out of touch with the affected communities, and that money could not be the deciding factor.
The same themes are being echoed as Glengarry holds its breath as the Upper Canada District School Board ponders recommendations to shutter five English-language public schools in the county.
In March, the board will hand down its final verdict. Glengarry, or parts of it, will either heave a sigh of relief, or brace for the impact of losing one or more schools.
The closure argument is based on the concept that less is better because a consolidated school network can save money while delivering better services. As an aside, the same notion was advanced when municipalities were merged in 1998.
The economy of scale stance never cut it with status quo defenders, The Glengarry Solution proponents, who stress that shutting a school has major widespread impacts, effects that could not be quantified.
As Bob Cole would say, the Glengarry Solution team has pulled out all of the stops.
One of the more interesting options pre- sented during the Save Our Schools debate has been the “demolish to save” notion. Rural schools are in jeopardy because there aren't enough students to fill all those empty spaces. Have too much costly room? Simple? Downsize, using a wrecking ball. North Glengarry has generously offered to lop off a section of Maxville Public School, convenient- ly eliminating surplus spaces and guaranteeing the survival of the institution. Trouble is that the building belongs to the school board.
Tearing down a section of a perfectly good building is senseless and wasteful. Yet desperate times produce desperate ideas.
Sadly, little consultation with other public bodies, such as municipalities, and community organizations took place before the schools were put on the chopping block. Did anyone know about the surplus space crisis before the board's draft closure report was approved in September? Discussions between “stakeholders” before the report was released could have generated ideas on facility-sharing agreements.
The end of a long-standing sharing deal looms as South Glengarry is determined to withdraw from the Glengarry Sports Palace agreement. The South no longer wants to pay its 25 per cent share of the Alexandria arena expenses. The North has responded that its neighbour cannot withdraw. Little concrete action towards an intermunicipal divorce took place in 2016. Stay tuned.
RIP shoe tree
Alexandria garnered outside, big-city media attention when the town's shoe tree lost its soles. For years, the collection of shoes suspended from the tree branches stood peacefully on Kenyon Street.
But North Glengarry feared that footwear could fall from the tree, hit a pedestrian and/or clog up a monster snowblower. So the township had the shoes removed from the attraction. In the meantime, a coveted catalpa tree in Mill Square bit the dust after it was deemed to be too weak to be salvaged, and also could compromise public safety.
There were many sources of stress. We had snow in April, a Summer-long drought, black bear sightings and warnings about Fentanyl.
Don't cry wolf
One of the better moves the township made was the installation of fake wolves at Island Park to scare off the resident flock of Canada geese. The municipality has in the past futilely tried many ways to keep the birds from defecating on the beach of park in Alexandria. The decoys worked.
Another sound investment was the acquisition of a weed eater that removes algae from Mill Pond and entertains lunchtime park visitors.
And downtown Alexandria continues to look better as Community Improvement Plan projects come to fruition.
Bad news tends to dominate headlines, but
The News also shared some uplifting stories, such as school board trustee Wendy MacPherson's successful battle against cancer, and restaurant owner Terry Sauvé's kidney transplant. The donor was his stepdaughter.
Glengarry's first Habitat for Humanity project was completed last year when Manon Brousseau and her family moved into their new home in Lancaster.
Boulangerie Lanthier Bakey, the makers of the famed Betty Bread, is in the process of completing a huge expansion.
We reported on the arrival of a family of Syrian refugees in Alexandria, and on lottery winners, champions in all sorts of sports, on milestones, anniversaries, the Grotto restoration. Every year has its ups and downs. If we are lucky, 2017 will serve up moments that will make us exclaim, to quote Bob Cole, “Oh, baby!”