The death of rural communities in Canada

Last night I attended a presentation by a Calgary woman, sponsored by the Bruderheim Town Office.

The presentation was on the results of and the recommendations found through a study done in about October last year of the architectural and historical features of the appearance of the buildings that comprise Bruderheim’s main street.

The presenter is an architect from a consultant firm (perhaps her own) for community design strategies.  Her presentation on main-street vitalization was good and focused on various examples of Alberta rural communities, with photos of buildings and main streets before and after renovations and restauration had been done.

She recommended good ideas for a few things that would not cost a terrific amount of money and effort expected to come primarily from the owners of the various buildings and through volunteers.  It was somewhat ironic that the presenter, when she mentioned the need to employ volunteers, pointed into the direction of two men in the audience who had spent the last two years devoting themselves full-time to the construction of the race track for the Bruderheim chuck-wagon and chariot races. One of those men is 73 years old, and the other is in his mid-eighties.

One particular item of discussion was a two-story building that existed in Bruderheim for about a hundred years, with its original splendor (it’s definitely worth restoring and preserving) not ever having been restored or preserved. The building is owned by a 94-year-old man who lives in a modern house in Bruderheim.  That historical building is now boarded up, has not been used and not even been painted for many years.  It has a roof that deteriorated to the point that it is losing large areas of its shingles.

The presenter stated that that building, being structurally sound, is well worth preserving and used as an example of such an effort her 1915-house in Calgary, which she said she owns and lives in and whom she engaged herself in to restore and upgrade.

I thanked her for her presentation and, because she had waxed very enthusiastic over her experiences with various facilitated work sessions with residents from various towns over the years, whether in any of those sessions anyone ever had asked about how the vision of a given community’s future provided through various beautification programs could be sustained in the absence of children.

She responded that children and students had participated in those sessions and had made valuable contributions.  I replied that that was not exactly the point of my question.

I explained that just in 2004 there had been a strenuous effort to keep the Bruderheim School open.  It was then under a serious threat of being closed because of the lack of students.  The school presently has a sufficient number of students, so that its continued existence is not at present in danger, but that is only temporary and mainly caused by families migrating to Bruderheim on account of the boom in oil-industry construction that had come to a halt last year.

I explained that the reality of that is that not many families with children will continue to come to Bruderheim and that the overall decline in the number of children growing up here as in all of rural Alberta that had been prevalent for some decades will continue.  Not only that, but new immigrants, the only present means of revitalizing rural communities, are not coming to rural Alberta.  They settle in the large Canadian cities.  Rural communities are dying.

The majority of the few children (whose number is steadily declining) whom we raise in rural communities grow up and move away, leaving an elderly population behind.  The result of that is that we will have more and more properties such as that owned by the 94-year-old man that will become more and more dilapidated and eventually fall into disrepair to such an extent that they will become structurally unsound.  Once such properties reach the state of that building, they will take about 15 or a few more years to become condemned and will then be demolished.

On account of that trend, Bruderheim lost its Rail Road Station, its windmill, its elevators and a good number of buildings that should have been preserved as historic buildings.  Not even the Town’s offer to sell one of the buildings for a dollar saved that building from being demolished.

To drive the point home,  I asked for a show of hands by people who were either raising children in Bruderheim right now or who have grandchildren living in town.  One hand was shown.

No, the consultant had never discussed issues like that in any of her planning sessions, yet, in my mind it is vitally necessary to consider those demographic trends if we not only wish to preserve our cultural heritage but our Canadian way of life.  Not only that, but without children there will be a dwindling population of elderly in rural Alberta.  Absent children will not grow into elderly residents.  Without children we will all die out without anyone taking our place.

I did not say what all of the efforts of main street revitalization can be compared to.  Those efforts are as futile as the efforts of a childless woman in her eighties who, instead of having renewed herself through bearing and raising children and growing old in dignity, tries to maintain an appearance of youthfulness by wearing miniskirts and garish makeup.

There is a reason for the existence of ghost towns.  Moreover, even ghost towns will eventually vanish, no matter how much we try to hold off the inevitable.  Without children we will vanish, and with that our culture will vanish too, a culture that not all that long ago gleamed with vitality but is now a culture of death.

With about 120,000 government-funded abortions annually, Canada is financing its own demise.  We are a nation that has lost its will to live.

Update 2009 01 10:  A related article looks at some of those issues in the context of demographic trends in the whole world.

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