The building over a period of months, and now this past week the official opening of a swanky new supermarket in the town south of Hope Ness has certainly given me pause to think about changes marking the passage of time and how they may suddenly, unexpectedly, hit home.
Usually, life seems to move slowly with little if any change from day to day, week to week, month to month, perhaps even year to year for some of us, or so we may fool ourselves into thinking.
But then one day it hits – so much has changed, so many things have happened, and the reality of time passing and the changes that involves must be faced, or not.
I hasten to add though that denial and/or avoidance certainly is the wrong response, personally, nationally, and globally. “Oh. what fools these mortals be,” covers the broad spectrum of humanity.
On a personal level it takes courage to face the reality of aging, the onset of a period of decline that raises questions about how to cope with it; or better still, make the most of it.
So does it take courage as well for nations that once wielded immense power and influence in the world to face their reality of declining power when the advent of a new age shakes their dominance of world affairs to its foundations.
We are living through such an age now. So far the actions of declining empires seeking to throw their military weight around and be dominant as usual in response to terrorism and its terrible consequences, for example, has been a tragic failure for all concerned.
Responding with irrational fear and hate, and foolish aggression only makes matters worse, will sooner or later slam the door shut forever on any possibility of sensible, corrective action that actually works toward the building of a hopeful future for the “global village.”
I know of course it’s not the season, but there’s a passage in Charles Dickens’ classic tale, a Christmas Carol, that comes to mind: The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge two abjectly poor, emaciated children, a girl and a boy, clinging to his robes. The girl is “want.” The boy is “ignorance,” the spirit says.
“Beware them both,” he tells Scrooge, “but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased.”
On a personal level, I’ll start with that day in the summer of 1979 when I happened to walk into the now-former supermarket location in Wiarton and noticed the floors didn’t look very shiny.
I had just bought an old farm house in Hope Ness on the Bruce Peninsula north of town. I had a wife and family to support, including another child on the way, and no job. So the first order of business was to find work. I had no trade to speak of, but knowing how hard I could work, I felt pretty confident all would be well.
I happened to have a floor-polishing machine and knew how to use it, so I said to the owner/proprietor of the store at the time, let me come in and do your floors tonight at no cost, and if you like what I do maybe you’ll consider having me come in on a regular basis for pay.
Now, there’s a certain art to what’s called “spray buffing” to give a tile floor a mirror shine. Suffice it to say Gord liked what he saw and I got the job. I also found work helping a local developer clear some land. Next spring I started working as a tail sawyer at a two-man sawmill.
Then one fateful day I saw an ad in the Owen Sound Sun Times looking for someone to work as a freelance correspondent for newspaper on the peninsula, and I applied. Not much happened up there, I was told; it was mostly a matter of covering provincial court and Wiarton council. I had studied journalism at Ryerson in Toronto for a while, but mostly I had a “nose for news” like nobody’s business, and a lot of curiosity, especially about local history and the elders associated with it.
As well, a lot of things were blowing in the wind news-wise on the peninsula, so I lucked out in that regard, I guess. For example, I cut a few of my local journalism teeth on the often acrimonious, local debate on the proposal in the early 1980s to create a national park on the upper peninsula.
Some of what I covered was not good news and I had a thing for digging deeper into the issues. Not everyone appreciated that; but within a few years I worked my way into a full-time staff-reporter job at The Sun Times. I took advantage of an early-retirement opportunity in 2001. I can hardly believe it’s been that long.
So, there I was one day last week for the last time in the “old” Wiarton supermarket, which was actually still quite “new” in the summer of 1979. It must have seemed odd to some folks there to see the old guy staring rather wistfully at the floor for a long moment. Yes, I was lost in thought, thinking about it being “the end of an era,” about all the changes that have taken place in this Grey-Bruce area of Ontario, Canada; and in my life.
The reinstatement of the Aboriginal fishery in the waters around the Bruce Peninsula following the provincial court decision in 1993 that dismissed provincial fishery charges against local First Nation fisherman was certainly a major milestone in this area. Grey-Bruce was still Saugeen Ojibwa First Nations’ territory less than 200 years ago. In the thousands of years First Nations people have inhabited this land that’s not very much time at all. Much of the non-Aboriginal community’s reaction to the 1993 court decision was a public disgrace that badly damaged relations between the two communities to this day.
In the early 1980s the Niagara Escarpment Commission, development controls, and the formal plan associated with them, were a hot controversy up and down the escarpment area from Niagara Falls to Tobermory. But the Bruce Peninsula was a focal point of angry opposition, with the Bruce Trail Association taking a lot of the heat as many landowners up here ordered the trail off their properties. I think it’s fair to say now, though, the preservation of the Niagara Escarpment and the existence of the Bruce Trail are seen as positives, including for local tourism, as well as the natural environment.
The Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park were created in 1985. They remain a work in progress, and, I think, a mixed blessing. They have certainly made Tobermory an international tourist destination, but may have had a detrimental effect in that regard for other area destinations.
There are so many other changes and “new” things that really aren`t that new anymore: The Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, the Owen Sound and Wiarton hospitals, the Billy Bishop (Owen Sound) airport, the partial shutdown of what used to be called the Bruce Nuclear Power Development (BNPD) followed by the operating deal the Ontario government arranged with Bruce Energy and its refurbishing of reactors. And the fiasco of Grey-Owen Sound municipal restructuring; but don’t get me started on that.
My mortality was already starting to weight heavy on my shoulders. Standing there that day to take a long, last look at the “new” tile floor I made shine 37 years ago left me feeling . . . “dazed” is the word that comes to mind.
I still have so much to do, to make this farm-dream come true finally, and, of course, the “finding” of Hope Ness. But time, time, time – who knows how much is left?
And yet I no sooner think that, and write it, than I know how foolish it is, and especially how un-Hope Ness it is.
I could let it get me down more.
Or I could see that it’s a step in the right direction, an opportunity to understand all the more that Finding Hope Ness is about being free of time.
Years ago an old friend, Dan the philosopher, who I think I’ve mentioned before, one night under the stars over coffee said, “boys, I tell you something, the man who invented time was a fool.”
I think I get it, Dan, finally.
Now, as for what the declining empires of the world might do to sensibly manage and possibly improve their situation, I have one thing to say: don’t be stupid.
An earlier version of this was published as a Point, Counterpoint column in The Sun Times in March, 2016.
This post was partly inspired by the WordPress daily prompt word ‘friend.’