CRRF’n the Archives Series
The entries below are examples of items from the CRRF Archives. They provide some of the stories, insights, resources, and inspirational materials that remain relevant for current rural and remote communities. Check them out to discover what we have learned over the years and to appreciate the legacy of innovations and dedicated people that have made today’s initiatives possible.
We welcome your comments, stories, archival materials, and inquiries.
I received an inquiry last month regarding “lagging” communities. It recalled for me how this had become a primary theme CRRF research. Over the 11 years of the NRE project we grappled with the problem of defining the difference between leading and lagging communities, developing appropriate indicators, processing relevant data, and trying to identify contributing conditions and policies (https://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/artsci/sociology-anthropology/nre/docs/reports/LeadingAndLagging.pdf). It even became one of the five dimensions of the NRE Rural Observatory (https://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/artsci/sociology-anthropology/nre/docs/reports/Reimer_Sample_Frame.pdf).
Our research includes the following insights.
- Exposure to the global economy, economic uncertainty, proximity to urban centres, and institutional capacity all contribute to community decline—often beyond local control (https://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/artsci/sociology-anthropology/nre/docs/reports/ReimerExploringDiversity.pdf).
- Their fate is not inevitable, however, since strategies and actions can be taken to reverse or mitigate the challenges (https://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/artsci/sociology-anthropology/nre/docs/reports/StrategicObservationsSept30.pdf).
- We have even documented policy options and programs that are likely to improve conditions for communities in decline or crisis. One of the most successful examples can be found in the Québec Rural Policy—particularly in the way it encouraged and facilitated local-based strategies by supporting regional collaboration (see Jean, Bruno and Bill Reimer, 2015 “Québec’s Approach to Regional Development: An historical analysis” RPLC Webinar, Feb 23. [Link to recording]).
In 2004, CRRF partnered with the Rural Secretariat to organize the first National Think-Tank of the newly formed National Rural Research Network (NRRN). That event, held in Prince George, included the signing of a collaboration agreement with the Federation of Municipalities, and visits to two of the NRE field sites: Mackenzie and Tumbler Ridge.
Mackenzie citizens showed us how they took control of their community initiatives after repeated failures of petitions to the local paper mill. The traditional approach to community development involved requests to the mill for support. Since many of the managers were also community members, the need and priority for such support was usually clear and forthcoming.
Over time, however, the mill was bought and sold by international corporations and local ties to management were broken. It took the community several years to realize that the old approach to community development would no longer work. They finally turned to their local assets and skills to manage community development. This approach was reflected in such initiatives as the expansion and marketing of snowmobile trails, establishment of a community radio station, and the relocation of their health and social services.
Throughout much of CRRF’s history, workshops (usually in the spring), have been a useful compliment to our fall conference program. This was especially true during the NRE period since we had the funding to make them possible.
Workshops were smaller events attended by about 20 to 30 researchers, policy-makers, and community people with a particular focus on research activities and strategic planning. As with the conferences, we sought to hold them in rural places with local tours as important components of our visit. Workshop locations included Merrickville, ON, St-Clément, QC, Corner Brook, NL, Quesnel, BC, North Bay, ON, St-Damase, QC, Newtown, NL, Sackville, NB, Altona, MB, Ferintosh, AB, Prince George, BC, Benito, MB, Taschereau, QC, Springhill, NS, and Whitehorse, YT. For many years, the field sites in the NRE Rural Observatory were workshop locations.
As the photos below illustrate, the CRRF Workshops were not all about work.
In 2008, the CRRF annual conference was held in Inuvik, NT to discuss community options for boom-bust economies. Peter Clarkson, the mayor, described how the benefits of the boom period were invested in community improvement projects from infrastructure to social and cultural facilities. The objective was to make the community so attractive that when the inevitable bust hit, citizens would be motivated and supported to find innovations and initiatives to stay and survive. The evidence for the success of this strategy was all around: from a new recreation centre with pool, ice rink, and meeting rooms to a well-equipped and state-of-the art hospital. Community-initiated activities were a common feature of everyday life, from co-ops to festivals. Even the old arena was repurposed as a community garden—providing a social centre and laboratory for northern agriculture.
In honour of the location, CRRF moved the conference date from our usual fall location to the summer solstice. It was delightful to join in the many celebrations afforded by 24 hours of daylight—including the annual Midnight Sun Fun Run.
Now that wildfire season is upon us, I was reflecting on research conducted by Dr. Judith Kulig and her team. Their research regarding wildfires included four community case studies exploring local responses and impacts on health and community resiliency (http://www.ruralwildfire.ca): La Ronge, SK (1999), Crowsnest Pass, AB (2003), Barriere, BC (2003), and Slave Lake, AB (2011). The team produced many “Lessons Learned” booklets, technical reports, academic and public materials, popular media materials, and a large number of presentations. The lessons learned remain relevant for current conditions.
The team’s examination of long-term impacts revealed some surprising and useful information for communities and support services. I was particularly struck by the finding that many of the children involved hid their anxiety from their parents—most likely because they did not want to add to the stress their parents were experiencing (https://policywise.com/wp-content/uploads/resources/2016/07/FinalReport11SMKuligSept42012pdf.pdf). The effects on home and school continued well after the fire crisis had passed.
These 13 posters in English and French identify some of the most important insights from CRRF’s New Rural Economy Project. They are beautifully designed and include Implications of the insights, strategies for communities to consider, and questions to ask arising from the insights. Although prepared in 2004, the observations remain surprisingly accurate. Perhaps they can inspire someone looking for a thesis topic.
The posters are accompanied by a text document outlining the observations.
CRRF conference locations were chosen from community invitations and a rotation among Western, Central, and Eastern regions. In 2003 we were delighted to receive such an invitation from Tweed, Ontario—but somewhat nervous about their capacity to manage it. They appeared to lack the infrastructure for meetings, meals, and accommodation. The local organizing committee assured us they could manage—by using a local theatre building, Legion, and municipal hall to manage meetings and food. As the organization proceeded, however, they discovered they needed help, so they turned to nearby communities (and long-time rivals) to fill in some of the gaps. Not only was the conference a great success, but those local communities found that working together was possible and mutually beneficial—laying the basis for a regional initiative entitled “Comfort Country” (http://www.comfortcountry.ca/). The initiative was cited as an inspiration and model for similar inter-community collaboration among Prince Edward, Lennox and Addington counties in Eastern Ontario.
Press Release by Tweed area business associations: “COMFORT COUNTRY TOURISM AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT PROJECT TO BE LAUNCHED MARCH 1ST, 2004. Three area business associations (Tweed, Madoc, and Marmora) have been meeting on a regular basis since May 2003 along with representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Community Futures Development Corporation of North & Central Hastings & South Algonquin and the Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance. It has been agreed, after some discussion, that our concerns about the growth and development of our communities would be better addressed by working as a group rather than individual communities. It is with great pleasure that we welcome Stirling to this venture as of February 11th, 2004, so now we are a group of four communities working for the economic betterment of central Hastings with the COMFORT COUNTRY PROJECT.”
Many rural communities are deeply concerned about slowing the “loss” of their youth and community members. However, our collaborating communities in the Canada-Japan Project (1998-2004) took a different approach.
They welcome outmigration—and use it as a community-development opportunity. When individuals or families leave, the community keeps in touch with them through regular bulletins, websites, and special community events. They argue that some of these outmigrants are likely to become interested in their community of origin at a later point in their lives—when they start to raise a family, finish school, change their job interests, look for new opportunities, or simply dislike being away. Maintaining communication and ties with them keeps the option of returning both salient and easy.
The Japanese community of Awano holds an annual contest to identify the family that best represents their town. The prize is a trip away. After the trip, a community event is held where the voyagers present stories and photos of their experiences. I was impressed to see how the local farmers used these travellers as “intelligence agents”—asking them to report on potential markets for local produce. Instead of viewing their town as an outpost, those in Awano saw their community as the centre of a vast network nurtured by previous residents.
Ivan Emke introduced us to community radio at the CRRF conference in Tweed Ontario (2004). Using an ipod, microphones, small transmitter, antenna, and local broadcast license, he created a studio upstairs in the Tweed Playhouse while the conference unfolded below. He invited the local high school students to provide material and learn how to establish their own station. The broadcast became a central feature of our conferences—a new way to engage the community in the meetings and hear themselves echoed to their neighbours. See https://www.concordia.ca/artsci/sociology-anthropology/research/nre/study-sites/site-15-tweed-ont.html for the NRE introduction to Tweed.
Three events stand out for me from that Tweed initiative. On one of my visits to the makeshift studio, a local father and son arrived up the back steps with a violin case in hand. He asked if his son could play a tune on the radio. They were thrilled to be included. The second event was the transformation that took place when local students were given microphones and invited to interview speakers and participants at the conference. In the beginning, they appeared as shy, hesitant interviewers, but by the end of the conference, they had graduated to confident interrogators—pressing important questions and raising issues that were central to their community. My third delight occurred when visiting local businesses in the community—and discovering how the community radio had become the “musac” of choice. It is no wonder that Ivan’s contribution became a central element of our conferences from that point on.
The New Rural Economy project (http://nre.concordia.ca) was rooted in 9 years of conferences, retreats, seminars, workshops, and collaborations among ARRG and CRRF participants. These years provided ample evidence of our collective success, honed our networking skills, and gave us the confidence necessary to dream large. As the idea of a national, long-term, systematic, and community-engaged project emerged in our discussions we were not put off by its ambitious nature. As we developed the details of the project, its stages became identified as “Ambitious 1” and “Ambitious 2”.
In response to my request about the emergence of these original formulations, Peter Apedaile wrote “The concept comes from the motto of Hokkaido University. “Boys Be Ambitious”. I was impressed, not by the chauvinism, but by the aspiration, while visiting my grad student doing her research on the structure of Japanese cereal trade and trade policy in 1987. I seem to recall the concept coming up during several of our animated conversations Bill, when we were walking somewhere in Ottawa or Hull, perhaps at the time of our Senate presentation. The origin of the concept is this motto. One of the great products of our ARRG/CRRF experience has been intellectual adrenalin! Peter (Feb 14, 2021)
Peter Apedaile initiated the exploration of endowment funding for CRRF in 1992. The first stage included discussions with contacts in some of Canada’s major commodity companies. After a series of encouraging suggestions, but no follow-through, we concluded that these companies have little interest in rural community development. Their primary preoccupation is with the movement of commodities to national and international markets. The production and transportation of commodities no longer require strong rural communities.
Our 1992 National Conference in Goderich included an invitation to a supper organized by the local community. We were surprised to discover that there were no children or young people at the event since liquor was served. This meant that parents were required to arrange for child care and young people never had a chance to see community adults “at play” in such a venue. Similar events in Québec provided a sharp contrast, where community events included all ages since liquor licenses were less restrictive. The comparison provides an interesting example of the way in which general policies can exacerbate stratification in smaller communities.
This series of 8 English posters provides suggestions for rural communities that are interested in improving their capacity through collaboration with urban places. They provide examples of such collaboration and strategies for action. The suggestions arose from our recognition that rural and urban places are interdependent—so instead of treating them as if they are in competition, it makes more sense to build alliances. https://www.concordia.ca/artsci/sociology-anthropology/research/nre/research-findings/posters.html#rural-urban
The 1995 Coaticook, QC conference on Rural Employment was a study in community innovation. This small town with one motel (about 30 rooms) and no conference facilities put on an international conference with about 200 people under the patronage of CRRF and the OECD. They converted an agricultural building into a conference venue with outdoor carpeting, AV equipment, tables, chairs, and greenery; used the high school kitchen for preparing food; and trained local students for cooking, catering, and serving. By organizing a network of billets and transportation, they solved the accommodation problem. Our international guests were particularly pleased to meet local people over the breakfast table each morning.
Agriculture can only be understood in its full economic, social, and environmental context. In 1994, this was a radical perspective. It was our message when members of the ARRG network were invited to make a presentation to a joint committee of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
Seven ARRG members elaborated the implications of this perspective for rural women, the quality of rural life, community networks, local initiatives, and the operation of complex systems. Check out the record of these presentations via the following link (or click on the image).
Did we get it right? Have things changed? What is your vision today?
“We cannot expect a major revitalization of rural Canada, but absolute population growth is likely to be positive, particularly in non-farm regions and those close to large urban centres…
We cannot expect urban standards of service delivery, but with appropriate monitoring and exploration we should be able to make more efficient use of the means at our disposal…
The identification of general benefits and resources provided by rural areas would serve as a basis for justifying the transfer of funds from urban to rural areas as well as the limitation of costs that exported to the rural areas.” (Towards a Whole Rural Policy for Canada, 1994, p41)
This is a series of 41 flyers in English and 26 in French that identify some of the key insights from the New Rural Economy Project of CRRF. Download and copy them for events or places where you think they may be useful. They made a great series for posting on office doors or at conferences in the pre-COVID days. Perhaps you can think of ways they may be used in our current, more online, world. If you do, let us know so that we can pass on your suggestions to others.
We made three decisions regarding our annual conferences that have served us well over the years. The first was to meet in rural areas wherever possible (more than 1 hour from an international airport); the second was to give program control to the local community; and the third was to integrate local tours by which participants learned about community challenges and initiatives.
As part of the 11-year New Rural Economy Project, David Bruce and his cohorts produced a series of 8 videos regarding the ways in which rural communities are turning the challenges they face into new opportunities. In the process, the videos identify the general lessons emerging from these examples so that other communities might be inspired in similar ways.
In 1988, Ray Bollman (Statistics Canada), Fran Shaver (Concordia U.), and I (Tony Fuller) attended the International Rural Sociological Society conference in Bologna where Harriet Friedmann in her presentation first hinted at global restructuring. Ray and I felt that Canadian scholars were probably not very well equipped to debate such ideas and to measure their potential impacts in Canada’s diverse rural regions. Ray’s response was to increasingly make available data on rural social and economic issues, while mine was to press for a think tank that would attract top scholars such as Peter Apedaile, Phil Ehrensaft, Hartly Furtan, Bruno Jean, Bill Reimer, Fran Shaver, and Jack Stabler. Together, we persuaded Ag. Canada to sponsor the first group meeting in Regina to the tune of $2,000… The conference marked for the first time officially that rural was not necessarily agricultural. This was not popular in Saskatoon, especially among the farm women’s group!” [Tony Fuller, 2020/06/08: What I Remember.docx and email 2020/10/21
Our present activities and insights rest on a 32-year history of research, discussion, collaboration, and projects among researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, and community people. Over those 3 decades we have learned a great deal about rural places, people, and communities. They serve as a solid foundation for our current activities and hopefully a source of pride and inspiration for the present cohort of participants. Check out the following video slides that outline the first 30 years of that history. You may be surprised how many of the insights are reflected in our current discussions and initiatives.
“I would like to add another item to the discussion of evolution of CRRF. Lynden Johnson was the head of the federal Rural Secretariat and collaborated on some projects with the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC, now known as Colleges and Institutes Canada). He was quite insistent that CRRF should include college-based researchers in its network. As a result, I was the first college-based researcher to address a CRRF conference (Tweed, I think it was 2004) and I believe there has been college representation at CRRF conferences ever since. Unlike other research networks I have been part of over the years, CRRF people have been very welcoming of the applied research perspective of colleges.” [Nelson Rogers, 2020/10/16-email]