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Egypt

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Greece
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Some tips on
Living Simply
 
 

Heritage is Important
 

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By Pat Mestern
 

This is going to be a hard-hitting article. Read on. It was going to be a dull, wet morning until the telephone rang. It was from a fellow - I refuse to call him a gentleman - who said that he read my articles only to see what I was up to next. And I thought that I was writing history articles where other people were up to "stuff". This guy went on to say that he disliked my attitude and stand on development and that I had to do something about it- the attitude.

I politely asked him if he had spoken to other area people about "future area development" and he replied that he hadn't but that I seemed to be the only one that had a problem with it, and that with my influence, I should be quiet.

Nice to know I have influence but I'm not sure where. I've been on the band-wagon for some time about trucks and jake brakes and they are still shaking up residents on St. David and Tower Streets. This fellow thought that the area's future lay in what industry and retail could be enticed to build on major highway accesses through both Fergus and Elora. He lamented the fact the area was so far away from Highway #401. If we were closer, he said, we'd have all sorts of industry begging for our land. Didn't I know that the way all prosperous communities were going these days was to build and people will follow. Certainly, I'm aware that a lot of communities have the build mentality. I am also acutely aware of what such wanton development does to small towns. I know the problems that Highway #401 presents, one of them being that it demands the attention of most of our local O.P.P. officers on a busy day.

Travel writing and photography take us through lots of North American communities, small and large. We meet face to face with a large number of people in the tourism and retail industry. Some have their act together and are vibrant centres of commerce. Others have fallen far short of their mark. Those vibrant communities, for the most part, have a respect for built heritage and allow little fringe development. They are towns with knowledgeable people in charge who know what it takes to bring in local and tourist traffic. They are communities who realize the benefits of natural and built heritage, and written history. They are homes to people who respect this heritage enough to preserve it. They are people who have introduced complete theming and market it aggressively. They protect a community with green-space-surround. They are savvy about architecturally significant streetscapes. They know that keeping vibrant main streets makes for an exciting community. They realize that, in order to be unique, they must retain high profile businesses with visual appeal in their historic retail area. They realize it is commercial suicide to become lost in a melange of malls and highway strip development.

These communities have enough faith in their area to believe that a well-themed, well marketed community can be a year-round visitor attraction and can be economically viable. The key to their success is, of course, to be well-themed and well-marketed. These communities do not drag their heritage out for several weeks every summer for a special event. They live heritage and history 365 days a year.

Sitting around the table with various town organizers and planners, it is apparent that it takes a great effort and co-operation by all groups in these communities to make things happen. There is a dedication and spirit of enthusiasm that is palatable when speaking with the movers and shakers. It takes brave people to say no to negative-surround development. It takes individuals with courage to say yes to total green-space surround. It takes enlightened local councils to introduce and act positively and rightly on controversial natural and built heritage issues. I applaud these communities and learn much from their experiences.

If done properly, our area has a lot to offer visitors, but there's much that needs to happen before it can be one of the biggest in-theme visitor destinations on Ontario. People must first realize that tourism is dollars in local pockets. Retail shops, restaurants, accommodation, service stations, attractions, all benefit from tourism. But unless a large number of people finally wake up and smell the proverbial coffee - we're going be big losers.

And we've got a lot to lose in Centre Wellington. Streetscapes in both Fergus and Elora are special to our area. Built heritage in downtown Fergus is so reminiscent of that one sees in Scotland, it stops savvy travelers in their tracks. Yet, except for the short period of time during the summer when flags appear on the street in preparation for the annual weekend of Scottishness, quickly becoming Celtism, there is no thrust to truly theme Fergus and market the community's unique Scottishness year-round.

This is not a stupid idea, folks. It is a concept that a lot of Canadian and U.S. communities have used to fill shops on main streets, and put their area on the map as a year-round destination point. This is an idea whose time has come for our area. Early settlers and residents have left Fergus a most generous gift, significant built heritage. In the twenty-first century they would be the first, as astute Scots, to see the benefits of full-theming and marketing of the community to the traveling public. Why is there a hesitation among those people who could do something positive about the situation? Why is it that people are so short-sighted they cannot see past the end of the week? Why do visitors passing through see the potential for our built heritage while some people living in the community cannot? A more important question is-how soon will it be too late for Fergus and Elora? How close are we to becoming another Cambridge, Ontario which is an outstanding example of what-not-to-do, and what not to allow when dealing with farm land, highway development, historic buildings and heritage?

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