ANNE ELSPETH RECTOR: Better subjects for local docu-series

Anne Elspeth-Rector jpg, BI

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‘The County’s’ been dominating conversation as urbanites, sprung from COVID-19 seclusion, swarmed Quinte’s southern summer scene; attractions of this idyllic isle amplified far and, apparently, world-wide.

Several newspaper articles described the county of Prince Edward as an “island” even though it isn’t. One journalist, at the end of the article, did take time to explain their opening reference wasn’t precise… it’s not an island rather, a geographic “peninsula” bisected by the manmade Murray Canal, built in latter 19th Century. Locals lobbied long and hard for a canal to be cut through this narrow jut of land, land Indigenous peoples portaged across for centuries before Caucasians; one still known as Carrying Place.

For those unfamiliar with local turf, it isn’t Prince Edward Island – back east, but Prince Edward Isle; Quinte’s Isle; Prince Edward County or ‘the County.’ Otherwise, you’re ‘come from away,’ eh. And thousands from ‘away’ thronged this tourist season, congested County roads and beaches attesting to a cooped-up regional travel year, many from COVID-19 hot zones, an anxious added element.

Then I read an article by Virginia Clinton, the local journalism initiative reporter, who introduced an enterprising couple of new arrivals with story-telling skills. Stories of “people daring to make a drastic life change, people daring to start over… individuals, couples and families who settled down in rural Prince Edward County.” As documentarians noted, “Whether they came willingly or not… what they all have in common is courage, resilience, and the dream of starting over.”

Unsurprised by the subject matter, the choice of subjects did surprise. Why start with newer arrivals given so many stories of local “courage, resilience, and the dream of starting over…”? For as I, a nomadic military transplant who’s lived here 40 years, consider resilience and starting over, I think of turning lenses toward the earliest inhabitants of local lands; nomadic First Peoples.

Sandbanks Provincial Park; a Cultural Resource Study (1991) set its sights on the same spots where tourists now swoon. From ancient Paleo Indians to archaeology of Point Peninsula Peoples’ still surfacing in sand-dunes tourists tread today, from Martin’s Outlet beach, site of ancient Indigenous burial grounds to earthen sites erected by early Mound builders and even now, visible across the County… it’s here for the telling. Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (Kenhtèke kanyen’kehá:ka), in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, could assist in better understanding how intertwined the relationships of these First Peoples.

United Empire loyalists are also proudly proclaimed in Prince Edward parts, refugees who left America to begin again with little but their principles… as they carved out these pioneer settlements.

County farmers surely represent resilience today. As do adaptive youth and service staff, seeking affordable housing but forced to move elsewhere to pursue their dreams…  by starting over. Because it costs considerably more to stay after well-heeled displacements drive taxes, housing and the cost of living up.

Relocating to ‘the County’ today isn’t akin to frontier survival or the understandable culture shock of refugee arrivals; absent worldly goods or even English. For most it’s a quality lifestyle upgrade, not an ordeal… entrepreneurial risks notwithstanding. Transplant tales can certainly be compelling and worthy. However, a little admiration for those who came before goes a long way, those who made a go of it amid far tougher slogging… those now welcoming and supporting newcomers in this community-minded region