SETTLERS OR FRONTIERSMEN, PART 3
Cliff MacIntosh, founder and head guru of Quetico Center, was one of my heroes. Some 20 plus years ago, he used to say that northern Ontario should not just blame the big city for our failure to thrive. After all, the colonial system works here as everywhere. The colonial system, that is, all the money and smart people and power and influence are drawn to the Center, at the expense of the remote colonies. We need to rise above that. He attributed much of the north’s failure to thrive to its own anti-entrepreneurial culture, the attitude that ‘business should be done by big companies from somewhere else’, a definite hallmark of the frontiersman/exploiter.
Dryden town experienced its biggest growth in the 50’s and especially the 60’s, with an influx of construction and mill workers from other places who were here for the economic opportunity, ie frontiersmen according to my definition. In addition, the rules changed so that most of our professional class (teachers, government workers, medical, legal, accounting folks) came from elsewhere in Ontario, not local people as before, and some of these saw themselves as disadvantaged or even persecuted by being banished so far from the halls of power. Much of this new population eventually came to see this as their home; nevertheless, our culture was affected by this influx.
In the meantime, our district population shrank, as homesteads were consolidated into larger farm units, and more importantly under pressure from the governments, which had decided that developing the north was a bad idea. Just one example, Farm Credit Corp deems this not a farm area, so loan or mortgage money is not available, no farms can be sold and no new farmers can take them over.
All these put pressures on our culture toward the frontiersman, anti-entrepreneurial direction common to the rest of northern Ontario, we became more like them. Our educated elite laments “we must entice a new angel large company to come and save us”. Good luck with that. Pray for a miracle.
The good news is that our settler culture is still alive and kicking in the community if not in the elite, and our entrepreneurial spirit has been rekindled. Rather than ‘we must entice investors from elsewhere to come save us’, the attitude is becoming ‘where is there an opportunity in all this for me to succeed’. We are seeing more new names on pickup trucks, Joes Plumbing or Clydes electric or Bills Drilling, than we have seen in such a short period in decades. Our people are coming alive, and our settlers’ entrepreneurial spirit will save us.
Of course some positive attitude in city hall wouldn’t do any harm, a lot of good entrepreneurial ideas are on hold because of the doom-and-gloom nonsense.