OXFORD MILLS, Ont. – Residents of my small town had mixed feelings when they learned a few years ago that a complex of big-box stores would be developed at the edge of town.
Small business owners worried that customers would be lured away from their shops and their businesses would fail.
Others argued that by having more local choices, residents would be less likely to drive to the city to spend their money. They would shop, dine and entertain themselves close to home. And jobs would be created.
The department store, bank and restaurants were built, in a similar configuration to the way they’re popping up on the edges of so many other small towns.
We’re fighting to maintain our unique village charm.
I’ll never forget the day I drove by the clearing that the bulldozers had left, in preparation for the huge shopping complex and parking lots. The sudden disappearance of the forest on the edge of town where it meets the highway was a sight for which I wasn’t prepared. It took my breath away.
Then I saw them. A cluster of half a dozen deer stood on the ridge where the bulldozers had stopped clearing trees. The animals looked down over the clearing as if they too were in shock. Passing commuters slowed, noticing the deer. Someone pulled over and took a photo.
This season, we have several new smaller developments on the outskirts of town, including a big chain coffee shop. Trees are again being felled. Brush is being cleared. Animals are being displaced.
But instead of being pushed deeper into the diminishing bush, one of those critters decided to travel farther into town. The sizable black bear was spotted just a block from the creek, next to seniors’ apartments on a tree-lined street.
He was stopped by a tranquilizer gun before he could get into too much trouble. Townsfolk brought their children to take photos of the bear as he lay asleep in his cage. They measured his magnificent feet against their own hands. They commented on his musky odour
As urban sprawl intensifies, we shouldn’t be too surprised when displaced wildlife decides to take a tour through town on their way to a new place of residence
The news report said he was transferred to the Lanark Highlands, more than an hour away, where he was let go on a wooded hillside. There are no big-box store developments there.
Our town is one of the fastest growing municipalities in eastern Ontario and it’s not without its growing pains. We have new residential and commercial development to manage. Some schools in the outlying hamlets are being closed due to lack of enrolment, while new complexes are being built in town. Parents complain that the new high school was built too small to accommodate projected growth (which soon became actual growth).
The maximum number of outdoor portable classrooms was immediately installed on site. We have overflow from the high school taking up space in the elementary school next door. The high school students are allowed in the spare classroom but they have to walk back across the parking lot to use the washroom. They aren’t permitted to use the toilets designated for the little kids.
With 2018 being a municipal election year, responsible management of growth will be a hot topic. Anyone moving to the area and hoping to farm will face another challenge. Urban sprawl is eating up viable farmland on this hemline of the Canadian Shield. Investors are starting to look at swampland, with a plan to tile and drain the soil. They will have to get past the local Conservation Authority first, as most of our wetlands are protected.
I hope the bear enjoys his new home in the Highlands. But you have to wonder, if the presence of a single fish in a ditch means you can’t build in a certain area, what about a bear? Or a family of deer? Who’s the spokesperson for them?
We’re told these animals will just move elsewhere because, unlike fish, they can. If that’s the expectation, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised when one of them decides to take a shortcut sightseeing tour through town on their way to a new place of residence.
Perhaps when we’re doing our traffic impact and feasibility studies in preparation for new development, we should also be doing a wildlife analysis. The animals are affected by our growth, too.
Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.
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