a little community with a big heart
By David Sherwood and Lucie Brunet, Volunteer Coordinator, Economic
Development Ste-Anne-de-Prescott, Ontario
Ste-Anne-de-Prescott is a small village in Eastern Ontario where people
roll up their sleeves and work together to achieve results. With a
history of notable accomplishments such as establishing a community
centre, founding a credit union, and organizing creative festivals,
Ste-Anne has shown itself to be "a little community with a big heart."
However, like many other small villages, Ste-Anne-de-Prescott is vulnerable
to population decline and the loss of local businesses, in part due
to the increasing globalization of the economy.
In the spring of 2001, the community was threatened with the loss
of its credit union, one of the largest local employers. A protest
movement called S.O.S. Ste-Anne was quickly established and a bitter
struggle took place between the credit union Board and the community.
Despite a major public awareness and popular education campaign undertaken
by S.O.S., the credit union closed later that year.
The local population was crestfallen, but S.O.S. Ste-Anne helped the
people redirect their energy into positive action, a process that
was made easier because the group had used a community building process
to engage residents. A new group called “Forum Ste-Anne” was founded
to facilitate future activities.
Forum Ste-Anne holds open meetings that encourage individuals, businesses
and associations to visualize a promising future and to pool their
strengths and resources to build it. After losing the credit union,
residents were afraid that other businesses would suffer the same
fate or that their historic church might close. They were also worried
about the loss of young people, many of whom move away after finishing
high school. Together, they identified the community’s assets and
needs, as well as opportunities for improvement. They aspired to build
a healthy, prosperous and attractive village with a good quality of
At an early strategic planning meeting, residents determined four
priority areas for action:
After making some short-term progress in the first year, there have
been significant results in all areas. New playground equipment was
acquired, a major fundraising drive allowed the church to restore
the religious paintings on its walls and ceilings (which earned a
heritage award in 2004), and the general store opened a restaurant.
At the same time, the village has seen increased volunteerism and
the revitalisation of its festivals.
- economic development
- renovating the church
- opening a restaurant in the village
- improving sports and recreational activities.
In 2002, residents formed an Economic Development Committee (EDC).
Representatives of the business and agriculture sectors came together
to reflect on the economic potential of the community and the collective
willingness and capacity to take action. Although economic trends
were not especially favourable, the community had many assets to build
on and a demonstrated capacity for organization. Early meetings highlighted
he importance of:
During the first phase of its work, the EDC conducted a door-to-door
survey to "take a snapshot" of the population and to gather opinions
on the needs, strengths and challenges facing the community. Also,
some 150 individuals (representing over 35% of the adult population)
participated in several thematic public consultation sessions. Two
"town hall" style meetings allowed dozens of people to validate the
assessment results, to draw inspiration from rural development trends
across Canada, to formulate a long-term vision for Ste-Anne and to
define a mandate for the EDC.
- developing and strengthening local resources,
e.g. diversifying the local economy and creating jobs;
- projects that contribute to sustainable development;
- maintaining broad community commitment;
The products and priorities of these efforts have included the publication
of a business directory and tourism brochure, and agreement to establish
a web site, diversify agriculture, and bring high-speed Internet to
the second phase, the Committee focused on the diversification of
its primary economic base, which is agriculture. An over-reliance
on dairy production could make the local economy vulnerable to changes
in that industry. With financial assistance from provincial and federal
agencies (CEDTAP and RDÉE), the committee undertook a market assessment
study. This study identified opportunities for diversification of
agricultural products, for local processing of crops (including organic),
and the sale of local products directly to consumers. Also, the EDC
received training on the principles of community economic development
and improved its relationship with the municipality.
The EDC has since established a micro-lending circle to assist local
businesses. Other agri-business concepts (e.g., raising sheep, growing
alternative crops, bed and breakfasts) are also under consideration.
Now in its third phase, the EDC continues to monitor the health of
local businesses, to facilitate information sharing and to organize
meetings. When an opportunity is identified, it provides encouragement
and advice to residents and also helps them to network with each other.
The group has received funding to study a manure digester and is following
up on many of the good ideas generated during the earlier phases.
Most of these are small projects that make a big difference locally.
These follow-up activities may not be as exciting as the earlier meetings
and studies, but it’s action on the ground that counts!
For more information, contact: David Sherwood (613) 674-1574 email@example.com