Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2015 (2027 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a hot, humid day last summer when I noticed a man working the ticket booth at the inaugural Ag in Motion outdoor farm show near Saskatoon.
Sporting a bushy white beard and wearing bib overalls, he matched the stereotype of the "dusty old farmer" Murray McLauchlan made famous in his 1972 ballad.
Forgive me, but I thought "redneck."
But then he weighed in on a conversation among the other workers about the number of new people coming to Canada.
"All of us came from someplace," he said, noting his grandparents immigrated from Sweden as homesteaders.
His observation should become the rallying cry for rural renewal in Canada in light of a newly released report about the declining state of rural culture.
The State of Rural Canada -- produced by the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation and the Rural Policy Learning Commons -- is a disturbing cross-country snapshot of current trends.
One of its chief conclusions is the places between large centres are running out of people because of political neglect, crumbling infrastructure, the pressures of globalization, the continued exodus of young people in search of better opportunities and an aging population left behind.
"Fundamentally, we have forgotten how to reinvest in rural and small-town places, preferring instead to simply run down the capital invested by previous generations," the report says.
It also offers an insightful and more hopeful glimpse of what could be. The report cites innovative thinking demonstrated by towns trying to survive constrained resources, the economic and environmental importance of rural spaces, strong social networks and diversity.
"There is no single rural Canada, only the many manifestations of rural Canada and this makes rural policy development incredibly challenging." In other words, if you know one rural community, you know one rural community.
While historically, policy that was good for agriculture was also good for the rural economy, that correlation has diminished as the number of people employed in primary agriculture has declined.
The replacement rate of workers in rural Canada officially fell below 100 per cent in 2008; metro Canada dropped below 100 per cent in 2013. That means an increasingly intense competition for labour at a time when rural Canada's ability to compete is sagging.
The report says rural areas also lag in education and skills, with higher school-dropout rates and a lower average level of education -- marking the largest rural-urban gap among the 34 Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development countries.
Rural communities must work more closely with First Nations and attract more new immigrants. "If rural Canada is to develop vibrant communities and economies then they must enhance their existing human capital, which means welcoming newcomers," the report said.
That point is especially poignant at a time when the nightly news is filled with images of desperate people displaced by the atrocities of war.
Homesteading on the Canadian Prairies began two centuries ago, with the arrival of the Selkirk Settlers, also a displaced people. The people who already lived here were, for the most part, charitable. That didn't work out so well for them in the end, and that perhaps explains why many of us are reluctant to extend a similar welcome now.
Our own fear, suspicion and misinformed assumptions present the biggest hurdles in resettling displaced people. These are people who invest in their communities. They do jobs, buy businesses and fill houses that would otherwise remain vacant. Their children could help keep rural schools open.
Perhaps the single, most important investment we can make in our rural communities is a welcome mat.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator and editorial director for Farm Business Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 204-792-4382