An amazing pace of change in rural Ontario

To compare moving from Toronto to the Bruce Peninsula 37 years ago to going back to a virtual Stone Age in some respects is taking way too much poetic licence to make a point, to be sure.

After all, here where I live, in the secluded little rural community of Hope Ness, electrical service arrived about 1950. I understand the electrical power for this part of the peninsula was initially generated at a small hydro-electric plant at Barrow Bay. Even the old semi-abandoned farm house I bought for $12,000 in 1979 was electrified and by then on the provincial grid.

cropped-cathedraldrive_hopeness.png

Is Fibre Optics on its way to Cathedral Drive Farm?

The computer and internet-based telecommunication and information-age revolution was still futuristic in Toronto, but you could pick up a telephone and dial or push-button a number to make a local or long-distance call.

But in the summer of 1979 when my little family was settling into its new rural home in Hope Ness and called the local phone company about getting service it was like going back in time 50 years. That is, to the days when “the operator” played the key role in getting people connected within their community, and with outside world. She – yes, it was almost always a woman’s job – made the miracle of “talking over the phone” happen by quickly pushing connectors into their switchboard plugs. She was, she had to be, unflappable. And if there was an emergency, she would get you where you needed to go, phone­-wise. There was much to admire about the way things were.

switchboard3

So the day we big-city folks got our local phone installed it was quite an adventure, and amusing story to share with family back in the city – about how making a call involved picking up the phone to first get the operator on the line, and then give her the local or long-distance number we wanted to call.

The local numbers, including our own, bore no resemblance to the seven-digit ones we were familiar with in the city. I wish I could remember our local number; but memory fails me, except I know it reflected a certain number of rings, to differentiate us from the other subscribers on our “party line.” We were fortunate to have just a couple. We soon learned when the party line was engaged by another subscriber: when you picked up the phone there they were, talking to whomever they were calling. So you quickly hung up to try again later. The other party knew when that happened because they could hear the clicking sound of someone else on the party line picking up their phone to make a call; they might even say, “oh, someone else needs to use the phone, so I’d better go now,” or words to that effect.

I suppose there was a temptation for people to sometimes eavesdrop; not that it ever happened, mind you. Perish the thought.

The point of all that is to put the telecommunication progress already made here on the Bruce Peninsula in the past 37 years in perspective.

It’s seems incredible to sit here at my desk now, with my lap-top connected to millions, even billions of people via the Internet’s World-Wide-Web.

The same line that gives me push-button access to a mainline phone, gives me access to an almost overwhelming array of social media doors and windows I might open. I can go “on-line” and read the latest news of the day, as I invariably do every morning and night; I can search the web for information, ask virtually any question, and get any number of answers in a moment, on any topic.

That is certainly a super-convenient tool for journalists, or anyone in any field of endeavour that depends on the search for and sharing of information for its continued, successful existence.

The internet has become an essential tool of business, and of living. The opportunities for good, for building bridges of understanding in this troubled world are enormous.

But so, unfortunately, are the opportunities for mischief, and much, much worse. The internet must be treated with great care and caution. At the moment, little seems sacred or secure. Most recently, we are treated to the spectacle of Donald Trump inviting Russian hackers, possibly connected to the government of a tyrant, to hack Hillary Clinton’s deleted personal emails from several years ago when she was Secretary of State for the United States.

Yes, she was careless in her use of the internet. But Trump is asking his friend Vladimir Putin to help him win the American Presidential election. It boggles the mind.

This week’s announcement by the Canadian and Ontario governments to invest $180 billion over the next five years to bring high-speed internet to three million people in rural Ontario is a good thing.

The line that connects me to the internet is still the old, copper telephone wire. It’s definitely not high-speed, to say the least. It works for me, but sure wouldn’t be good enough in today’s fast-paced business world. So the expansion of the high-speed, fibre-optic cable network into rural Ontario is a vitally important step toward making the whole province economically competitive.

It will also give many more people now living in big cities the opportunity to move to, and work in, rural areas.

The days of big-city sprawl are coming to an end, and that’s a good thing too. People need a healthy connection with nature and community.

In my heart I knew that 37 years ago. Whether or not a fibre-optic line will ever come down little, “no exit” Cathedral Drive to this old farm house remains to be seen; but it must and will come to most of rural Ontario, and as a result so will a lot more people.

Once upon a time Ontario and the rest of Canada were predominantly rural until the necessities of industry and commerce led to the creation of big cities like the Greater Toronto Area, a poorly planned chaos of urban sprawl and expressways that devoured much of the best farmland in the province. The digital revolution is in the process of making them obsolete. But they can’t be demolished; they have taken on a life of their own, and besides too many people have spent too much money on real estate. So the final demise of big cities and the return to small-town, rural living will take a very long time indeed.

Meanwhile, lots of other “interesting” things might happen, if you know what I mean.

Depending on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November, all bets on what the future holds about anything may be off.

A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in July, 2016

5 thoughts on “An amazing pace of change in rural Ontario

  1. Fascinating and timely ‘post”… in the case of Hopeness … perhaps post-timely. Hope we get some of that rain we all need so badly. Speaking of rain, I read a review of this book in The Guardian …. Rain – Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison. Hoping I can get it via the Library. Stay cool. Jennifer

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