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Ste-Anne-de-Prescott: 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."Farm Product (Grain)

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 life.

At an early strategic planning meeting, residents determined four priority areas for action:

  • economic development
  • renovating the church
  • opening a restaurant in the village
  • improving sports and recreational activities.
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.

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:
  • developing and strengthening local resources, e.g. diversifying the local economy and creating jobs;
  • projects that contribute to sustainable development;
  • maintaining broad community commitment;
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.

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 area.

Farm Product (Grain)In 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

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