SETTLERS OR FRONTIERSMEN

THE CONTRARIAN

Every community or workplace has a ‘culture’, a unique way of living and working together, of looking at the world, of behaving.  The culture is built rather quickly when the place is first coming together, based on the culture people bring with them, and their shared experiences.  However, once gelled, the culture changes very slowly, individuals who move in automatically adopt the culture already there.  It takes massive immigration of folks of a different background, or a major crisis to seriously change the culture of the place.

A good example as to how a culture develops is in the monkey story being circulated in a political context.  I case you haven’t heard it, I paraphrase it as follows.

The claim is that an experiment was conducted in which a cage was filled with, say, 10 monkeys.  A stepladder is in the middle of the cage, and set up so that if anyone steps on the stepladder, all the monkeys in the cage will get a blast of cold water.  Then a bunch of bananas is suspended over the stepladder.  It only takes a few blasts of cold water until the monkeys gang up and drag down and beat up any monkey who approaches the stepladder.  Then the monkeys are replaced, one at a time.  Each new monkey sees the bananas, and tries to climb the ladder and is beaten up.  The interesting point is that after all the original monkeys are gone, so no monkey in the cage has ever been blasted with cold water, the practice of beating up any monkey who attempts to climb the stepladder still goes on.  It has become part of the local culture.

The folks who spread out across the land to form Canada, 120 years ago more or less, were either settlers, or frontiersmen, according to the following definitions.  Settlers are people who came to a location to make a home and a community, as a place to ‘settle down’ and raise a family, and expect to die there.  Frontiersmen are people who moved to take advantage of opportunities, a job or resources to be exploited, and who would move on once the job or opportunity disappeared, and expect to eventually move ‘back home’.

Settlers would build their farms or businesses, houses, communities, and hunker down and weather it out when times got tough.  Most importantly, settlers invest in their community. Frontiersmen generally do not, and in time of hardship just move on to the next opportunity.

Dryden district (rural handily outnumbered urban in the early years) was originally founded by settlers, folks who came here to have their own land, to be free of the elites, and our entrepreneurial culture is the result.

The other centers in our world (Ontario west of Thunder Bay) were all founded by frontiersmen, railroaders, fur traders, miners, trappers, prospectors.  That accounts for what several consultants over the years have found quite remarkable, our ‘sense of place’ —  the importance we place on this our home, our love of our piece of the world and our way of life  —  a much stronger part of our local culture than is found in other places the consultants had studied.  Tommy Jones called it our ‘Sense of Community’.

And that is why our community is not experiencing the wild population swings we have seen in Frontiersmen-populated, resource-based communities as their industry waxes and wanes.  This is our home, we are here to stay.  More to come on this theme.

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