I grew up in a small town of about 3500 people.  Actually, we didn’t even live in town.  We lived about 4 km outside of town on a couple of acres “in the bush” in Northern Ontario.   There was a time when the majority of Canada lived in communities of less than 5000 people but like a lot of other things in life, “things have changed”.  Today close to 40% of Canadians live in areas of well over one million people and another 40% live in communities of 100,000 plus.  Less than 20% live in small towns.

That’s kind of too bad.  Small towns have some unique features that haven’t been upgraded by the move to urban living.  If you grew up in  a small town, chances are you had a chance to do things you’d never get to do in the larger centre.   I learned to drive when I was twelve.   It was on some dirt road and it was in my dad’s truck.  I didn’t get to use a vehicle on my own til I was 16 but hey–I knew how to drive.  I played high school basketball on the varsity team.  How does a 5 foot 8 student qualify to play on the starting five, especially when he wasn’t that good?  Small towns usually have small schools, and if you try out for the basketball or football or volleyball team, or the drama or debating or photography club, you made the cut.   Showing up was all you needed to do.   There were 21 in my high school graduation class.   If you managed to get hired at one of the small businesses you were given responsibility and trust from the start.   The owner of the grocery store wanted to go home early on Saturdays so he let a 16 year old close out, and make the bank deposit.  And more people used cash than credit cards in those days.

Don’t get me wrong, small towns have their down sides.  You really know people, and that’s not always good because some things in life are private and are not good for public consumption.  Know what I mean?   There is a code in small towns, you can gossip behind people’s backs but you don’t talk publicly about people in front of them.   If you do, you find you have less things to gossip about because people start avoiding you lest you start talking about them publicly.  A lot of stuff is known in small towns, but never gets dealt with, because the code prevents it.

When I finished high school I decided to take a year off from education to earn money to pay for university.  The small town didn’t have much by way of work so I had to leave the small town.  I moved to Ottawa which in those days was a booming 300,000 people.  My mom gave me a $50 bill, put me on the greyhound bus, and said “good luck”.  That was the day I left the small town and I haven’t lived in one since then.

I don’t miss the small town entirely.  But if I had to, I think I could negotiate it.  It takes a special knack to live well in a small town.  Not everyone can do it.

 

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