Learning from Stratford’s experiences

I grew up in Stratford, Ont., a city of some 20,000. It was fondly referred to as Shakespeare’s adopted home town.

Dear Editor:

Ten years ago my husband and I moved from Ontario to Summerland soon after our daughter, her husband and three children.

We soon became immersed in the life of Summerland and it felt like home. But something has been happening to this place we love. We are losing valuable assets and are in danger of losing more. A solution must be found.

I grew up in Stratford, Ont., a city of some 20,000. It was fondly referred to as Shakespeare’s adopted home town.

In the mid-1990s Tom Patterson, a local businessman had a vision to bring tourists to Stratford. The idea caught on and the Stratford Shakespearean Festival was born.

United, Stratfordites began to spruce up their homes and businesses, often reflecting the Old English theme.  Restaurants expanded, and new ones came, along with more motels on the outskirts. And Stratford still thrives to this day.  People born there either stayed all their lives or returned in retirement.

Summerland too is surrounded by beauty and blessed by good farmland and a better climate than the dreaded winters I grew up with. We too had an identity and a vision that drew people to move here, or come as tourists. Yes, we had a set back when the highway was closed for weeks after the landslide. We have lost, gained and lost again, valuable businesses that helped draw visitors.  We have parks, campgrounds, motels, but if they are not used they too will close. We are struggling to keep even venues that have become tradition.

I believe the answer lies in the following three things:

o A strong identity — We need to know who we are as a community and what we want to become.

o A sure vision — When we look at other towns that are thriving, we need to discover what draws people to them and ask if we have similar resources.  Stratford thrives without growing too large.  It was also surrounded by other communities such as Blyth, a small rural town, and Niagara On The Lake which grew to be a suburb of Niagara Falls, plus others, all of which are highlights on the map for tourists.

We have a plethora of talent. Musicians, artists and artisans all willing to showcase their work. We have actors. Do we have enough eager to do more plays? Could we do summer theatre?

Whenever Summerland Baptist Church put on plays over a four-day period there was always a full house. What if there were more than one acting group, churches included, and each one was to prepare a play for two or three consecutive weekends.

Each group or acting guild could be scheduled at different times, covering the summer, to continually entice people to Summerland.

And with Art in the Park, markets in the park, music concerts, stores that draw tourists, good restaurants and coffee houses, beaches and parks, etc. I believe we would soon see the beginning of a turnaround and become a place where businesses would want to be and people desire to live.

o A solid unity — To accomplish something of this nature we must stop our squabbling and come together in unity to discover our vision and renew our sense of identity.

Maureen Wills