With several thousand layoffs and job losses battering the local economy, T-J readers may question last week’s headline announcing the Alma College fire as top news story in 2008.
It wasn’t an easy decision for this paper’s editors and reporters … the disappearance of several thousand jobs in the city would surely qualify as the banner story in any other year.
In fact, it’s a safe bet as the impact of the manufacturing sector implosion fully kicks in over the coming months, the economy will qualify as the top local news generator in 2009.
However the past 12 months have been anything but ordinary in St. Thomas.
On May 28, approaching the noon hour, a signature on the city’s skyline succumbed, literally, in a matter of minutes while hundreds of onlookers gathered to pay tribute.
Alma College, in concert with the railways, put St. Thomas on the map. In fact the former school for girls long outlasted the steam engines that allowed the city to boast it was the Railway Capital of Canada.
Long derelict, Alma nevertheless remained in the headlines.
“The college was more than just a building, because a building that stands for a year is just a building,” writes loyal reader
Lloyd Beeston on this site. “ A building that stands for 130 years, is a landmark and a connection to our past.”
Remarkably, Alma still garners headlines, as witnessed by Wednesday’s front page.
And it will warrant further ink, thanks to the efforts of Suzanne van Bommel and the Alma Advocacy Association which has recently filed a complaint to the city regarding the condition of the Moore Street property.
“Our concerns relate to the buildings and structures remaining at 96 Moore St., and public health and safety hazards,” van Bommel writes in a letter to the city’s chief building official.
A list of six issues includes the state of the chapel, music building and the amphitheatre, among others.
Such passion for a structure that was listed two years ago by the Heritage Canada Foundation as one of Canada’s Top 10 endangered buildings surely warrants top billing as a fitting epitaph for the school to which families from around the world sent their daughters.
Last week in this corner a city works department employee documented the pride she and her fellow workers take in serving their home community.
By way of thanks, she passes along best wishes for the new year with the observation, “I suspect we/you will not be at a loss for topics.”
As we say good riddance to a year that taxed our resources on so many fronts, and with the prospect of further difficult times with each page carefully flipped over in the Scenic Scotland 2009 calendar, a parting thought from our dedicated works employee warrants publication.
“I remember so very clearly many years ago (in my youth) when St. Thomas was facing very critical unemployment and plant closing issues,” she recalls.
“I didn’t think my little town would survive … it did and I have faith it will again. We citizens and community leaders need to remain focused on the important things. We may need to reinvent ourselves, think out of the box and take chances like never before. But above all, remain positive and united.”
With such a wonderful attitude and outlook, have you ever thought of vacating the public works department and running for public office?
On second thought, you are probably of much more value right where you are.
Continuing with the above thought, over the past couple of weeks this corner has reviewed the past year in quotable quotes and predicted what is unlikely to transpire in 2009.
Now, it is time to become interactive with an invitation for readers to contribute their ideas and suggestions to the City Scope think-outside-the-box list designed to brighten the prospects for St. Thomas in these turbulent times.
Let me kick off the proceedings with these challenges.
What this area desperately requires is not a wave of new jobs, but instead an ambitious job strategy that will yield higher-paying employment opportunities for the skilled labour force already in place.
Remember we haven’t just lost workers on the shop floor, we are witnessing the disappearance of the plants and factories themselves.
The city and county have to engage in an economic dialogue to promote this corner of southwestern Ontario in an all-encompassing fashion that includes manufacturing, commercial, institutional, agricultural, technological, educational, artistic and tourism components.
We have to encourage our elected municipal representatives to park their egos and personal agendas outside and climb the steps to city hall prepared to deliver on the campaign promises made more than two years ago.
While you’re at it, commit to memory the words written above by a member of your staff.
And for heaven’s sake, jettison the notion micromanagement is a vital component of your municipal responsibilities.
The floor is now yours. Forward your positive news in 2009 wish list to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them here.
Keep in mind, to dodge the reporting of negative news or choosing to avoid comment or criticism related to the dithering at city hall, in itself, is not proactive.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The state of the property is bluntly put; shameful. It is shameful to those who once lived in those beautiful quarters, those who admired it from afar and those who once felt an enormous sense of pride in the unique history of this city.”
Suzanne van Bommel, president of the Alma Advocacy Association, in a deputation to city council on Dec. 15 documents the sad legacy of Alma College.