The View From Afar

Posted on November 26, 2013 under Storytelling with 2 comments


Sometimes you have to go far away to appreciate what you have in your own back yard.  It’s hard to spot Antigonish while staring out over the Gulf of Mexico, but when tourists from various parts of the world ask you about your hometown, it comes into clear view.

So what do I tell people about my home town?  To paraphrase the words of the mayor of Toronto, “We’re not perfect.”

I usually start with the longstanding institutions that anchor each end of the town; St. Martha’s Regional Hospital and St. F. X. University.  They are the major drivers of the local economy and they contribute so much more in many ways.  Expertise from the university and the hospital reaches far beyond their hallowed halls.  Learning is shared and utilized.  Most importantly we gain new people with fresh ideas who weave themselves into the fabric of our community.  And the Coady International Institute brings the world to our doorstep.

I tell people about the other pillars of the local economy; fishing, farming and forestry.  These industries have all faced enormous challenges but somehow they survive and thrive.

The late Fr. Leo “Pops” McKenna often opined that we are living in paradise and don’t realize it.  We have clean air, clean water and well-maintained services and infrastructure.  Beauty surrounds us, from the lakes, forests, rivers and beaches to Main Street, where civic pride shines brightly through the Communities in Bloom initiative.

Our recreation facilities are second to none and this helps to promote wellness.  We cannot underestimate the importance of a healthy population.  And we are increasingly being recognized as a “green” community.   We take the environment seriously as demonstrated by our comprehensive recycling programs, waste treatment facility and groups engaged in the cleanup of roads, rivers and streams.

Most communities are defined by culture and there are not many small towns anywhere in the world where you have the depth of talent that we see every day.   We have world class professional theatre as well as an equally impressive community product.  We have writers and musicians and incredibly talented visual artists and dancers.  And our University boasts one of the premier jazz studies programs in North America.

I would love to see a world class performing arts centre in the middle of town.  If we can build the state-of-the art library that has become the hub of our community, then why not a music facility?  For us, our youth, visitors and those contemplating a move to the area – what a drawing card that would be.

Increasingly we are more open and accepting of immigrants to our community.  They bring skill and industry and their stories speak of hope and resilience.  We need   these folks and should embrace them and their families as they begin new lives among us.

The measure of any community is how it treats its most vulnerable members.   I fervently wish that we didn’t need the Food Bank.  Affordable housing is in scarce supply everywhere, more so in a university town.  There are many groups working on this but I think it is an urgent issue that needs broader support and innovation.  The importance of food security and adequate housing cannot be overstated.  If we can find a way to help people meet their basic needs, then everyone can enjoy the amenities of our town and county.

When I lean on the railing and look out over the Gulf, Antigonish sure looks good.  It is a place of natural beauty, of giving and receiving, of work well-done and endeavors yet to be accomplished.  Despite the trials and tribulations in our daily lives we should all feel blessed to live there.

No, we’re not perfect.  But we’re pretty darned good.



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