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Community Events Dwindling in Rural Manitoba

September 28, 2014 9:25 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Manitoban Sign

(Manitoba signpost image via Shutterstock)

Last week, the deadline for individuals to register as a candidate in this fall’s municipal election came and went. When the lists were finalized, they showed one thing loud and clear, apathy. In many communities, councils in whole or part weren’t elected, they were acclaimed. This held true for Neepawa, where only six candidates put their names forward for six council seats. Perhaps the town’s residents felt that these were the six best people to lead the town, but I don’t think that was really the case.

The issue goes beyond municipal councils though. In our communities, we are seeing the slow or sudden death of integral parts of the community’s fabric.

In Neepawa, it’s very likely that there will be no Lily Festival next year. The popular festival brings many visitors and tourism dollars into the community, but more than half the organization’s board has decided to step down this year. The festival is a big undertaking and many board members have been involved since the start, they are either bored or burned out.

Most communities of have seen their local access TV channels wither and fade away.Neepawa’s channel, which can be seen across Canada on satellite TV and around the world on the Internet, may face the same fate. The group is concerned about funding, volunteers and the very real prospect of a move. This news startled me, I think the station is one of the community’s biggest assets.

Small towns need community events to bind residents together, our small towns don’t have a character of their own beyond the life that residents breathe into them. What people like about small towns, such as feeling included and knowing your neighbours, only comes about because of community events.

An event, just like a business, shouldn’t exist merely to exist, but we have to wonder where we are headed. Many towns have lost their agricultural fair or rodeo and it hasn’t been replaced with something else. These marquee events give people a reason to feel excited and passionate about their community and a reason to take pride in where they live.

These changes may well reflect changing times and priorities. Fewer people keep livestock for work and pleasure which makes agricultural fairs less relevant. People have less time to give; seniors are working longer and two job families are busy shuttling themselves and their kids around to work and activities. When I think about our office, almost everyone has another “job” on the side, be it at home on the farm, freelancing or working for another business. While this is today’s reality, for our communities’ long term viability, new events and initiatives must rise from the ashes of those we no longer wish to support. All it would take is for each person to be involved in one thing.

For all the doom and gloom, there are still examples of the community getting behind projects they feel are valuable. When the Roxy Theatre in Neepawa had to move from film to digital projection, the community got behind the project and raised a lot of money in a very short amount of time to purchase new equipment. The community rallied behind the theatre and confirmed its importance within the town. One of the events, such as provincial curling bonspiels, have seen strong community support and benefit socials for those who are sick or injured have also been well supported.

Maybe we are all happy going to work and going home and keeping busy with our own lives, but at some point, we will miss what we have lost. I hope it won’t be too late.