The year we went into de­fence mode

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Mahoney [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

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.

De­mol­ish

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.

Palace dis­sent

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.

Good news

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!”

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