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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Invasion of The County

If you read the National Post, you may have noticed an article in Saturday's Toronto section about Prince Edward County. "The County", as the locals call it, is a large peninsula which juts out into Lake Ontario south of Belleville. For decades it was too remote from the economic activity of the rest of Southern Ontario to experience any of the rapid development that other communities like Kingston experienced; consequently, it largely retained its small-town rural charm. It also has spectacular beaches and beautiful bays and inlets.

Well, The County has been discovered. "Toronto people" are buying up lakefront properties, building monster homes, establishing wineries, opening gourmet restaurants, antique shops, spas and B&Bs everywhere. Prince Edward County is the new Niagara-on-the-lake. Celebrities like the late Robert Urich, Sonja Smits and chef Jamie Kennedy all have homes there.

I'm not anti-development - in fact, I moved to Eastern Ontario from Toronto myself 20 years ago for the very same reasons, and I think everyone who has the resources should be able to do the same. However, this type of gentrification has a down-side: it's not necessarily good for the local long-time inhabitants.

As Deirdre McMurdy of The Post wrote, quoting a store-owner in Picton; "We should be doing better with all the money coming in the area these days. But the fact is, the city people don't shop here in a big way and the local people can't afford to live here anymore. Our trade has become very seasonal and by Thanksgiving it's mighty quiet".

People who live and work in the area year-round can't afford the million-dollar lakefront lots, and need steady employment. That means that places like Prince Edward County need affordable subdivisions of new homes to live in and industrial development to provide jobs. The problem is that this kind of growth is anathema to the wealthy people who come to the County for its unspoiled bucolic charm. Every subdivision, every big-box store, every land-fill site, and especially every new industry is fought tooth and nail by well-heeled nouveau-residents with lots of legal resources. There's even opposition to a wind turbine electrical generator array along the lake which might spoil the view, although you'd think that the celebrities who summer there would close their eyes and think of Kyoto.

People who drive through beautiful rural areas like Prince Edward County, the Niagara Peninsula, or the Kawartha Lakes and shudder with disgust every time they see a factory being built or a group of bungalows going up in a farmer's field need to get a grip on reality. This is especially true of people who move there and then cry "no more!" when others try to do the same, and fight to prevent the very development that allowed them to live in the area in the first place. These regions cannot exist in some kind of fossilized stasis for the amusement of tourists - otherwise the whole place would have to be turned over to Parks Canada and run as a living history museum, with the locals in their amusing costumes performing their quaint folkways for paying guests.

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