Photo of Carleton Place’s Bridge Street by Patrick M. Doyle— the picture everyone wants to hate.
A spell ago, as they say in fables, Highway 7 was rerouted from travelling through the centre of Carleton Place. Then people stopped picking up their mail at the Post Office and the railway finally stopped coming to town. After that our little downtown shops, which used to house bustling retail, slowly turned into varying empty store-fronts that gape into the street.
Heck, there used to be some major industry in my beloved small town, along with agriculture. There was lots of good land; lots of family farms in Lanark County. But things changed, and the companies that ran the factories merged with other companies; manufacturing got consolidated or just moved elsewhere. Then the town began to sprawl. People wanted big lots and houses to match – not the small homes cheek by cheek in our town on the small lots.
Farms that used to support entire families and put kids through college began to be too small as power equipment came into style. As the machines got bigger farms were too small to support the expensive machinery, and not large enough to make full use of them. Then fewer kids wanted to spend the rest of their lives in back-breaking work as the profit margins got squeezed down. Farmers either had to take on more land or sell off land for subdivisions. For a lot of them, that turned out to be their retirement plan – and now a lot of good farm land is gone. In an almost an overnight fashion all of us became converted into a nation of “consumers” rather than neighbours.
Carleton Place does have its good points. It’s scenic, it’s quiet; there are rabbits and the occasional fox in my yard, and everyone does know your name. There’s still locally owned manufacturing but with the exception of a few, it’s on a smaller scale than it once was. Let’s not forget the town now has increasing petty crime, drug problems, even homelessness.
It absolutely kills me that the town I love is becoming a ghost town, just like many other small towns in this province. People go to the big city for entertainment, for shopping, and for jobs, and most of the rural downtown areas slowly get boarded up, because there is less reason for their existence.
Things are changing faster now than they did in years gone by. We’re more mobile, less anchored. That’s just the way things are. The emptiness of our Main Street is a function of economic as well as demographic change. When Walmart is cheaper than the local main street hardware store, Walmart is where a larger percentage shops. But again, we cannot forget that these larger stores hire our local citizens. There are however the other rural towns that didn’t let Walmart set up- are they doing any better?
Every single day I feel the painful disconnect between the people trying to revamp our town and the people holding so dearly onto the old one that once existed. It used to be that anyone with a work ethic and a few saved bucks could try their hand in retail. Small Mom and Pop shops, all a little unique and quirky, were once small- town Ontario. To those that paid attention–they still are. Now most Mom and Pops have been replaced with cookie cutter franchises and large box stores. Will these too soon be gone as well, replaced by the internet? Will big box stores and all that overhead soon be gone, replaced by Amazon and the web? Some call call this progress, the evolution of retail, I call it something different.
There is talk of major residential development coming to town, and that is fantastic news. But how can you guarantee how many people are going to choose to shop downtown? You can’t. Whose fault will it be if a greater percentage of those new folks choose to spend their money elsewhere other than Carleton Place? One thing I have learned when I owned a business for 25 years is that you cannot point the finger at anyone. I mean, when all of us can be brainwashed into thinking chains and anything outside our town is worthy of a place in your home I guess the consumer has spoken, and it shows us to be idiots.
There has to be a reason for a town to exist. Everything changes all the time. Every town, city, mega city is growing or shrinking, or doing both in some parts. Do small rural towns have a current reason to remain? Or how about small former industrial towns? Birth, growth, decline, death, rebirth is how things work.
We can fight it, but can we beat it? Go with the flow. Honor the memories. Reinvent the town if that will work. Otherwise, do we slowly let it die? It’s up to you to decide. Do we sit at the side of the road waiting for the grass to grow or fade instead of all of us working together for solutions? It’s your choice– make your voice count and it begins and ends with each one of us. Until all of us can agree to work together on the same page- nothing is going to happen.
Great read and I will continue to support the local businesses as I have since I moved here almost 45 years ago.
Thanks Sandy.. we have to stick together
Thanks Linda enjoyed your article. We moved here three years ago and enjoy the local restaurants, almost too much. I hope CP can get it together and resurrect our downtown area. I wonder why the town council cannot find out how Almonte, Merrickville and other small towns have made their towns a go to for travellers. We have a four lane highway bringing thousands of people through our town, something is not right.
I agree and from my personal perspective everyone from council to the groups that promote our town need to continually meet together to be on the same page. It is that easy:(