By Ken Eshpeter
I am a farmer and I live in a rural area. Not only is my community rural but I refer to it as "real rural". Let me tell you why I coined this terminology. But first, let me give some background about population dynamics across the rural Great Plains and the link to rural transportation in Alberta.
Prior to about 1970 the Canadian West was predominantly rural. It had many small towns under 1000 people and most of those centres could provide the average family with everything it needed to thrive.
Let us use my small town as an example. Daysland had two grocery stores, a clothing wear store, two restaurants, three car dealerships, a theatre, an arena, a curling rink, a golf course, an abattoir, a medical clinic with four doctors, a hospital with 30 active beds, a pharmacy, a creamery, five grain elevators, a post office, a school for grades 1 to 12, four active churches, a bank, a pool hall and barber, a lumber yard, two welding shops, a realtor, a hardware, a community hall. The total population of Daysland and District was only 2000 people, but it supported all the people and all of those businesses.
If you lived in town you wanted for nothing;
you did not even need a vehicle. There was
daily Greyhound bus service to and from our
town as well as regular railway service.
If you farmed you needed vehicles but that was to be expected. Albertans living in the real rural areas today, resemble the original settlements at the turn of the 20th century except in terms of relative wealth. They in fact surpassed us because in those days, few Albertans were well off or enjoyed public services, not just the people in "real rural" areas.
Although we were rural, we did not feel isolated. Our community thrived. Most rural people went to "the city", like Edmonton, only occasionally, maybe to shop for clothing or go to the exhibition or see a specialist at the University Hospital. We had relatives who lived in the city but we rarely went there. The university was in Edmonton and the rural young people who enrolled there tended to do very well.
Things started to change in the rural areas in 1965. That was the year that the Federal Government sponsored a study called Tradition and Transition. It's message was essentially that the rural area was inefficient and expensive to maintain so it had to be transformed. Accordingly, farms began getting larger and towns began getting smaller. Policies of the time seemed to convey subtle messages that it was no longer "cool" to be living in the rural areas with inferences that rural residents should want to abandon their home areas in response to calls to develop the cities which were the centres of action, innovation and the future.
The new strategy had a predicted and devastating effect on the rurallandscape. Smaller centres like Daysland have not grown because the struggle to survive has worsened. Unknown to many, the small print in many free trade agreements hastened the process with clauses forbidding a province, country or municipality from actively financially supporting local initiatives.
So, getting back to the defining of rural, it seems that
the concept needs adjustment into at least two categories:
. . . rural and real rural . . .
The Government of Alberta often suggests that it really has only two main cities - Edmonton and Calgary - with everything else being rural. Places like Red Deer, Grand Prairie, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Camrose and Lloydminster are commonly referred to as "rural."
I feel that centres like Daysland and other small communities around the province have little in common with larger population centres like Red Deer, Medicine Hat or Grande Prairie. If they are classified as rural, and since we are so different from them, we need a different and more accurate way to think about and name our situation.
I use the term "real rural" to refer to us. It is a polite but accurate way of saying that small communities are really on the short end of government and other services. Those of us who live in the real rural areas are basically on our own, living almost as an island and pretty well on our own for transportation, retail services, schools, day care, appropriate and affordable sewage systems or close by grain collection facilities. Despite the provisions of the Canada Health Act, for example, we do not have health care that is "equitable, universal, affordable, portable and accessible." We often must travel too far for basic or specialized health services.
When it comes to transportation, those of us in the vast "real rural" areas of Alberta no longer have bus or railway services. And that needs to change. It's not enough to link the so-called rural centres like Grand Prairie, Athabasca and Camrose. And why not open existing railway links to people?
With extensive higher education, state of the art research centres,
new funding and better technology, it should be possible for the Government of Alberta and Alberta Transportation to provide transportation support for the "real rural" people of Alberta.
For further reference, see Roger Epp (2001)
Ken Eshpeter, Farmer and Thought Leader, holds the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the University of Alberta. He is Founder of the Battle River Railway and DaysArts Society. He attended Rural Transportation Information Day II-2017 where many participants identified the need to recognize that there are different kinds of rural in Alberta.
Grande Prairie Area Communities Partner on
Rural Transportation Pilot Program Application
Press Release, March 27, 2018. Used with permission.
The County of Grande Prairie, City of Grande Prairie,
the towns of Beaverlodge, Wembley and Sexsmith and Village of Hythe are
working together to apply for a provincial grant.
Successful applicants of the Alberta Transportation RuralTransportation Pilot Program will receive operational funding to provide public transportation services between urban centres and their surrounding communities over two years. The amount of funding the community partners could receive will depend on the size and scope of the project.
"The County of Grande Prairie is pleased to collaborate with our neighbouring municipalities on this project. If our application is successful, it will benefit everyone as it will provide a means of transportation to those who cannot drive or want to reduce their environmental footprint, it will enhance local economic development opportunities, and it will make our communities more accessible and connected." - Leanne Beaupre, County of Grande Prairie Reeve
"The need for rural transportation solutions highlights just how connected the communities in our region are. The Rural Transportation Pilot Project is another example of how we can improve the quality of life for residents across the region by working together." - Bill Given, City of Grande Prairie Mayor
"Council looks forward to the pilot program since it would positively impact the residents of the area providing much needed access and availability to alternative transportation. The Town looks forward to working with all partners on this initiative." -Gary Rycroft, Town of Beaverlodge Mayor
In order to build communities that provide access to opportunity for all people; there must be quality transportation options that connect people to jobs and resources as well as seniors to appointments and social gatherings. The Rural Transportation Pilot Program will help us achieve this goal and discover possibilities for longer term services." - Claude Lagace, Town of Sexsmith Mayor
"The Town of Wembley supports the concept of a Rural Transportation Pilot Program. In a large geographic region, it is essential for the residents to have access to a regional transportation system." - Chris Turnmire, Town of Wembley Mayor
The Village of Hythe Council has passed a resolution to support the application for a pilot program. We know there are challenges with seniors and other residents who are unable to drive to the city, but still need the services it provides. We look forward to working with our regional partners in overcoming this challenge. - Brian Peterson, Village of Hythe Mayor
The partner municipalities are compiling information for the grant application, which included a City transit bus driving through Clairmont, Beaverlodge, Hythe, Sexsmith and Wembley earlier this month to time out the routes. If the municipalities' application is successful and they agree to proceed with the service, they will monitor the program during the two-year period, to determine how to best meet the needs of the communities during the pilot project and determine whether to continue to provide the service after provincial funding has ended.
Rural Transportation News. Alberta 2018 is produced by ALL of Alberta (Association for Life-wide Living of Alberta). Contributors and people in Rural Transportation Team Alberta are committed to changes that contribute to the quality of life for everyone in rural Alberta. We value your feedback and ideas.
or by calling 780/672-9315.
Appreciation is extended to contributors, organizations and other stakeholders for their help in moving the Alberta Rural Transportation
efforts along, and to the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association for helping to circulate this column.
Cathie Bartlett is Editor for Rural Transporation News. Alberta 2018. She is a former journalist, and now an active member of the
Battle River Writing Centre.