Something big for bicentennial
The bicentennial of Alexandria, which will be celebrated in 2019, is a golden opportunity to create a long-lasting tribute to the past, a project that will be around long after 200th anniversary celebrations have faded into the mists of time.
Activities remembering the founding of the town will include a gala, a pictorial book and a barbecue. Undoubtedly, we can look forward to many others events that will be held under the bicentennial theme.
However, a more permanent recognition of the big occasion should also be considered once the slightly new North Glengarry council has been sworn in.
While milestones are times for reflection, they can also inspire visions of the future. Thus, it would behoove the township to look at undertaking a project that would salute the town’s history and continue efforts to stimulate the local economy. An anniversary development that would observe the past and attract tourists -- what could be wrong with that?
Yes, but what would it be? The possibilities are endless, but time is marching on so we must focus. Let’s see, historical factoids might be of assistance. We know that Alexandria, priding itself as the big town of Glengarry, started out as Priest’s Mill back in 1819, when a grist mill was erected on the Garry River by the Reverend Alexander Macdonell, who later became the first Catholic Bishop of Upper Canada. The settlement was modest: Records list 12 buildings in 1823. But the railway, which led to the creation of our country, also led to progress in Alexandria.
The arrival of the Canada Atlantic Railway in 1882 opened northern Glengarry up to markets in Ottawa, Montreal and the United States.
In 1884, the settlement was incorporated as a village. In 1902, the village was incorporated as a town. The population at that time was 2,069.
One wonders why the population has not dramatically increased since then, particularly when the rail lines spurred investment. The town would become famous for the “buggy from Glengarry,” produced by the Munro and McIntosh carriage company and J.T. Schell’s woodworking and cheese box factory.
Yet, the young men grew restless. History tells us that almost half of the young male Glengarrians had left home before the start of World War I. The formation of the Glengarry Highland Society in 1909 helped to steam the exodus. But the town’s status contributed to a further drop in its size. As the “hub of Glengarry,” the town hosted the armories, which was a recruitment centre during The Great War, which is estimated to have claimed the lives of one per cent of the total male population.
Courage and sacrifice would be natural parts of any monument observing the early years of the community.
However, it would not need to be totally sombre. For example, Alexandria was also known for the hockey sticks fashioned by Joseph Choquette in the 1930s and 1940s.
A 200th birthday project could blend in with improvements outlined in the township’s parks master plan.
One of the prime objectives of the upgrades is to install public art and “interactive community features” to draw people to Island Park and Mill Pond.
Other features will be pedestrian connections between Island Park and Mill Square.
A 200th anniversary spin could easily be added to, say, a new band shell that would be placed in a prominent spot in Island Park.
The many creative minds in this area can surely devise an installation that would acknowledge the past and envisage the future.
An imaginative yet practical feel-good fixture would be a grand way to celebrate Alexandria’s birthday.