The Politics of Small Town Change in Carleton Place


Thursday August 13, 2015

Town of Carleton Place rejects St. James Anglican Church’s request to allow Manitoulin Chocolate Works to bring their business to town and restore Elliot Hall.
Related reading: The Willy Wonka Blues of Carleton Place

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How many small towns are truly successful without change? Some prosper, while many others suffer disinvestment, loss of identity and even abandonment. Towns like Perth keep their historic character and quality of life in the face of a rapidly changing world. Other towns have lost the very features that once gave them distinction and appeal. Perth, Merrickville, Almonte and many others accepted change without losing their heart and soul.

Those particular small towns have done it minus the cookie-cutter development, that has turned many communities into faceless places. They refused to be the small towns that young people flee, tourists avoid and which no longer instill a sense of pride in residents. Sound familiar?

Successful communities always have a plan for the future. Unfortunately, “planning” is a dirty word in communities, especially in small towns and rural areas. In some places, this is the result of today’s highly polarized political culture. It is difficult to name any successful business that doesn’t have a business plan. Without one it would a very hard time attracting investors or staying competitive in the marketplace.

It seems to be written in stone that some people in small towns don’t like change. But they need to understand that change is inevitable. The dynamics of the population and consumer attitudes are always changing, and they will affect a community whether people like it or not. Success only happens when we “embrace”  new and old ideas that can help our small businesses, and entice new ones.

A new industrial park is not going to attract tourists that spend money at our local businesses. We have an abundance of historic buildings, and an attractive and accessible waterfront that is underused. It also feels like the powers to be just want the town to stay the same. The more a community comes to look just like every other small town the less reason there is for anyone to visit. All we need to do is implement a small number of new ideas in Carleton Place. They could make a huge difference in this community.

Of course every town has its naysayers. The word “no”, is a very powerful word in a small community. Leaders of successful communities know that “yes” is a much better word for progress. Communities that embrace the future will prosper, and those that do not will decline. Sameness is not a plus-it is a huge minus. Small unique businesses like the Manitoulin Chocolate Works are the key to our small towns’ future. We need to leave a positive legacy. Don’t let the fear of change obscure the inevitability and necessity of progress like the Carleton Place Council did tonight.

Linda Seccaspina, 2015

If you want to now some history about that area and the different commercial  and non commercial places of Bell Street and area read here.

Buy Linda Secaspina’s Books— Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac– Tilting the Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place and 4 others on Amazon or Amazon Canada or Wisteria at 62 Bridge Street in Carleton Place

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

14 responses »

  1. We have faced the same roadblocks in the small community I now call home. Last month the County Executive proposed a new industrial park out in no man’s land. Why? The employees won’t be shopping in stores or eating in restaurants because there are none around for miles. It drives me nuts.


  2. This is so wrong on many levels. Bridge street rip. No vision, no leadership, just rent my place (conflict of interest) not the church place. So they will go, and any others seeing this won’t want to invest.


    • Jean I posted this about Bridge Street–have you looked at Bridge Street? I keep hearing ‘they should go to Bridge Street as “there are vacant spots”. There was a feasibility study done years ago for the town . “The town hired a consultant in the 1990’s under Brian Costello’s watch on how to improve the Main Street. The consultants first words on the report was that, (and I will put it nicely) it wasn’t the most attractive Main Street in the area.-This is in a blog I did about Lorne Hart– and his exact words. The chocolate company chose this spot for the vista etc and I understand why. Bridge Street is another place that needs major work.. But that is not what we are talking about. I guess I am in shock that this a presidence the town should not set.


  3. l am for bringing more business to town’ because the average family spending is still out of town. Yes there’s Wallmart and Giant Tiger, but sometimes u want something else and the hours don’t comply to someone who works days all week. And the prices of clothing down town is to high.
    We need to employ all the new people coming to live here as well.So really people without large company’s also expect your taxes to go up someone has to pay for the growth.Or stop with more residential homes.


  4. A unique business like Manitoulin Chocolate Works is a win win for CP, on so many levels. It would boost the attractiveness of other like businesses to invest in our community, it would draw tourists and become a destination – a reason for people to come here. People would be exited to have a unique place to shop for that little gift of chocolate and have a coffee. Not to mention the attention it would get from the city to the east.
    I hear from people who are from away, some tourists that I happen to run into and extended family who come here quite often, including Aunts and Uncles (who were born here 70 years plus ago) come from as far away as Sweden, south western Ontario, Kingston, Montreal and yes Ottawa and Gatineau and they really like CP, but I always hear “there is nothing drawing me here and there is so much potential.” Change is hard, and re-zoning seems even harder. I thought that the Ontario Government was all about encouraging a mix of residential and small interprises in small towns to help give the community a sense of “community” and boost the prosperity of small towns. The location that Manitoulin had hoped for and dreamed about is a beautiful unique setting that they fell in love with and had a vision for CP. It really boggles my mind that 5 people and now 5 politicians plus staff can go against something that is so vitally important to the future and to the vision of our unique community. Surely an exception to the rule could be made! As there is ALWAYS an exception to the rule!!!! Carleton Place had here the opportunity to take a step forward and become that “neat little town just west of Kanata”


  5. I am saddened to hear that the Town and select residents of Carleton Place have been so unwelcoming and shortsighted and have rejected the development opportunity with The Manitoulin Chocolate Works. As a lifetime resident of the area, I have seen many changes over the years and witnessed the Town grow from typical “small-Town Ontario”, where everybody would say Hello to each other on the street, to our current state (and what appears to be the current vision) of a Bedroom community for Ottawa.

    Change will happen regardless… but it is the choices we make as a community on how it shapes the Town, our quality of life, how we are seen by surrounding communities, and the legacy we leave for the generations after us. My Father ran a small shoe store in downtown Carleton Place for 42 years called Ken’s Discount Shoes… It was a “unique” business… shoes and boots filling every square foot of the place including up to the 15-foot ceilings. We had an eclectic blend of offerings but what brought people to the store were the sweet deals on Naturalizer and Jones New York shoes, Boulet Boots and Birkenstocks….and the chance to deal with My Dad, Ken himself. My siblings and I were lucky enough to work at the store and learn the value and impact a small business can make in a community. We witnessed how a small but unique business can be well-known outside of our town limits and draw people from not only the surrounding Ottawa area, but from large cities like Montreal and Toronto.

    “Ken’s” heyday was during the same time period as other dearly departed local other shops with long histories, character and charm. Some of us might remember Cook’s, Eade’s Home Hardware, The Olympia Restaurant and Howard McNeely’s Barber Shop. I still remember the sights, smells and sounds of these places and most importantly, I remember and miss the people who owned and worked at them. These were businesses that were well-known throughout the region for their small-town service and the charm of being able to deal with the owners…or perhaps the family of the owner.

    The difference in this experience for most customers is that they were doing business with real people, not a corporation. Couple that experience with a unique service or excellent product and you have something special that big box stores and chains can’t “price-match” or offer online… you have a reason for people to come to that store. Combine THAT with several like-minded “destination shops” and you have a reason for people outside the immediate area to come to Carleton Place… not just a quick stop on the way through town but to make it a destination. They then have justification to come to Carleton Place to shop at several stores, have lunch and perhaps spend the entire day in our Community. I remember working in my Father’s store and getting ready for the rush as bus tours would make their stop at Ken’s Shoes and other stores in the area. Other individuals would plan a day with friends, jump in a car and make a road trip to come to the store. There were “Regulars” who would come every few months from Montreal, Kingston, Pembroke, Brockville and too many more places to mention.

    There are not as many, but I am glad that we still have a handful of these stores in the area like Dack’s Jewelers, Graham’s Shoes, The Blossom Shop, The Granary, The Good Food Company, The Thirsty Moose, and Sinder’s to name a few. We cannot have enough of these types of shops and businesses in our community in my opinion. To have something as unique and wonderful as a chocolate factory and tea room run by the owners would seem a perfect addition for a town like Carleton Place. I could certainly understand the trepidation and I could support the “Not in my backyard” stance taken if this proposed business were a bar or seedy operation run by bikers or shady individuals. But this is a married couple wanting to bring a family-friendly business to our town and raise their children among us. Oh… and spend money to revitalize and restore a Community Heritage Landmark at the same time! Sounds like a gift and blessing to me, but I am obviously confused.

    The addition of Manitoulin Chocolate Works would have helped draw more people to Carleton Place and would have benefited other businesses here. Beyond the obvious loss of commerce and business opportunity to our town, this is hurts our reputation and sends a very negative message. I feel embarrassed that this has happened and these people had to go through several community meetings and beg to bring us their opportunity. They had to attend what sounded like a court trial and were told that their presence here would ruin our community and negatively impact the quality of life in Carleton Place. I can’t imagine what they think of Carleton Place now, but I do know that I would be looking at other towns if I were them. I am sure they will be welcomed with open arms by one of our neighbours like Perth, Pakenham or Almonte…maybe even Beckwith. The good news for those who chased them away is that the crisis is averted and we can continue losing our small town feel and identity. Sleep well Carleton Place!

    Kent Blackburn


    • Kent, I remember your dad well and I posted a picture of him a few weeks ago when he was about 6 years old. I too came from a family business and I ran one myself. I guess i am gobsmacked how this ordeal seemed to be like freight train running through town– no hello or goodbye just a mass of hot air. This does not look like a Welcome to Carleton Place at all. This is not how the town should be known. In the old days you just had newspapers- now you have social media to spread the word. While it should not be a witch hunt for those who made the decision- I would hope people would think about this and wonder how many more businesses we are going to lose.


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