In the old days, growing up in a small town meant two things. First you got yourself a car, then when you reached legal age, you jumped in it and headed for the nearest big city at top speed.
These days, following the lemmings over the cliff doesn’t seem like such a swell idea.
The truth is, the city is just a boring zoo filled with crime and slime, and housing prices there are enough to turn your hair prematurely white. Or so at least some say.
Grade 10 student Paige Ednie has seen both worlds.
A few years ago, her family moved from Winnipeg and bought a hotel in Melita.
“I want to be a rigger,” she jokes, when asked what future career she might choose.
Small-town life suits her fine, she said, adding that there’s probably lots of other people who would like to escape from the big city, too, if they could.
At the recent Rural Opportunities Youth Conference in Souris, high school students from eight southwestern Manitoba schools were shown lots of reasons why country life, entrepreneurship, or becoming a highly paid tradesperson could be just the right ingredients for happiness in life.
Organized by the Southwest Regional Round Table (SWRRT), the event was aimed at opening young eyes to the fact that nobody wants them to rush off to the city, and that if they do decide to stay, they will be needed and appreciated in the future.
BE YOUR OWN BOSS
When you’re a teenager, being cool, hip and fashionable is what counts most. But in the grown-up world, the people who get the most respect are the ones who actually know how to do things – like tradespeople.
“If you’re the local electrician, you can run your own business. You can be the boss and a tradesperson, too,” said Ken Falloon, of Manitoba Apprenticeship and Trades. His presentation was aimed at helping young people see the win-win connection of small-town life and a career in the trades.
“You can be the local plumber, the local mechanic, the local hairstylist, the local cook, and be your own boss.”
As the world fills to bursting with university degree-holding, coffee-brewing baristas and Walmart greeters, the stigma attached to the trades is fading.
Tradespeople are a very important factor in keeping small-town economies viable, he added. Without them, things quickly fall apart.
“We have a local machine shop here in town. At harvest time, that shop keeps the $400,000 combines running,” said Falloon. “Rather than waiting two weeks for a part to come from Ontario or across the ocean, he can make you one.”
In a panel discussion of rural opportunities featuring three local entrepreneurs, students heard why there are distinct advantages in setting up shop in a small town.
Marylin Pierce, who recently opened up a bed and breakfast and spa in a historic Souris home, said that the lack of competition was one good reason to start a business in a small town.
“Brandon was not the answer. There would have been too much competition, high rent, and endless advertising to let people know I even existed,” she said.
“My advice to you is graduate, travel, explore, listen, learn, and then move back to your roots. It’s a great place to raise a family and start your own business.”
Regan Rome, who played eight seasons in the NHL and the European hockey league, recently moved back to Souris with his wife and family, the town where both of them grew up. In March, they plan to open a Subway franchise in the town that they love.
“In my second or third year of professional hockey, when the injuries started to take their toll, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my real life, I guess,” he said. “I realized that I couldn’t play hockey forever, so I had to do some planning.”
At the age of 23, Cam Serruys already knew what he wanted to do with his life. After working as a short-order cook since the age of 16, he bought the local Chicken Chef in Melita when it came up for sale, and now also runs a catering business.
“My entire family thought I was crazy,” said Serruys, with a broad smile. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Nola Warnica, chair of SWRRT, the organizer of the event, said that she hoped it would leave a lasting impression on the students who participated.
“We hope to show the students that it’s important to get an education, but that you can come home, too,” she said.
Some of the students didn’t need much convincing at all that small towns rule.
Seated next to a young, insouciant fellow sporting a bright-red Mohawk hairdo, was Grade 10 student Kaitlyn Fraser.
“The city sucks,” she said. “Here, you know everybody. There’s more trust in a small town.” [email protected]