Statistics Canada informs me Canadians are becoming increasingly urbanized.
Metropolitan is the chic way of saying this, I suppose.
But no matter how you say it, we have definitely moved off the farm, left the country and nestled into cityscapes. Today four out of five Canadians live in cities.
I am a country boy at heart and this bothers me.
But I also celebrate this exodus from mountains and plains. Good riddance, I say, more room for me. But this is being perilously self-serving.
As cities continue to pull from our smaller rural towns I wonder what will be left when the exodus is finally complete.
My guess is that at some point in the very near future the simple rural village that once lit up the distance will only exist in our imaginations.
Some of us will stay rural however, trapped by circumstance or just plain stubbornness. The solitude and neighbourliness of being out “nowhere” has some of us by the throat and just won’t let go.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of rural cattlemen. They had come together at the local auction house to hear options.
They were also there to bemoan the life they were slowly losing and mourn what they had already lost.
As cattle prices continued to fall, many were forced to carve off a piece of ranchland for a house or two — summer homes or second homes for our suffocating urbanites.
As we all sat around telling stories, our minds running through various tax incentives and exploring the benefits of land trusts, it became clear these folks were eager to find ways to preserve a slice of history.
What they wanted to save was both land and character.
John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath could not have said it any better:
“Place where folks live is them folks.”
We are losing them folks because them folks are losing control of their own communities.
They are losing control of the local banks that once took in their money, held it for a while, and then lent it back on a handshake.
Gone now are the co-operatives that grew by the simple philosophy that the collective is far greater than the singular.
Most importantly, we have lost our rural education and, for a country boy like me, this is all very disturbing.
However I do see a path through the rural-maze.
If we can imagine a way to restore rural education, not only could we create new incentives to re-inhabit rural Canada, but in the process we might just learn something of importance to our urban centres as well.
For one thing, rural education once consisted of broad and healthy liberal arts programs.
This education included gardening, food preparation, alternative energy production, housing construction matched to a particular climate, and a diverse skills program of maintenance and repair.
It also included a highly analytical and practical sort of learning that brought local ecology and local history together and played them off one another in order to sustain both.
It seems to me that one way to reverse the exodus from our rural places is to first bring back old time rural education — both in the country and in the city.
Many of our rural communities have become ghost towns simply out of neglect, first of the land and then of the residents themselves.
It will be necessary to learn how to restore local ecosystems prior to restoring local economies. The educational challenges and rewards of this type of education would be enormous.
As our students begin working out novel approaches to creating new rural incentives, new designs and new possibilities, they will soon come across the root of all learning: discovering skills that have value.
Many of these new possibilities would have direct benefits to our urban neighbourhoods.
It is possible and even desirable to include community gardening as a discipline in our urban schools.
Organizing class work around metropolitan park restoration and maintenance could create imaginative ways for students to reconnect to their rural roots.
In general, it is possible to look at our revitalized rural places as training grounds for urban education.
In the past, we have often looked at sending big city teachers into our smaller rural communities as a way to bring big city values to the country.
It should work the other way around.
Placing teachers fresh out of the city into rural places to learn rural values and rural skills may be the way of the future.
These ideas are not mine alone, and they are certainly not new.
In 1950 Louis Bromfield proposed a network of ‘pilot farms’ spread out through the country as centres of alternative education and research benefiting not only rural students but urban learners as well.
Many of Bromfield’s ideas are just now coming to fruition through nonprofit educational programs.
I believe it is time mainstream education sign-on. In so doing they would be acknowledging the benefits of sending urbanites into the country and they would be creating incentives to revitalize rural Canada.
Makes sense to a country boy like me.