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My reflections on the conference: 
Submitted by: Abby Pond
The venue and location were wonderful. I was so happy the conference wasn’t being held in a large, urban facility.

I left the conference feeling energized, hopeful, but also a bit frustrated. I felt like I didn’t truly have enough time or opportunity to speak with and learn from the other delegates. The presentations were helpful and inspiring, but very much one-way. This wasn’t just my feeling – it was evident in the “question” period where people wanted to also share their stories with the larger group and ask for solutions.

The final day, where we broke into smaller discussion groups, was much more in tune with the sharing I thought the conference would involve. While it was nice to chat with people during breaks and meals, it was a bit of a crapshoot trying to get the conversation to a meaningful point. I spent most of my time repeating the same things about myself over and over again to new people, and not getting to the real “meat” of a conversation.

I look forward to the next conference, where I hope we’ll get to have those conversations about challenges, successes, and achievements and have fewer lecture-style presentations.

The food, the venue, and the people were lovely. I left Georgetown knowing there were many, many people in the Maritimes like me who wanted to work to make our communities better. I was, however, a bit at a loss as to how I actually fit into it. I’m not a political or municipal leader, a business owner, or even a long-time resident of my community. How to make a commitment when there were so many possibilities?

My commitment, then, was to be USEFUL. When I arrived back in St. Stephen, another delegate and I met to discuss our next steps. We contacted and met with other community leaders, learned about what was already going on, and discovered we didn’t have to do it all ourselves.

I committed to not letting the momentum of the Georgetown Conference and our successful town hall brainstorming session die. We have been arranging another town meeting, pulling on all the strings of our network, getting all the community groups, leaders, and individuals we need involved, touching everyone as many times as possible to ask them to attend.

I committed to letting others take the reins, but making sure I was along for the ride, so I can jump out and push in the challenging sections.

At our next meeting, on November 13, we are asking everyone in attendance to make a commitment, large or small, to help execute the ideas we’ve generated. I commit to following up with those people on their commitments, and helping them achieve it. I will also make my own commitment that night, where my time and expertise are most needed.

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My reflections on the Conference:
Submitted by Lewis Lavandier, Mayor Town of Georgetown

The first thing I did after coming out of the Conference was to order each of our municipal Council Members a copy of Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer’s book,  “13 Ways to Kill Your Community”, to help prevent some of those same mistakes being made in our Town.  I came away optimistic and re-energized and feeling inspired.(ii) my personal commitment to undertake an action to improve my community, based on the inspiration of the Georgetown Conference that will ensure that we continue to build momentum, and it will encourage and inspire others:

I have already started to take what I have learned from the Georgetown Conference inspirational speakers and presenters to my municipal Council.  Last Saturday our Council attended a facilitated forum to brainstorm ideas of shared interest along with 18 other municipal and county councils.  We felt this brainstorming session was a huge success and will help us to continue the conversations that began at the Georgetown Conference.  It was decided at this session to form a committee with representatives from each community to try to promote our area, pool resources and build on joint calendars, joint marketing, asset mapping and to engage and  market our whole area to residents, new business, youth, seniors and especially newcomers.  I see a lot of potential in communities working together for the greater good of our rural area; therefore, we are appointing a member of Council to work with this committee and we will be working closely with them going forward.  It must not stop at the end of the Georgetown Conference.

I would again like to thank Wade & Paul and the other organizers of the Conference without whom none of this would have happened.

My reflections on the conference
Submitted by Jane Nicholson

My reflection is that the conference lit a fire under a lot of people.  What I particularly took from it was that communities have to understand what they want to be (i.e. recognize their values and catalogue their assets) so they can guide economic development that fits the people who live in them.  My action was to agree to become the new president of the Annapolis Board of Trade (ABoT), so that’s my new volunteer job!

My reflections on the conference
300 roads lead from Georgetown
By Leif Helmer

Try this scenario on for size: a small town of fewer than 700 residents is facing decline.Employment is hard to come by with a shutdown at the shipyard, a nascent tourism sector and uncertain markets for farm products. A steady western exodus of job-seeking youth and other entrepreneurs has accelerated the aging of its population. Retirees and other newcomers face the challenges of fitting in to an established social fabric, or finding a way to make a living.Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, could be any small town in Atlantic Canada. However, with a hopeful approach this place has transformed itself, avoiding impending decline and taking charge of a more positive future. Its response? Culture.If there was a theme that tied together the inaugural Georgetown Conference (October 4 to 6) to redefine and revitalize rural, it was culture. Get to know yours. Map its assets. Draw upon collaborations. Celebrate its expression, and share the wealth.

Not surprisingly the small Georgetown School occupies a central place in the village, helping to keep young families nearby and attracting newcomers who view the town as offering full services to all ages. Politicians and residents alike fought hard to keep it open during recent consolidation attempts and succeeded in securing it as an important asset.

Another key asset is the King’s Playhouse. Nestled between two churches, it sits across from the town hall amidst an expansive memorial garden. Refreshed and renewed in recent years so that it could expand its theatre, music and dance offerings, the building is an analogy for the development approach evident in the town.

Understand what makes your place specific and unique. Vision a future, find a way to build it and they will come. It was at the Playhouse, the cultural centre of Georgetown, that our conference took place. But just as it takes a village to raise a child, it took a village to truly make the Georgetown. This community of hope also showed itself to be an outstanding community of hosts.

From the community supper to the rafts of volunteers running the venues, from the welcoming mayor to the generous local deep-sea fishing operator, the community came together to host a remarkable weekend. As rural people do, they invited us in for a bite or two and a cup of tea, and opened up their town for us to learn from, share our stories, and take away something inspiring.

Each day had stellar speakers and unexpected collisions of ideas that sparked some real gems.

On Saturday Shaun Majumder, of “22 Minutes” fame, delivered as expected. Known as an actor and comic, he is the founding force behind The Gathering. He is transforming the isolated fishing community he grew up in through social enterprise centered on food, music and upscale camping (something he calls glamping!). Mr. Majumder has pride in place, ideas and connections to share, and a willingness to work to do it.

The unexpected gem for me was an impromptu address by Georgetowner Ray Brow, the originator for Prince Edward Island’s Festival of Small Halls. It is a kickstarter for the tourism season held each June across the province. Small Halls brings Island musicians and storytellers to more than 40 communities readying spaces for the impending flow of visitors, and celebrating Island artistic culture all the while.

Friday saw John Bragg, CEO of Oxford Frozen Foods, make a passionate address about social enterprise and the power of giving back to the small communities. His story involves towns such as Collingwood and Oxford, places that have sustained his business for five decades.

He spoke proudly of the community school and water treatment facility that his company helped to provide, in a unique “P3” arrangement that had nothing to do with private ownership of facilities, and everything to do with the major regional employer recognizing a mutual need for residents and its own operations. Mr. Bragg and others “found a way” and “were not afraid to do business in rural places.”

For me, Maine border resident Sheila Jans made a big impact with her display of knowing one’s place and finding that one essential thing that makes it special to set a course for renewal. Her work in the Saint John River Valley to share the French history of the landscape was truly inspiring, and may have set a course for my vacation plans next year!

As the event drew to a close, each delegate was challenged to pledge the local action they would spark or stoke back home. In this way the work of the Georgetown delegation has just begun. Our 300 commitments to action will be carried out in the many places the participants call home.

Actions will be carried out from the British Columbia Kootenay region getting set to host a similar conference next year, to the Newfoundland northwest coast where an abandoned fish plant is being transformed to a new economic hub.

Reflecting the spirit of conference keynote visionary Zita Cobb of Fogo Island, “people are finding a way” and acting on ideas as “catalysts and accelerators for change in their home place.”

Indeed the real work and heavy lifting of Georgetown is now upon us. In the words of youth delegate Nick Macgregor of Maclellans Brook, Nova Scotia, “It’s time to put on our workboots, grab our shovels and dig the garden of prosperity for our communities.”

My reflections on the conference
Submitted by Mark Austin

The build-up to the Georgetown Conference conveyed a sense of its own importance.   That fact tweaked my cynicism leading up to the event:  no, this would not be the ‘start’ of standing up for rural (see, for instance, RCCN and the its Rural Policy Forums over the years and the work of our Foundation).  However, a conference can be a catalyst for renewed momentum and a great networking occasion, so I signed on.  Hey, what if this was to be our Woodstock?

The Conference was a healthy blend of passionate advocates for community.  Included in the mix were some scholars, prominent large business owners, a few academics and government people, some media moguls, and, mainly, community builders from the municipal, small business, and community sectors.  The proportions differed from events backed by government (this was predominantly privately funded).  The diversity made for excellent interstitial conversations: a fortunate fact given that the rest of the conference lacked planning for small group discussion.

There was a zealous tone and message in many presentations.  The theme of the conference was Redefining Rural – thank goodness that none of the individual sessions actually drudged through those swamps (although I missed the final day, so who knows?).  My personal stance is that ‘community’ is a more important and persuasive entry point to viable rurality than is the delineation of rural vs. urban.  Rural is far from heterogeneous.  I don’t think that a romantic notion of rural nor a resistance movement to conserve that construct will result in the outcomes we want.  There were several presenters who suggested that our starting point should be those (love the life, fight the evil-doers).  Others really modelled the combination of passion and action, of constant re-creation to build resilience, of being for something rather than just against something else, that seems more likely to succeed.  Pam Mood, Mayor of Yarmouth, is in this camp.  Here “All Hands On Deck” action mobilization is inspiring.  More youth integrated in to the agenda would have been helpful; but Pam proves that youthfulness comes in all ages.

Zita Cobb of Fogo Island, Nfld., made a very compelling presentation about her work to rally Fogo islanders around place-based and sensitive enterprise.  She made the point that two factors are necessary for survival and thriving (surthrival): specificity of place, and productivity.  I hope her amazing vision and investment have lasting effect on Fogo; but the venture is hardly replicable in many other places since it involves a $45 million input from her that seems far from market-driven.

Ahh, Don Mills.  Don presented his polemic to the unsuspecting crowd in an onslaught of slides and colour commentary.  Many of the data sets could have been used to present the opposite conclusion in a narrative that wasn’t trying to establish urban as the answer to all that ails rural.  An example, Don asked respondents in his CRA quarterly poll about how far they would travel for certain services (such as healthcare, shopping, etc.).  The responses showed that rural people expect to travel longer distances and are willing to do so.  Don’s conclusion?  We don’t need as many rural services as we have now.  Another one: we have some serious attitude issues in Atlantic Canada.  Don’s evidence?  People are resistant to changes to EI that essentially do not recognize the legitimacy of traditional family and seasonal work and the choice of living/working in non-urban communities.  I know that Don has a good heart: it’s his use of data that is vexing.  And good on him for asserting an evidenced-related argument for his views.

A unique and beneficial feature of this event was the bringing together of passionate leaders from each of the Atlantic provinces.  Our issues and opportunities are so similar.  Having newspapers as a major sponsor was also important, since these same agents are so frequently the purveyors of city solutions and rural stereo-types.

Finally, it is important for those who did not attend (either turned away, not able to afford, or unavailable at the time) not think that somehow they cannot be part of future discussions and actions for our community causes with or without the Georgetown branding.  There was a slight whiff of elitism around this event (the lobster and golf resort contributed) …but the organizers did a really good job of grounding things in maritime folksiness.  I’m grateful to them.

The request for feedback below also asks for new action pledges.  I think that spread and scaling up of the innovation and leadership work that our foundation is pursuing is well aligned with the spirit of Georgetown.  I believe too, that the continued work of the Rural and Coastal Communities Network (eg. goodNS.ca and on community sustainability) is crucial.  Finally, the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy that is consuming most of my time these days shares the vision of Georgetown, with special emphasis on the economic engines needed to build our places.

My reflections on the conference
The Road From Georgetown
By Laura Churchill Duke

About 5 years ago, in my hometown village of Port Williams, it was noticed that there was no playground or park for the kids to play. Parents were driving to neighbouring towns just to take their kids to play.

So, a few parents got together and decided to do something about it. The Village of Port Williams had an empty lot scrub land and the conversation went like this…

“Here you go girls!” as they handed us the land. In less than a year, we had fundraised over $100,000 and built a park that has become the heart of Port Williams.

This story is not just about celebrating this success.

As we were celebrating the grand opening, one of the gentleman on the village commission said to me, “You know, we never thought you girls would do it (the park). We thought you’d raise a few dollars, get bored, and move on. Did you ever prove us wrong!”

This story summarizes what I learned at Georgetown.

Find a need and fill it… No Matter What!

Finding needs and filling them has been the focus of my life for the past 5 years.

–          Building a park in Port Williams where none stood

–          Building an appropriately-sized playground for the new KCA school

–          Creating my websiteValley Family Fun.

Through Valley Family Fun I have proudly created a community of over 2000 families living in the Valley. I saw a need for one central place for families to go to for information, but more so, a need for communication. People want to be told what is going on in the area. They want to feel connected.

With my background in Public Relations and communication, this is a core value for me.

While at the Georgetown Conference, we were challenged to think about what we could do for our communities? What will you pledge to do for your community?

We also talked a lot about what to do if you have a great idea and you are met with nay-sayers? How do you make change in the face of resistance, or when people don’t think you’ll be able to do it.

Find a need and fulfill it no matter what. There is always a way.

My personal goal? I would take the lessons that I have learned from Valley Family Fun about the importance of communication and apply them to Kentville where I live now. A common complaint from town council is that people do not come to meetings and that they are not engaged in the issues. A common complaint from residents is that they have no idea what is going on in Town nor what the issues are! Why not bring these two together?

Communities like Centreville, Margaretsville, Canning and Wolfville (which is a leader in this) have community-wide e-newsletters to let residents know what is happening in town and what the issues are. I would love to have this implemented in Kentville. I would love to be a part of this process and hopefully the catalyst for this happening.

Will they embrace the idea? Will I meet resistance? Will they see the need? Will they think that their current methods and Facebook page are sufficient?

I’m not sure, but it is my pledge to try.

I have found a need and I will try to fill it, no matter what!

Thank you Georgetown.

My reflections on the conference
Submitted by Bob Cervelli

My reflections on the conference is that it should be considered a watershed event for the region, a change point for communities.  Three threads came through 1) we can change a community’s attitude from blame to personal responsibility to do something, 2) build connectivity, and 3) don’t wait for someone else or for some kind of permission.

At Transition Bay St Margarets, we continue to integrate our projects and events into the community, and have gained the respect of, and are partnering with, many other groups.  In addition, we assist and educate other groups throughout the Atlantic region about the Transition Movement.

My reflections on the conference
Submitted by Meggie MacMichael

The Georgetown Conference was very inspiring. While some of the presentations seemed like they involved factors not every community had access to (i.e. millionaires), the common themes, passion, and commitment showed that we are all in this together. The appreciative lens and focus on success was a pleasant change from the negative atmosphere that rural community ‘development’ conversations are often accompanied by. Something that I took away from the conference was the idea that everyone, even government, has a part to play; we cannot wait for someone else to take up the charge. The presentations that were most inspiring to me were Mayor Pam Mood and Doug Griffiths.

The real strength of the conference, however, was the amazing people. The connections I made at Georgetown, especially the other youth, will carry on far into the future. As someone who is at the beginning of a career, these connections will be extremely influential as I explore the opportunities and challenges of rural communities. One thing I would have appreciated is more formal chances for conversation and interaction between delegates. I think the Saturday morning sessions could have been replaced with conversation/action groups around common themes that had been identified over the first two days of the conference. A chance for people to record their commitments (even just a large chart paper and markers) at the conference would have also been a positive addition.

I am extremely happy that conversations are continuing after Georgetown. A lot of great things were explored, but the rural landscape is too rich to unpack in three days. One thing that I hope surfaces in the follow up is a discussion of the relationship of rural community resiliency and the natural environment. Issues of food security, flooding, climate change, coastal erosion, and tourism are vital to the future of many rural communities and therefore should not be ignored.

As a first year masters student, I am committed to focusing my research on real challenges and opportunities in rural communities, with the aim to influence policy, community organizations, individuals, and my own future actions. I will continue to connect with the other Georgetown delegates to keep the momentum behind this regional movement. I will continue to take heart in and be inspired to take action by what our rural communities have to offer. I will not allow the negative discourse of rural decline to go unchallenged in my everyday interactions.

My reflections on the conference
A Spy in Georgetown
Submitted by Randy Simms, Mayor of Mount Pearl

There were moments when I felt like an interloper, a spy, hiding my laniard so people wouldn’t know that I was from an urban area.  After all, I was infiltrating a conference on redefining rural Canada, and the truth be told, I did not belong.

I had heard about the conference from the President of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, Churence Rogers, and he had encouraged me to attend. Given that I am the Mayor of the province’s second largest city,  I thought my chances of being accepted were nil.  But I gave it a shot.

To my surprise I was approved and before long I was walking down the historic streets of Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, headed for the playhouse theatre.  I was going to spend two days there engaged in the most intense discussions I have ever witnessed – all focused on redefining and growing rural Canada.

Delegates wanted to challenge the conventional wisdom that seems to permeate this country that rural Canada is some kind of economic and social basket case headed for the junk yard and challenge it they did.

Zita Cobb from Fogo Island was there and she talked about her big business/cultural experiment on the little island off our shores.  Her plan is expansive, and daunting, but I was caught up in the enthusiasm she brought to the stage and to her project. If her idea’s have any chance of working, I would intrust them to no one else.

Donna Butt, talked about Rising Tide Theatre and her first visits to the little outport of Trinity.  She was entertaining, as I expected, but bringing her vision to life was an amazing story.  These days, her rural business is a huge success and like most Newfoundlanders, no summer goes by without a visit to the bite, to see a play, to eat some food and talk with tourists.

We even heard from an Alberta politician, Doug Griffiths.  He did a presentation on his book, 13 ways to kill your community.  For rural or urban Canada his points are equally valid.  What a learning experience that was for me.  Want to kill your community?  Don’t paint.  The guy was amazing.  His advice – pure gold.

Where did they find Pam Mood?  She is the newly elected Mayor of Yarmouth, NS. This is a small town facing some big challenges. She was electrifying in her address and she let us know that in Yarmouth they have not given up on paint. Her clarion call to citizens “All hands on deck!!!” resonated in her home town and it resonated throughout the play house as well.

There was so much going on and so little time that I forgot I was a spy.  My face was as sad as any when this amazing conference came to an end.

What did I learn in Georgetown? Rural Canada is in good hands and we need to appreciate the value rural Canada brings to the great Canadian banquet.

What is my plan?  Some of the lessons I learned in Georgetown are universal.  My city is going to paint more, we are going reach out to our rural neighbors more and see if we can’t join hands a little more for the benefit of us all.  Maybe we should start thinking in terms of regions a little more and not so much about the rural/urban divide.

Oh, and if you hear that the Mayor of Mount Pearl has called “All hands on deck” to deal with some important community matter, you’ll know where I stole it.

My reflections on the conference
Submitted by Robert Maher

I especially valued the comment by Nick MacGregor, panellist on the Saturday morning.

He talked about the need to maintain our networks, scalable from local to global.

When I think about the Annapolis Valley, it has post secondary institutions from Windsor through to Digby, whether at Acadia or the NSCC. I will continue to work on the question ‘ how do we change this education process for the betterment of all communities in rural Atlantic Canada, and beyond ?’ This will likely be a grass roots mentoring process involving new technologies.

Back to the Road.

Other comments can be found at r2gtrek.blogspot.ca
Thanks to Edward, Heather and Bodhi for their collaboration and support.