The weekend of Maple in the County 2008, four wheels rolled over the Skyway Bridge and continued spinning over the noisy segments of concrete on County Rd. 49. It was a familiar drive, but it was all new.
Like most tourist towns, Prince Edward County has been in the business of selling dreams. For many, it has been the lure of the beach or the grape. Others have enjoyed the peace of living in a community their ancestors were raised in. Under the wide open sky, there was room for all possibilities.
That weekend, that dream became something I shared. Having just been handed the keys to Canada’s oldest weekly newspaper, it was time to seek out and share the stories that make the community tick. Though the county wasn’t my community at the time, the task had been in the plans for some time in any community.
There’s a real high in being able to share in others’ dreams and struggles, to be trusted to elevate their voices with your own and tell stories that move people. This county provided that in spades. Whether those people had just arrived or been here for years, there was a warm, hospitable welcome coupled with a genuine appreciation for those willing to listen, to learn, and to share their passion with others.
Quickly, it became apparent this place was diverse and its citizenry engaged like few other places I’ve experienced. It was easy to leap in with both feet.
Generally, the best way to do that was to just observe and let the community tell its own story — though occasionally, being involved had to mean becoming the story. That was fun, though those that may recall the writer who prefers the shadow to the spotlight walking the boards at Mt. Tabor in pink tights that left little to the imagination, might be quick to disagree.
Often, though a storyteller lives life vicariously through his subjects and I’m thankful for all those who provided that window.
Permanently etched in the memory bank are communal triumphs like the first skate at the Wellington and District Community Centre or a ribbon cutting at the residential hospice, the latter spurned on in part because a donor read a line in this paper about the need.
Never forgotten will be the emotions as the clock ticked down on a basketball court as Rob Garden and his charges felt frustration for several years at the highest level before a breakthrough many felt they could share in. To see youth in community programs grow and learn, then give back their experience to others is incredibly moving.
Nights weeping over friends divided, many poring over technical reviews and sitting in environmental hearings over industrial wind also remain in focus.
Details of dreams denied and growing pains also run true as memories. Community members reached out to the Gazette when they had trouble finding housing, dealing with immigration, or collecting pensions and sharing their stories was always humbling and empowering.
It’s been a special privilege to be embraced as a storyteller worthy of all those folks and, in one breath, it’s extremely hard to think that after this week, I won’t clacking the keys, visiting farms, or stopping at the store to discuss those latest developments down at Shire Hall. Some say it’s nice to be off the clock, though. Maybe one day, it’ll be worth trying as, like this rock in the sea, my dreams and priorities will change too.
Next week, I’ll be leaving the Gazette to embark on a new adventure in storytelling and relating — staying mostly in the county, working for the Ontario government and a man I’ve come to respect, MPP Todd Smith (a fellow who has much experience finding stories and making lasting connections for the better), in hopes of finding new ways to connect with people and bring prosperity to this community.
Thank you to all who have put faith in this storyteller and who have shown kindness over the years. I hope I have repaid it in the work on these pages.
Please offer the same support and kindness to my longtime colleague Jason Parks and the others who will walk down this road and offer themselves to share the stories that build this community.
Storytelling fills such a vital role. Just look at this coming weekend and ponder whether the Easter story would have the same impact if there were no scribes there to bear witness to what they saw.
That’s certainly not meant to equate the work of small-town news reporters on that level, but one never knows which stories may have lasting impact and on whom. Again, every story at its heart comes down to people doing something that matters. The world will figure out how.
There’s plenty of stories to tell here as the county’s sweet tastes and natural beauty are a lure and they’ll bring a change as constant as the tides. Dreams will come, dreams will go, but a community endures. It will be fun to see where it leads. I’ll be watching to see what the next wave of storytellers in the Gazette and elsewhere share. After all, this is my community now and it’s our shared experience.