View from the 'frew
View from the 'frew.
Renfrew Mercury news editor Lucy Hass.
January 28, 2013
View from the ‘frew
What a long, strange trip it’s been
In 1977 when guitarist Jerry Garcia of the rock band The Grateful Dead sang Truckin’ and offered the world the iconic line, “Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it’s been,” he could easily have been predicting Renfrew’s long, slow tango with indoor swim facilities.
Since the 1960s there have been passionate bursts of activity to secure indoor swim facilities, interspersed with thoughtful lulls, but 50 years later, the issue remains unresolved.
Jan. 21 marked the latest in the long parade of swimming pool debates. This one ended in another dirge, with a 5-2 vote against a combined aquatic centre and second ice pad.
The rubber always hits the road on finances, and it’s a legitimate stumbling block indeed. Despite the best of intentions, people with big dreams should never, ever dismiss the plight of those who might not share their good financial fortune. Tax increases definitely hurt people on fixed incomes.
The real question is, why are we so reluctant to pressure upper-tier provincial and federal governments to help us?
We live in a country where citizens rally behind billion-dollar fighter jets and turn a blind eye to fake lakes at G8 conferences and partisan recreation development in the wealthy Muskokas while small-town needs go unmet.
The majority of Renfrew council seems to believe that, gosh darn, Renfrew is just too small for an indoor swim facility. Sadly, as a result of that mindset, Renfrew will always be too gosh darn small.
Only Mayor Bill Ringrose and Councillor Andrew Evans voted to keep the issue alive.
So what now? Will council finally step up efforts to pressure the provincial and federal governments to address the water-quality issues on the Bonnechere River so, in a county of lakes and rivers, swimming is limited to those with the advantage of summer cottages and rich enough paycheques to take their children out of town for lessons or recreational swimming?
If Renfrew is too small to provide ‘city’ services, then should it not at least provide rural services – a good, ol’ swimming hole. Renfrew taxpayers are paying their fair share for a major wastewater treatment plant within the town limits. So where is the pressure to clean up the Bonnechere River upstream so people can swim at the beach again?
Reeve Audrey Green and Councillors Jim Miller, Clint McWhirter, Tom Anderson and Gail Miller all voted against an indoor swimming pool and second ice pad, undoubtedly concerned that Renfrew ratepayers cannot afford it alone. So if the answer lies somewhere in a regional approach, who among them is ready to facilitate such talks?
I cut my reporting teeth on the swimming pool issue after my return to Renfrew in 1979. Over the years I have written volumes on the dreams of those who wanted a pool, and the fears of those who opposed one.
At the end of the day, it’s always the volunteers who shine the brightest.
Who could ever forget Councillor Ruth Burwell’s tireless commitment to a pool for Renfrew-and-area residents.
Or the Renfrew Hydro employees who donated about 150 man hours to erect a 47-foot thermometer in Low Square to mark progress on local fundraising for an arena-pool in 1986.
A $100,000 pledge from the Renfrew Millionaires hockey club and $10,000 pledge from former Renfrew Mercury owner Fred Runge on behalf of the newspaper kicked off that campaign. But after 11 months of secret meetings and discussion, council decided a new arena and community hall (not in the original plans) should proceed, “with the pool to be phased in by 1992.”
A drawing in the Facility Excellence Award won by the town for its Ma-Te-Way Activity Centre in 1991 notes, “A pool will be added onto the left side of the hall in a few years.”
In March 2004 the Renfrew Citizens’ Swimming Pool Feasibility Committee presented its study to the council of the day. Once again, the effort stalled at the council table. No money.
Renfrew is static, we are warned. It’s a decades-old message that stifles creative thought. Inaction breeds inaction and lethargy.
Development is all about priorities, fearless dreaming and not being afraid to break from tired old political alliances to demand the attention of upper-tier government.
There is money, and you better believe it. Just look at our warped patronage-driven Senate in Ottawa and outdated obsession with the monarchy, sinking precious dollars into irrelevant ceremonial positions.
This is 2013. We don’t need ceremony; we need services. If we don’t have money, then let’s at least have the courage to ask for it.
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