© Ryan Ross - The Guardian
Georgetown Conference delegates Zita Cobb, left, Donna Butt and Gilles Lepage, here outside the town’s municipal offices, were part of the conference’s first panel Thursday afternoon.
Georgetown conference underway in eastern Prince Edward Island
GEORGETOWN – There were no plans to save rural communities hatched during the first day of the Georgetown Conference, but there was a lot of optimism about what could be done.
That optimism was on display from three panelists who came from different walks of life but knew something about working in rural areas.
Donna Butt, who was one of the panelists, is the artistic director for a small theatre company in Trinity, N.L., where fewer than 200 people live in the remote coastal community.
While her theatre company might be small, she said businesses like it are important to their communities and are the heart of the economic and social development in their regions.
“We can’t just sit by and watch the lights go out one by one,” she said.
The three-day Georgetown Conference started Thursday afternoon with more than 250 people gathering in the small coastal community to discuss some of the issues rural areas are facing and to find ways to revitalize them.
They gathered in the Kings Playhouse to hear about the panelists’ experiences in their own communities where they faced and overcame their own challenges.
Butt said great countries and provinces need vital rural communities and Canadians need to think about “rural” defining the country.
“Put it front and centre,” she said.
For Zita Cobb, whose Shorefast Foundation works to develop opportunities on a small island in Newfoundland and Labrador, she said the hardest part is for people rural communities to understand what they have of value.
That means getting a better understanding of what could have an economic value to others, she said.
“It’s that inventory taking.”
Cobb said the landscapes and spirits of places are being taken away as it becomes harder to distinguish the look of one place from another.
“It’s the specificity that matters and the rural is being flattened,” she said.
A lot of the talk during the conference’s first day focused on people in rural areas taking action to help their communities instead of giving up and moving on or relying on others to save them.
Cobb said people with rural roots or who have benefited from rural places need to come forward with money and expertise to help those communities.
“I’d like to meet a Canadian who hasn’t benefited from a rural place,” she said.