jeudi 29 avril 2010

1 Year Anniversary of Returning from Iceland

As I sit in my room looking at my Röskva posters at this first anniversary of the end of my 8 month sojourn in Iceland, I think that I have never been further away from that day I left. After spending 8 months living and meeting the most amazing people from all over the world and travelling to beautiful places with some of these beautiful people, I prepare to undertake a much less certain part of my life with none of the securities I enjoyed on that rocky, now explosive, island.

When I returned I worked for four months without more than a two day break. This is normal for “adults” but quite different than my life in Iceland where I scarcely worked two days in an eight month period. To be fair, I did work quite hard at HÍ (University of Iceland) and got better grades than in Ottawa and I am quite proud of the work I did during the student council elections at the University.

Then without any transition at all the school year began and I started working about 70 hours a week for the next three months between homework and my two jobs. I love these jobs, but I probably should have focused on school what with the 7 classes that I had. I failed a paper when I decided I would like to see my grandparents for two days.

Christmas time gave me a short break, but a good one because I got the chance to see many of my friends from Iceland in Manitoba. It is disappointing to think that the whole gang will never be all together again, but that is part of the game. I got back to school in January and lost motivation as I went along. Applying for Masters has reminded me of all the reasons I should go back -anywhere- and get travelling again.

Now, summer is here and it continues to be lots of work. A short trip to London (Ontario) will be nice next week, but it will not be a break as it is going to be full of certifications and seminars. What happened to my life in Iceland when I would wake up at noon, go to Háma, go to Vinbuđ, then spending amazing time on Laugavegur with my friends…every day?

Of course I ran out of money living that last year and I was certainly not making much progress to change the world, but I was having an amazing time with my great friends. Are there things I regret, certainly (April fool’s and everything around that day, amongst other things). But I must say it was the best decision I ever made and there is no other country that I should have been at that particular time of my life.

Now that I’m done my undergrad and I think of the next place to go, Iceland remains a centre of interest. If I am going to be saving the Arctic as I plan, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be in Iceland many times over the next years. At the same time, there is so much of the world to explore. For the next four months at least, I’ll be here in Ottawa working hard, loving it but at the same time looking out my window and remembering the life I used to live and trying to find it again, somewhere out in the universe.

dimanche 18 avril 2010

Losing our sense of community

The town of Cumberland was founded around 1799 and the surrounding area was farmed for many years before the building of the Rideau Canal which connected Kingston to Bytown. As Bytown became Ottawa and government came, Cumberland became a transit point between Ottawa and Montréal. It embodied everything great about Canada: honesty, rural lifestyle with hardworking people and Anglophones and Francophones trying to work together. The first female senator in Canada, Cairine Wilson lived there for many years.

As the turn of the 21st century came around, Cumberland was as vibrant as ever: a large township that was becoming a city with a new City Hall and a forward-looking place with a plan to connect with its neighbours by building roads and marking out the space needed for a potential four lane highway and bridge to keep up with future growth. However, these plans were crushed as Cumberland moved into the new millennium and the Millennium Fields seem to have been the last project to be successful. Since then, the new policy of the city of Ottawa has been to pass on the fiscal burden of downtown on to the residents of the countryside. If one looks at the improvements made to Cumberland since amalgamation, they are indeed few and far between.

What amalgamation has done, in Cumberland like in other small towns and localities within the new city, has reduced civic pride and the sense of community that used to be shared by residents. With attempts to close the Cumberland museum and the end of Riverview School, the very essence of Cumberland has been shifting. Along Old Montreal Rd (which was changed from Queen St by the new city), Maple Hall, S&S Foodliner (Haddad’s) and the churches are essentially all that remain as gathering points). The Farmer’s Market, supported by the new city, was the idea of people from Cumberland (CVCA). One does not need to read Hannah Arendt to understand that people need a gathering point, a public space. The new Cumberland is becoming a bedroom for a city rather than a place on its own.

Thankfully, there are still a few events that bring us together. The Farmer’s Market, the Steam and Power show (though not what it once was) and Maplefest bring people together. Recently, Maplefest took place with lovely weather and a great many guests including MP Pierre Lemieux, MPP Phil McNeely, Counc. Rob Jellett and mayoral candidate Jim Watson, amongst others. The new federal Liberal candidate Julie Bourgeois met people as well. These events are few and far between on the social calendar of the year and the generation that organizes them is getting older. The Harvest dinner at St. Andrew’s United is no more for that reason.

As the city approaches Cumberland village, the memory of Cumberland as it was will fade. If this is to be the case, Cumberland will melt into Ottawa as amalgamation wishes. Many other towns are at risk of this or have already lost what they had. For Cumberland, the ability to make decisions for ourselves has practically disappeared and forgetting about what Cumberland means would make it so.