Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones…

By Jason Menard

I wonder, do Shriners hospitals offer a cure for thin skin?

In a desperate bid to keep by an official with the Shriner’s Hospital in Montreal, many people in the City of London have bristled at the fact that London was referred to as a less-than-cosmopolitan city. Suddenly some of the more notable talking heads in the city are lobbying missives back as if the entire Montreal region had been involved in this, instead of one, misguided individual.

The fact of the matter is that London isn’t cosmopolitan. It’s stuck at a crossroads and is in danger of being overwhelmed by inertia.

I have spent almost equal amounts of my life in both London and Montreal, and I’ve seen the good and the bad of both. I had to laugh when I read some of the comments that were made in an attempt – puerile as it may have been – to boost our city’s own fragile ego. It was almost as if we were back on the schoolyard, resorting to “My dad can beat up your dad.”

Sure, driving to work in Montreal would take me an hour – if I chose to take that route. But the commuter train and other methods of public transportation got me from one end of the island to my downtown office in 15 minutes. Conversely, it takes me 10 minutes to drive to work in London, but would take over an hour by bus. Considering we’re the Forest City, I’d have to say chock one up for la belle province.

London remains a medium-sized town with big-city aspirations that have been saddled with small-town thinking. For many years, the city has been considered bush league – and it’s evidenced by the fact that so many people feel the need to be over-protective of our accomplishments. One would think the JLC is an entertainment Mecca on par with Madison Square Garden considering the amount of times it has been trotted out in defence of this city’s cultural standing.

So instead of resorting to playground antics, maybe we should sit back and take a look at where this city is – and where it can go, if we let it!

We can be proud of our world-class hospital facilities – including the incoming Shriner’s Hospital – and the fact that we have one of the most respected education institutions in all of Canada thanks to the University of Western Ontario. We can hope that the vaunted JLC will serve as the start of a vital downtown revitalization. We can pride ourselves in the city’s beauty and relative safety.

But still that inertia remains. I recently spoke with one of this city’s radio voices, who shares a history with me in that we both attended Western and both left London for a number of years, only to return. And, despite the cosmetic changes like building changing names and stores changing ownership, we were both struck with the same idea – not much has changed in the past 10 years.

That social inertia seems to have gripped this city, and needs something to tip it over the brink. Does this city decide to turn the corner and modernize? Become aggressive in its approach to attracting new and dynamic industries? Or do we continue to be led by an Old Boys’ (and Girls’) network that doesn’t want to rock the conservative boat we’re on. Do we accept the status quo and be content?

The opinion of outsiders towards London can be summed up in one word – pleasant. Of course, that’s if outsiders even have an opinion of us. Like it or not, despite how self-important some Londoners feel, the fact of the matter is that we’re barely a blip on the cultural and social radar of the rest of Canada. So are we happy with this, or do we want to move forward and become a vital component of the country?

The Shriners offer an interesting metaphor for this city. On one hand, you have the traditionally older Shriner population being looked to as a key component of this city’s growth. But perhaps the focus should switch to the kids they are looking to help. A Shriners hospital works to give those children hope for a brighter future.

The choice is up to London. It’s great for a city to have the enthusiasm and potential of children, but it’s embarrassing for us to be acting like them.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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