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!