This column first appeared in the September All Month edition of the Friday AM
First of all, I’m not a fan of actual mice. But it’s worth acknowledging that, as fictional characters, they have played a major role in literary culture. They are determined underdogs. And anyone who lives in a house as old as mine is well aware of their clever nature.
Do you remember the fable of the country mouse and the city mouse? I love fables. They remind us about important life lessons.
Having grown up in cities larger than Salmon Arm, I was always curious about country mice. Now, as a well established country mouse myself, I sometimes envy the city mouse. How fickle we are.
Over the summer, I spent some time reacquainting myself with my inner city mouse. Still alive and well. Three days in Toronto reminded me that I love big cities. I love people watching. I love riding the iconic TTC street cars. I’m enthralled by the improvised theatre that is a city with a cast of millions all singing their songs and telling their stories.
I also visited with a friend who lives in the delightful chaos that is Toronto. We went to nursery school together. She lives a few blocks away from our old stomping ground. As we visited, I remarked on how lucky she was to live in such a vibrant city. And then she surprised me. You see, she came to my neighbourhood earlier this year to play at the Hive and was quite struck by the sense of community and appreciation for live music here. Fair enough. We too appreciate art and culture. But as we stood steps away from the place in which we grew up, she said she would trade it all in to live in a small community like mine. Wait? What?
It’s an accomplishment, she suggested, to live in a small community and be able to make a decent living and love what you do. I hadn’t thought about that before. She’s right, I think. It takes a brave mouse.
As small communities, we spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to attract city mice. Sometimes we do it by trying to make small cities appear more big. I’m not so sure that’s the best way. Maybe, just maybe, we should take the opposite approach. We should celebrate all that we are. And all that we aren’t.
We have no commute times. We have no traffic jams. The average family home is not worth a million dollars. It doesn’t cost $35 a day to park downtown. We can get by with one car, and in some cases, no car. We needn’t take vacation days to take the kids skiing or spend time at the beach or go biking. There are no executive headquarters, or sky scrapers, heck, we don’t even have an escalator in Salmon Arm.
And maybe our competitive advantage is just this. We plan carefully for what we need because there are fewer of us. And because we do this, we always have a little extra. Extra room for those who want to live here for the great schools, stellar health professionals, experienced business community, diverse neighbourhoods and spirited community.
And as the saying goes, if you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.
I have lived in 7 cities and 5 provinces. I even dallied with Paris and London for awhile. There was a time I would have thought of not living there as a miss. But, thanks to a few lucky bounces and a willingness to try, I made it to Salmon Arm instead. And after the summer I’ve had, I no longer think of it as a compromise. I think of it as a win. I’m proud of us. And I’m happy for anyone else who made that choice too. You make our little city better.
We do not need to ask for people to come here, we need to say to those hungry for small city life that we have a place for them at the table too.
I must tell you that when we stopped at the store to buy milk and bread on the way home from our holiday, our boys’ friends were at Canoe store and were so happy to see them. Had we been city mice, it’s unlikely we would have had that delightful homecoming.
Bravery pays off. Thank you for being brave and choosing a small town. Urban Canada has much to learn from us.
Au revoir Paris, goodbye Toronto. We’re home.
They should be so lucky.