It begins with a question
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/08/2022 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When I went to law school at Dalhousie University in Halifax, I would regularly read the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. It’s one of the oldest newspapers in North America, and I remember that the bottom of the editorial page of each day’s edition asked this question in large, bold print: “What have you done today for Nova Scotia?”
It was profound. It got your attention and made you think. It loudly conveyed the level of commitment the paper’s owners, editors and staff — and presumably its readers, as well — had for their province.
Almost four decades later, the question still reverberates with me. But what about Manitoba? What about Brandon?
What if the bottom of this page asked, “What have you done for Manitoba today?” What if it asked, “What have you done today to make Brandon a better place for current and future generations?”
If you’re like me, the answer is likely “not much,” and it’s been that way for a long time.
I was born and raised here, and I’ve spent almost all my life here. I’ve seen this city grow (remember the old sign north of the old First Street bridge that for more than a decade said the population was 32,000?), and I’ve seen this city change again and again — and not always for the better.
One of those changes has been the decline in the number and role of service clubs in our city.
When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, the Kinsmen, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Optimists, Lions, Shriners, UCT, and ACT, Elks and many other similar organizations played a vital role in the support of education, the arts, culture, sport and recreation throughout the city.
The members of those large, active clubs would take on a cause or issue and address it with determination. With their time, their energy and their own money, they funded facilities like parks, paddling pools and seniors’ homes. They sponsored sports teams — I played bantam baseball for UCT, often at ballparks sponsored by the Kinsmen and Lions clubs — and tournaments, as well.
As committed citizens of the city, they took an active, involved interest in its well-being and in the well-being of all Brandonites. They lent a supportive, helping hand to the less fortunate and those in need. They made you feel that you were part of the community.
But then — sometime in the ’80s, I think — attitudes started to change. We started to hear the argument that it wasn’t the role of service clubs to fund parks and paddling pools, sports and social assistance. It was the role of governments, we were told.
The unspoken message to the organizations that had done so much for this city over its first century of existence was that their usefulness was over; that they were redundant. Outdated. That government could and would do a far better job.
With their roles diminished, the service clubs themselves diminished. It became increasingly difficult to attract new members and many of the clubs fell into decline, forced to dramatically reduce their activities.
In hindsight, that was a turning point in our city’s history. Service clubs were a special kind of “social glue” that brought people of different faiths, cultures and backgrounds together for the betterment of our city.
They didn’t exacerbate the differences in our city, they obliterated them. The result was strong relationships, a multi-layered support structure and a shared commitment to make our city a safe, joyful place to live.
Where is that commitment now? Where is that community “glue?” With most service clubs gone or in decline, how do we unite a community as diverse as ours toward the cause of building a modern, progressive and innovative city, where people want to stay and raise their children and grandchildren?
The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. We have a problem here in Brandon that governments can’t fix.
We need to follow the example set by the generations of Brandonites who preceded us. The example set by men and women who set aside differences in order to build a city that met the needs of its citizens, and had facilities that made it a joy to live in. They were less concerned about “me,” and more concerned about “us.”
For too long, we have been coasting on the hard work done by them.
We need to start to care again — all of us — not just for ourselves and our families, but for our neighbours and for people we don’t know who live on the other end of the city. And then we need to translate that into action.
It doesn’t need to start with much — big fires often start with small sparks — but maybe it starts with this question:
What have you done today for Brandon?
» Twitter: @deverynross