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.