EDITORIAL: The value of community

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
February 16th, 2011

Thanks to my ever buzzing, beeping and chirping Blackberry and a demanding, self-set work schedule whose margins seem to expand daily, I tend to be a person who is rarely late for appointments. Since arriving in Rossland, however, there has been a new syndrome (I’ve yet to come up with an official name for it) that seems to be slowing me down as of late. Arriving 15 minutes late for work last week, I officially used the–let’s call it the Rossland Syndrome–as my excuse for the first time.
The usual five minute walk from home to the Telegraph’s office in the Bank of Montreal building became a half hour friend fest as nearly every person I passed required a short chat and catch up session. A recent trip to a larger city (to remain unnamed so as not to unduly insult anyone) combined with reflection on Rossland life and other areas of the globe I’ve lived in, has once again driven home and made clearer one of the special aspects of life in Rossland: our city’s ability to retain a strong sense of community.
Said unnamed large city is a place of both great natural beauty as well as phenomenal personal wealth as witnessed by the Porsche Cayennes, Land Rovers and an unnatural automotive population of BMWs swarming about quaint cafes, shops and trailheads. Said city also has a penchant for large fences and stunning if not community killing boundary hedges. No, Rossland is not immune to luxury vehicles, although I’d wager you see as many 1982 Toyota Tercels navigating our pot-holed streets as you do fresh-out-of-the-showroom SUVs at times, but I digress.
Rossland (apart from our original blip of underground-born wealth) has remained largely immune to the spectacular influx of wealth that Western Canada and BC in particular has seen over the years. For that we should count ourselves lucky as it seems money has quickly become a replacement for morals, values, family, friends and community to many. Until my vehicle, house or wallet hug me back I remain unconvinced that wealth hunting is a life path I’ll ever venture down.
I grew up, as many of you will now well know, in the Maritimes. A place of deep family roots, extended community connections, natural beauty and history it is, but when I’m asked what the best thing about the Maritimes is, my first response is always that it’s a place where everyone you meet is your new best friend. Perhaps, unconsciously, that was one of the great connections for me and my future wife to settle here as that quality, occasionally shrouded behind the easy access to fantastic natural recreation, is now my most favoured aspect of Rossland life.
How has a little town–seemingly perennially perched on the edge of big economic potential–developed and then held onto its family and community values? Well I certainly won’t pretend to be any kind of socio-economic expert, but it seems to me that the pursuit of wealth which has come to dominate western society has caused many of us to place dollar values ahead of community, cultural or family values.
Unless you’re into such things as human trafficking the dollar value of a son, daughter, mother, father, grandparent or friend isn’t much to write home about.
When I think of the places I’ve lived that exhibit extraordinary community values, there is a very definite common thread linking them all. From Nova Scotia where I grew up, through a small sheep farming town cum mountain town in New Zealand, to backwoods Maine and back to Rossland, all these areas have suffered through times of great economic hardship. That hardship demanded a necessary reliance on your neighbours, not just for entertainment (read maritime kitchen parties), not just for food (read Happy Valley and the Chinese Gardens), but for all necessities, needs, wants and pleasures of life. Quite simply, in times of immense hardship you could not get by unless you had a little help from your friends.
As wealth grows, our need for reliance on community decreases. In the hectic, go-go, time-is-money pace of life that has developed in many corners of the world, community seems to have slipped from being a basic staple of life to a costly luxury.
Last weekend, as I drove down immaculate, city-tended boulevards, spotless sidewalks and stunning if not slightly garish tract mansions and not seeing a single soul out sitting on the stoop, chatting to neighbours, having family get-togethers around the BBQ or even walking the streets, the fear of change and anything development-related in Rossland began to take on a new meaning for me.
The sense of community necessitated following the mining crash in the early part of the last century was to Rossland as the remoteness, lack of arable ground, jobs and at times wicked weather was to early Nova Scotia. Both series of unfortunate events bred a culture of family, interconnectedness and community that to this day are among the primary attractions keeping people from moving away as well as attracting new residents.
When talk of new development in town, perhaps largely geared toward the wealthy out-of-towner, comes up, it makes sense that people would approach it with trepidation. An influx of wealth into Rossland very well could have the ability to gobble up the community values that are sewn so deep in the Mountain Kingdom just as it has in the suburbs of said city, where formerly rural roads have become embellished with fountains festooned with multi-coloured lights, brick paver roundabouts, stylish street lights, funky condos, and high end sushi outlets (nothing against sushi, I’m a professed lover). If the need to rely on one another disappears, it will become that much more important to actively promote, celebrate and hold onto the community values that make Rossland perhaps the most livable place in BC.
Am I against development or folks enjoying a few extra dollars to throw around on luxury? No, but into the future it will become increasingly important for us to continue to understand what makes this place so attractive and hold onto it. Just as Nova Scotia has steadily been populating the rest of the world as its young folk strike out on their own in search of higher paying jobs or for that matter any job at all, so too have generations of young Rosslanders headed out into the world in search of greener pastures. In fact, I’d wager, even more so than the billions of dollars of gold that was dug out of Rossland, or powder caked smiles, perhaps Rossland’s greatest export to the world has been a steady stream of grounded, community/family valuing folks who have likely infused a touch of our spirit into whatever town, city or country they ventured off too.
So here’s to you, my neighbor, the folks that wave and smile back when I wave and smile to them in passing, the dogs that stop for a pat or ear scratch as they wander about town, the shop owners who offer up stories of days gone by as much or more than they try and sell their wares, the fellow chairlift mates who offer up insider secrets so long as you can keep up, right down to the newcomers to town who we welcome with open arms. It’s all of you that make this place a wonderful city to live in, and it’ll be all of you that we’ll need to pass on the good word that is community to the newcomer, to your kids, to your neighbours and to the world at large so that as the world slowly and steadily discovers the real heart of life in Rossland, the value of a neighbour’s smile, wave and hello will remain the true measure of wealth.

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