A lesson from the States?

Posted 01.26.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Our family's Christmas dinner this past year included most of the family -- university students and working adults can be away, on other continents. A favourite in-law of mine was there -- he's often absent since he operates underwater robots for oil-drilling companies. He has worked off Kuwait and Iran, Alaska, in the North Sea, and, now, in the Gulf of Mexico. He usually has tales to tell.

His most interesting was this: Last summer he worked in the Gulf, based in a large town on the Louisiana coast, west of New Orleans and the Mississippi delta. What he found in this port for shrimpers and fisherman, mainly, is a story repeated across North America -- towns and small cities with destitute downtowns, commercial sections reduced to tattoo parlours and small diners, but with extensive suburbs, most homes on huge lots, and serviced by shopping malls, mega -- malls we'd call them, according to my nephew.

This picture is changing, says my nephew. This town does have the deserted downtown and the ostentatious suburbs, but few malls -- in fact there were none. None open.

There were no small stores at all, but there was one massive Walmart.

Everyone apparently shopped there for groceries, hardware, gifts, clothing, and auto parts. The store, said my nephew, advertised everywhere its "community commitment."

It provides a lot of jobs, although no mention was made of the pay; given the economy is the southern US, ravaged by Katrina not long ago, any kind of job will have to do. There were several gas stations with convenience stores attached, and strings of fast-food franchises with big plastic signs. The nearest town was over half an hour drive.

Think of it, a town a little smaller than Aylmer, Quebec, -- with one store.

That will never happen here, of course. We can always drive to Ottawa or Hull. Some even drive down to the US border to shop.

But it is possible to picture Aylmer's main street, rue Principale, with absolutely no shops and only a few fast-food places. Or picture our existing malls either closed or occupied by two or three big box stores like the Walmart on the Gulf. No Bulletin, no radio station. Isn't it alarming that this is even a possibility?

Some readers may wonder, if they can buy everything they need at a Walmart and at the cheapest price, why would they care if we lost our small shops, supermarkets, and pharmacies, our restaurants, stores and even our chain-store outlets. One place, big parking lot, cheap prices: Isn't that what they mean by quality of life?

Snooty people can drive elsewhere for their fancy purchases! The Francophones who don't want to be greeted in English can drive to Hull!

This isn't a fantasy, it's a nightmare. But it is one a lot of us are busy creating. Forget losing the heritage St Paul’s church; do we really want Aylmer to become "just another bedroom suburb?"


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/01.13