A Lack of Pioneering Vision

By Jason Menard

Monday night’s meeting didn’t just see London City Council toss an extra $85,000 onto the pile that is the Fanshawe Pioneer Village – they managed to waste $300,000 by providing a brief stay of execution for the facility.

And hopefully it’ll be the last $300,000 wasted. It will be if Council has the guts to finally cut bait next year.

In a Utopian world, it’d be wonderful to support each and every artistic and historic venture that enriches the Forest City. However, the reality of the situation is that perhaps we’ve come to a time where we need to take a cold, hard look at what we have, and make the tough decisions required to maximize our return on our investment – and to stop chasing after a dream that will never come to fruition.

Now, before I get branded a cold-hearted right-winger who only looks at the bottom line, you should know that I’ve been on the left wing more often than Bobby Hull in his heyday! But what good is funding a service that people have shown, through their apathy, they don’t want.

The only time that the Pioneer Village arouses passion in the community is during the annual “Save the Village” scenarios. Where is this passion during the year? Can you show me where this vocal community that would hate to see such a valuable component of our community disappear has actually been backing up their words with their wallets? Perhaps if their support extended beyond the emotional to the financial, the Fanshawe Pioneer Village wouldn’t be trying to stave off the axe each and every year.

We’re not talking about a site that’s unique in Canada. Heck, I Googled “Pioneer Village” and had to wade through five pages before I even hit on a mention of Fanshawe Pioneer Village – and that was from a Free Press article! There are dozens of villages out there, so we’re not talking about eliminating the last of its kind.

And I propose we don’t totally eliminate it. We simply take a concerted look at what we have in London and try to maximize its impact.

London has more pressing needs than a Pioneer Village that doesn’t get support. It has a downtown that’s grip on survival is tenuous at best. I often walk the streets of Downtown London and see the empty storefronts, or the constantly changing vendors. We have the potential markets created by the John Labatt Centre’s events. We have a Market that needs to better market itself. And we have a rich history that many of our very own citizens know nothing about – much less care.

But, seeing as Easter’s just around the corner, what if we decide to put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. What if we consolidate our efforts and make Downtown London the focal point of the city’s history, culture, and – dare I say it – future?

Tutankhamen’s tomb is no less valuable or interesting to people because it’s been moved from Egypt and has toured the world, so relocating a few artifacts from the outskirts of London to a centralized display isn’t sacrilegious. Why not conscript some of those empty storefronts on Dundas, or rent out some areas of Galleria London and turn Downtown London into a living, breathing celebration of everything that London was, is, and can be?

Why can’t we intersperse our city’s history amongst its present? Co-ordinate efforts between Museum London, the Public Library, and our archeological caretakers and give people a reason to visit downtown. In doing so, people will hopefully be attracted to the Core, will patronize its shops, and draw new investment to an area that sorely needs it.

Obviously the status quo isn’t working, and has not for many years in the case of Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Our city and its heritage is something of which we should be proud. But it’s hard to feel pride, when we don’t know enough about our past.

A co-ordinated, consolidated effort to create a downtown core that’s rich in history, vibrant in its present, and optimistic about its future should be worth more to the City than throwing away money at a model that doesn’t work.

And then the responsibility would fall upon the shoulders that deserve it – those of the people of London. If they don’t support something that’s been tailor-made to meet their needs, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for what we lose

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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