Wasaga Beach: Where two worlds collide
April 11, 2011 11:42 AM
Region: Ontario Topics:
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)
The world’s longest freshwater beach, one of the most photographed sunsets and water so clear you can see your toes a mile out; where salmon, trout and prehistoric sturgeon still roam and you might wake up to a porcupine or wild turkey in your yard – where are we?
Wasaga Beach of course and the place I call my home. We’re a beautiful part of the great in-between that accounts for most of Ontario. We enjoy two million visitors a year to help boost small business and the tourism industry, despite the fact Wikipedia still hasn’t updated that we fully recovered from the fire! It’s truly a family playground every season of the year. From caving to boating, tanning, fishing, clubbing, snowmobiling and skiing – we’ve got the whole R & R itinerary covered.
With so many great features to boast, it’s no wonder our population tripled overnight. One day there were 6,000 and they soon became 17,000 in what seemed like the blink of an eye. We were the fastest growing town in all of Ontario and the third fastest in Canada. You’ve got to admit, that deserves some bragging rights. It was a heyday in construction at the very least.
Thousands of houses went up as many of our forests came down. No longer was the drive into town lined by towering pine trees with green puffs on top. They were replaced by sidewalks with people busily riding bicycles along them. Up popped a doggy park, Walmart and the Y. Goodbye to Wakestock, rock concerts and Blue Light weekend in the trade off. I guess you could say suburbia had arrived.
Times were good and there were plenty of life sustaining wages. We were surrounded by factory employment in addition to massive infrastructure projects like water, sewer and roads. We built and they came, that much is true. The families happily signed on to new mortgages and our community transformed beyond the seasonal nature of a tourist town. But once the projects were completed, the price of gas went through the roof and a harsh recession came to bear. We lost Good Year, Alcoa, Barber Glass, Kaufmann Furniture, a printing press and any contract work that was coming out of Honda. In a nutshell, we lost all gainful employment. Literally. All of it.
Today brings us challenges no one could have foreseen. If you look at the raw data we only have a 48.5% employment rate, meaning the other 51.5% may need to rely on government support of some type. In fact, when we step away from averages and look at each demographic closely, more than half our seniors, disabled, Natives and immigrants are living in poverty. I’m sure these numbers must also reflect that 43% of our population doesn’t have access to a vehicle for employment purposes, nor do we have a transit system to overcome that obstacle.
Altogether there are only 786 jobs in Wasaga Beach itself. The vast majority are seasonal, minimum wage and part time. The portion of our residents who are doing well survive through small business, terribly long commutes or coveted pensions. The rest have begun migrating at excessive rates and over the past few years up to 30% of our working age demographic may have left the area in search of greener pastures. This is contributing to a predominantly senior population and serves as a good example of things to come, as baby boomers transition into retirement.
Less than half our families have kids at home, although one-third of our food bank users are children. We don’t have any subsidized housing, apartment buildings, homeless shelter or soup kitchen. For those on public assistance market rent is impossible to afford. We see numerous examples of families who cope by camping in a tent during summer (renting a site) and paying discounted rates to stay in beach cottages for the winter. As soon as the May 1 tourist season begins, they’ll be back outside to accommodate vacation rentals.
Like many other in-betweens our growth was started and came to an abrupt halt. It’s left us in limbo with so many people and little way for them to be productive. As a result they’re leaving and with them go my grandmother’s hairdresser, auntie’s Red Cross driver, the dog walker, Meals On Wheels lady, aquatic instructor and their favourite coffee barista. In all earnest I say to the leaders, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye or you’ll create rural pockets of senior populations with no one to serve them adequately. A community can’t thrive when it’s missing vital parts – and those parts are regular, hard working families. They’re working any available hours at minimum wage and don’t qualify for tax cuts. Their EI has run out and many are on welfare now. You just can’t share 786 jobs amongst 17,000 people even-handedly.
Politically speaking the Simcoe-Grey riding has voted provincially Conservative for two decades without fail. Federally they’ve waivered between Libs and Cons as the boundaries were renegotiated. The NDP continues with a solid support base and Greens are starting to make a presence. I’m concerned I haven’t heard a word about affordable housing yet, a strategy for sustainable employment, or a candid talk about health and home care. More emphasis is given to whether Helena Guergis got a raw deal from the PM or if Kellie Leitch is his new pet and parachute candidate. More on that another time though – keep reading and cheers!
2013 was an amazing year for journalists around the world. A record number of fearless reporters were kidnapped, killed or silenced by their governments for heroic efforts to bring you the truth. This was the original intention of the Fourth Estate, to act as a counterbalance to government by keeping the honesty of politicians in check.
However, as we learn about the extent of NSA spying, it has also led to revelations about CSEC (the Canadian partner) and Five Eyes allies, causing everyone to question their freedom of speech and any existence of freedom of the press. Some thought Canada was a pillar of civil liberties and her people would not succumb to intimidation or the shift to corporate mainstream media, that has replaced journalism with public relations advertising in a perfected exercise of bait and switch.
As an affected freelance investigative reporter, I’m here to say this viewpoint was beautifully hopeful but sincerely misplaced. I’ve seen political gatekeepers installed as editors across the spectrum, to a point it is no longer feasible to publish articles with any grit. I was raised in an era that empowered journalists and instilled a duty to hold bright torches in every dark corner. They doggedly pursued the truth and while it didn’t win them many friends, the respect they earned was celebrated as a necessary tool to maintain a functioning democracy.
Today is not the same. I’ve written many investigations for larger outfits like CBC, the Huffington Post Canada and Open Government projects. Some of my work has been syndicated in the US and I’ve also been a guest on politically driven radio and television programs. Since the global rise of corporations over government and government over the people though, I can no longer publish these stories. Aside of becoming virtually blacklisted at major outlets, my family has also become the target of harassment and intimidation, in an effort to silence this work completely.
Despite this, I am not a fan of cowering to fear or trading ethics and integrity for PR dollars. My family feels the same because we were cut from the same cloth and they support me in this endeavour to speak, whenever the mainstream would prefer to keep things quiet. This project will begin with my own investigations, but if other persecuted journalists can add reliable, independent reports, their work will be (vetted for accuracy and) welcomed in the future. If you have a burning story with irreproachable evidence and you are unafraid – then you’re invited to get in touch.
Unfortunately most reporters of the investigative ilk have relinquished their incomes for the sake of telling the truth, so please request permission with appropriate fee to re-publish in other venues. Otherwise linking from this site is appreciated and approved. Thanks for your support to restore bona fide journalism and hopefully in the process, a respectful democracy.
Yours very truly,