Editorial: Determined community efforts can influence city hall

Mindemoya Old school

There is an time honoured adage that you can’t fight city hall, but in the case of the fate of the Mindemoya Old School a hardy group of determined community activists have proven you can have considerable influence if you are willing to put some skin in the game.

The Friends of the Mindemoya Old School may be a newly incorporated entity, but the folks who are the driving force behind saving that historical edifice have been lobbying heavily for quite some time—and they never gave up.

Despite the seemingly singular focus of the municipal council that would see the historic stone building journey to the landfill (with a few varied bits reused for an historic display at the town’s pioneer village), the Friends of the Mindemoya Old School remained undaunted. Perhaps a mite dismayed, they remained unswayed, winning several reprieves.

There remains a very steep hill to climb in order to turn this latest stay of execution into a new lease on life for the Mindemoya Old School, but one can’t help but root for their obvious passion for and commitment to preserving their community’s historical legacy.

Manitoulin Islanders, like the residents of many small rural communities across this land, have proven time and again that they are more than up to the task of raising significant amounts of the money required for projects that are near and dear to our hearts. Usually those projects are of the pragmatic kind favoured by agricultural communities—farmers being a decidedly practical lot—with new church roofs, community hall floors and hospital ventilators springing easily to mind. 

Being a relatively new country, and one whose earliest edifices tended to be constructed of wood, the vast majority of our earliest buildings have long since faded back into the earth from which their building material emerged. That puts a greater urgency behind efforts to preserve the few buildings that were constructed of sterner stuff. They are a concrete symbol of where our ancestors put their own skin in the game and there was a lot less skin to go around back in the early days of settlement. The pages of The Expositor from that period make clear the community’s concern over the cost of what was then the “new” school building—yet the taxpayers of the day persevered because of the value they placed on their children’s education and their hopes for the future. It wasn’t often that a such an expensive undertaking survived the staunch Scottish parsimony of Manitoulin’s settler communities. 

The frustration of the municipal council over the continued delays in the implementation of a decision that they considered prudent and in the best interests of the public purse is understandable. The longer the decision stays on the table, the longer they have to endure the impassioned pleas of those who want to preserve the Old School. Sometimes passion can rise to vitriolic condemnation by the zealous towards those who are perceived to not share their fervour and that has apparently occasionally been the case in this instance.

But Central Manitoulin council must be given credit. Despite all of the evidence put before them that the preservation of the Old School is unsustainable for a small rural municipality, despite the long and so very numerous delays in order to try and find a solution, they demonstrably remain open and willing to listen. It is plain that most of the councillors would dearly love to see a viable solution come to the table.

It undoubtedly helps that leaving the Old School standing for the time being is not a massive cost to the public purse, although taking on the restoration, renovation and preservation is a bigger bite than they can swallow.

So now it is up to the Manitoulin community to decide. What value do we put on honouring the sacrifices made by our ancestors? Will we, as a community, put our own skin in the game?

We know from experience that it can be done. It is worth doing. So let us roll up our sleeves and get ‘er done.