Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Archive for May 2008

Wal-Mart Is Almost Here!

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If your town has a Wal-Mart does that mean you’re a member of a dubiously exclusive club?

If a portion of the townsfolk rises up in protest against the barbarian retailer are they misguided defenders of the status quo?

If town council consistently falls on their swords of planning and zoning does that mean they’ve turned a blind eye to the wishes of those they supposedly serve?

If over $100,000.00 is spent over four weeks to give democratic hearing to both sides of the argument is that enough to appease the disgruntled?

Who knows? Some would also say, ‘who cares.’ There are winners and losers in this issue that has floated around Saugeen Shores for the last year or so. Over ten different appeals and an online petition have been filed against the ‘big box’ infringement. On April twenty-second, The OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) dismissed them all and decreed that Shoreline Shopping Centres (Wal-Mart) can start building…although they are apparently still entertaining a ‘Request For Review’ from those who refuse to give up or give in.

The world’s biggest retailer will eventually build 11,148 square metres of store, plus an additional 16,350 squares metres for four additional buildings. Canadian Tire will also be relocating to the site. All this at the southern edge of Port Elgin on Highway 21. Not the prettiest part of town. Actually it’s far enough out of Port not to effect the downtown core in any manner other than financially…as the detractors have been saying.

The Toronto Daily Star, The Globe and Mail, even the erudite Walrus Magazine picked up the story. Each side was given a just hearing. But, at times, it felt like the issue was growing arms and legs. It just wouldn’t go away. No one could decide what was more critical.

·      Increased traffic flow on already stressed streets.

·      The increase in harmful local emissions from increased traffic,which would reflect negatively on the physical health of the neighbourhood.

·      The negative environmental impact.

·      Safety issues arising from the large 800-car parking lot.

·      The negative safety issues arising from the Rail Trail that runs directly behind the site.

·      Financial damage to small business.

·      Offshore manufactured product that’s cheap and potentially hazardous to your health.

·      …And more.

You would think that Wal-Mart was a corporate vampire sucking the local lifeblood out of the town. In some places they are. But here…in Saugeen Shores…who knows…really.

Saugeen Shores has a population of 12,500. How many will be shopping at Wal-Mart? Perhaps those that drive to the one in Owen Sound. The population swells to over 40,000 come summer. Obviously there’s some business there. But, again, not every one of those tourists/summer people are confirmed Wal-Mart Shoppers. Just how much business will come their way is ‘wait and see.’

The long and short of it is this: they are building in a basically barren part of town. They can only clean it up. Municipal coffers will bulge with new tax revenue. Local retailers will be forced to compete. Prices, hopefully, with be competitive…everywhere. There will be jobs for those who want to be Wal-Mart slaves. The consumer will benefit – somehow. Eventually it will seem like there never was an issue.

Mounds of dirt now sit on the site. Bulldozers have turned the land into a banquet table for Seagulls. The deed is done.

My only thought, from all of this, is the nature of change. How people react to or resist it. How they fear any upset of the status quo. From what I’ve seen of change I know that it is a relentless force that eventually sneaks up on you. You think you can beat it, hold it back, and scare it away. You can’t. Change moves inexorably forward and sweeps everyone along with it.

We are a small town. And as a small town we must fight for the values that keep us that way. But we must never think small. We must never be small minded. That will kill us. When change presents itself we must deal with it, accept it or redirect it as best we can.

Against Wal-Mart there are those who have done just that. They stood their ground based on their beliefs.

Decisions have been made, thought. Now, we move on.




Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

May 23, 2008 at 8:15 PM

Posted in Home Town, thoughts

City Noise or Saving Your Soul with Silence.

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Michelangelo once said, “I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all”.

That’s all well and good considering the times he lived in. Nature was raw and unforgiving. In the countryside farming was a difficult way to earn a living. You laboured for the landowner, not yourself. In the cities most everyone’s livelihood was sourced from art, architecture and religion. Commerce was basic. Life moved at a snail’s pace back then.

There was a time when I sold my soul to the city. It was when I was young, building a career, a reputation and earning a living. As I grew older I felt the city was stealing my soul even though I was earning a good living. When it came time for me to give way and get out of the way, I knew I couldn’t stay.  So, I left Toronto behind and took my soul with me because it needed rejuvenation.

There was too much of everything in the city – people, crowds, competition, traffic, construction, a pervasive ‘have-you-seen-have-you-been-to-I-gotta’-have” attitude and above all noise.

The constant hum of movement 24/7 was relentless. Streetcars, buses and subway contributed in their own way. Sirens wailed. Citywide traffic congestion began before sunrise and ended after sunset. The sound of speed drifted up from the superhighways and hovered over the houses built nearby. Their only buffer came from towering walls that were supposed to absorb traffic noise.

If I were to heal my soul I needed peace and quiet.

Southampton gives me that.

From Thanksgiving to Victoria Day Weekend it sleeps undisturbed. Winter’s blanket muffles all sound. There is no noise per se. Just quietude.

We hear wind. And when it forcefully blows off shore, we hear the breakers on the beach. Geese signal their fall leaving and spring return. When they migrate back birds begin to sing at 4:30 in the morning. The odd dog barks. A car goes by every now and then. A guttural outboard hums along the river.

My vehicle is the only sound I hear as I drive leisurely through empty county roads, past rolling farm fields and wooded vistas. Rural silence.

From mid May to October we welcome the tourists and summer people who bring the big city noise with them. Weekends aren’t much fun. The noise level in town reminds me of where I used to live. But it all leaves by Sunday. That’s why they come, though, to have a good time and escape the confines of the city.

On the crowded beaches you can’t hear the waves breaking because of radios blaring. But we know a quiet place the tourists haven’t discovered yet.

Southampton is the silence I was seeking. It is close enough to the nature that Michelangelo didn’t want any part of and far enough away from the city life he loved so much. 

Where do you go in a big metropolis to find salvation? Maybe he was happy in cities because that’s where all his big commissions were. Who knows?

My salvation lives in the country. Smallness gives lift to my soul. Noise doesn’t follow me everywhere I go.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

May 2, 2008 at 9:54 PM

Posted in thoughts