Missed anniversary lost opportunity to honour county history

First published:
Dec. 31, 2002

We are fortunate in Northumberland County to have so many historians, both amateur and professional. All of them make a considerable contribution. Catherine Milne, Percy Climo, Ted Rafuse, Rob Mikel, and Ed Haynes are only a few names in the long list.

In a letter to the editor last week, Port Hope lawyer Wilf Day reminded all of us about the 200th anniversary of the creation of Northumberland. The government of Upper Canada increased the number of districts to eight from four. In the newly formed Newcastle District, Northumberland and Durham counties were created. A regional form of government was fashioned, complete with our own court.

A similar letter was sent to county council in November, clerk Diane Cane said this week. County councillors wasted no time dismissing it. Politicians argued the actual date of the formation of the county is 1850, the year after the Municipal Corporations Act was passed, forming a majority of municipalities across Ontario. It was then the Corporation of the United Counties of Durham and Northumberland were formed.

It is understandable why county councillors see this date as being important. In 1850, the county was in a form most of us would know with 15 townships, five incorporated villages, three police villages and four towns. Not much different than today.

It is fodder for historians to argue which is correct. In fact, both are accurate. But there is more at work here.

What is truly sad is the missed opportunity.

Tourism operators and marketing experts love a good hook to get people to our area. Historic dates, anniversaries are often used as excuses to push a name or brand. Northumberland County could have been all over this one. It was a chance to raise our profile and attract people to the region.

And, since it would be about another 50 years before the next anniversary, there was little risk of confusion in the public’s mind.

No doubt, when the county does decide to hold its 200th anniversary of the incorporation it will be celebrating with all the other founding municipalities, all 150 of them. Northumberland will be lost in all the other publicity that will take place.

By honoring this earlier date, Northumberland is part of a very tiny group of eight, none of which celebrated the anniversary either.

County tourism co-ordinator Eileen Lum was quick to admit the county did nothing. But it was a very busy year, she added. With the implementation of a new marketing plan, the tourism committee was more interested in other things like building awareness amongst tourism operators and the like.

When the county tourism department came under intense fire several years ago, it was pretty much gutted. Operators and politicians decided to leave it to local municipalities and businesses to do their own thing, with the county to undertake a promotional function. Gone were the days of event planning and similar initiatives.

Which really bring us to the critical issue surrounding the anniversary celebration. Northumberland County is gutted. And while it has certain powers and responsibilities, the local municipalities effectively stripped the county, making it a mere shell. Certainly it provides a few useful services such as garbage collection and road work, along with ambulance and a nursing home.

Gone are the days when it was a form of municipal power. But it should not be surprising. Once Durham left in 1974, countless studies were done trying to create a more effective form of government, only to be defeated by power hungry township and town politicians only interested in protecting their fiefdoms.

And so it continues. To celebrate the county anniversary would only have given profile to form of government many are trying to undermine.

With little hoopla and no support, let’s take a moment to remember our heritage. Northumberland County residents should be proud. We are part of the cradle of Canada, holding a significant place in the history books. Many settlers stopped here to build a home or as a departure point to go further into the vast wilderness.

There is a long list of distinguished people and events: Pioneer settler Catherine Parr Trail, movie star Marie Dressler, Crossen train cars, Canada’s first speaker of the house James Cockburn and the first fort in Canada was built at Carrying Place.

Happy Birthday to you Northumberland. While there are many who see you as an ugly duckling of municipal government, there are those of us who disagree. We see your beauty. And a pox on those who fail to share our pride in your great contributions.

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