I had a small epiphany a few days ago. Maybe I was in a bit of a funk in the first place, but as I was reading one of our national newspapers I got more and more depressed with every page I turned. And so, I counted. In the first section alone, there were 19 negative stories, four of which took up the entire front page. Some of it was necessary information, but in its totality, a bleak picture of negativity.
I found myself asking, is there no good news here? Sure, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Certainly, life is very different and often frustrating and, at times, frightening. But as the song goes, is that all there is?
Subsequently, I was made aware of a report that over a third of Canadians are currently devastated, primarily over the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also realized that I, too, was getting a little “stir-crazy” as the result of pandemic restrictions, which has resulted in an increase in crankiness and cabin fever. I am sure I am not alone in that, but I thought, “Enough of this already!”
And so, I thought, let’s look at some good-news stories, and there are many, starting right here at home. Even during times that are not the happiest, good things happen.
For instance, we can be happy that Muskoka, on a per capita basis, has a relatively low infection rate of COVID-19. It is true that we are currently rated in the “Orange Zone” when it comes to the pandemic, which is not a particularly good place to be. But this is because as a health unit we are lumped in with Barrie and South Simcoe who have a much higher infection rate than Muskoka.
Our record here is not an accident. People and municipal governments have been, on the whole, very careful, and even with one of the larger seasonal populations in Ontario, Muskoka is currently riding the COVID-19 wave better than many other areas. We need to keep that up, but it is something to celebrate as we look for the light at the end of the tunnel and wait for an effective vaccine.
Then there is Fairvern Nursing Home. Huntsville has suffered from a disproportionate share of long-term care beds in Muskoka for decades, and now it appears that help is on the horizon.
Currently, Fairvern, with only 76 beds, compared to 160 beds at The Pines Long-Term Nursing Home in Bracebridge, is run by a volunteer board of directors whose current chair is Huntsville businesswoman Dana Murdy. Along with their predecessor boards, they have worked tirelessly to create a new and better future for Fairvern. They have been strongly supported by Huntsville Council, most recently, those led by Scott Aitchison and now Karin Terziano.
The result of all of this dedication and hard work by local people is an announcement by the Province of Ontario that Fairvern’s capacity will be increased to 160 beds. This will allow the construction of a new Fairvern facility on a site close to the Huntsville Hospital, generously donated by Pat Dubé, the owner of Greystone Property Management. Another great example of Huntsville people stepping up to the plate when help is needed.
In every way, this is a good news story for Huntsville. At one point this year, Fairvern had a waiting list of 163 people who required long-term care. Help to alleviate that unacceptable backlog is now on the way. As well, as Mayor Terziano has said, there will be new jobs in Huntsville in the healthcare field and an increase in construction jobs during the two-year period it will take to complete the new Fairvern facility. A win-win for everybody.
Another good news story, at least in my view, is the recent decision by Huntsville Council to purchase for one thousand dollars what is known as the KWH property, along the waterfront by the Centre Street bridge.
In early days, that site was occupied by a tannery that was a major employer in what was then the small Town of Huntsville. The property was clearly contaminated by the tannery process and over the years there has been a great deal of controversy about its long-term effect on Huntsville’s environment.
Years ago, the KWH site was purchased by Uponor, a Finnish pipe manufacturer. In more recent years, Uponor ceased operations in Huntsville but leased their facility to another firm, producing a similar product. Now, Uponor has made a corporate decision to divest itself of all North American properties and has offered the Huntsville site to the Town for a nominal price.
There are at least four reasons, in my view, that council made a courageous and correct decision to take over this property.
First, the contamination on this property is below ground and tests as recently as this year have indicated that the environment is not affected. If an environmental issue does arise in the future, whether or not the municipality owns the property they would be deeply involved both politically and legally. Better then to have total control of the property and the waterfront it includes than having to deal with a second or third party.
Second, the current operators on the Uponor site are significant employers, to the benefit of our local economy and to many families in Huntsville. Council’s decision keeps those jobs here for the foreseeable future.
Third, the Town will now receive lease payments that reflect market value from the current operator and those funds will be dedicated solely to an environmental reserve fund, something the Town does not have now, to deal with future environmental issues.
Finally, if and when that site is vacated, it is no longer private property and the Town has total control over its future, which hopefully will be another opportunity for green space in our community. All of this, in my view, is good news for Huntsville.
So even as we endure some difficult times, there are some good things to think about and celebrate. There is definitely a bright side.
One observation that has moved front and centre to me as I write this article is how fortunate we are to have so many people in our community that really care about our future and work hard, under any circumstance, to make it a positive one.
We can all be grateful for that. Certainly, just thinking about all of this makes me much less grumpy. My wife will appreciate that!
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