It was definitely an eventful year in Merrickville-Wolford. There are many things about 2018 that I am sure some people would be happy to leave behind, while others that clearly demonstrate what an amazing community Merrickville-Wolford is.
The year had a rocky start, with former CAO John Regan being put on administrative leave. Tensions ran high in the Village throughout the lengthy investigation, with residents concerned about the lack of information they were receiving, and the costs incurred as a result of the investigation. It was a long haul, with Council and interim CAO Arie Hoogenboom fielding questions at almost every council meeting and trying to give the public as much information as possible, without compromising confidentiality and the integrity of the investigation. The saga came to a conclusion in June, with John’s resignation. Arie was open with the public in saying that the roughly five-month investigation cost the municipality in excess of $100,000. Unfortunately, just as the investigation surrounding the former CAO was put to bed, anonymous tapes of municipal employees were circulated throughout the municipality. This prompted an OPP investigation, which is ongoing. The municipality is also at the tail end of an investigation into workplace harassment that the new Interim CAO Doug Robertson (who was hired in July) says is currently under legal review. Doug says a full cost for the workplace investigator and associated legal fees will be released upon completion of the investigation.
Another contentious issue that rocked the municipality this year was the WW2 military re-enactment that came to the Village over the May long weekend. Council, and the municipality as a whole, where divided on whether the re-enactment would provide valuable education or glorify war. Letters poured into to the municipality from residents wishing to state their opinion about the perceived militarization of the Village. Council went back and forth on the decision but, after hearing a delegation from those wishing to organize the re-enactment, decided to allow it in the Village for the May long weekend of 2018.
While it seems as though there has been a lot of unrest in the Village this year, there are still many good-news stories to remember. Merrickville-Wolford was successful in receiving a couple of significant grants that will help with the local economy and sustainability of the Municipality going forward. In March, they received a $1.9 million grant from the province to expand and repair their water/sewer system, which will hopefully help lower the water/sewer rates for businesses and residents in the Village. They also received a roughly $98,000 Rural Economic Development grant from the province that helped hire the municipality’s first Economic Development Officer and will fund the creation of an economic development strategy for the municipality.
In March, the Merrickville United Church announced a partnership that would allow them to remain viable into the future. With the help of Mark Sine, the Church was transformed into the Merrickville United Arts Centre, which saw many fun and interesting acts throughout its first few months, including Séan McCann of Great Big Sea, and a Drag Show organized by Merrickville-Wolford in Bloom. If 2018 is any indication of the success of the MUAC, the venue will continue to be an asset for arts and culture in the Municipality for many years to come.
Merrickville also celebrated its 225th anniversary in 2018, with many events held throughout the year. An exhibit at the Blockhouse recognized the people and history of Merrickville with a timeline made out of string that hung from the ceiling of the building. The timeline included the lives of notable historical figures in Merrickville, like William Merrick and Harry McLean, as well as events, including both World Wars. People were encouraged to add their own string to the timeline, so they had representation of the residents of Merrickville both past and present.
A newly-branded Merrickville-Wolford in Bloom did a great job throughout the year getting ready for the Communities in Bloom judges’ tour in July. The judges were very impressed by the Village, and gave it the award of five blooms with bronze standing, narrowly missing the top spot. The municipality also got an honourable mention for their business community’s support and involvement.
It would be remiss not to talk about the three elections that took place throughout 2018 in the municipality and surrounding area. On June 7, the people of Merrickville-Wolford played a part in re-electing Steve Clark as the MPP for Leeds-Grenville. Following the devastating loss of the MP for the riding, Gord Brown, residents also participated in a by-election at the beginning of December, which saw Gord’s successor as Conservative Party candidate, Michael Barrett, elected as the MP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
Perhaps the most interesting election of the year happened at the municipal level. With four candidates for mayor and seven for council, it was an interesting race, with lots of public participation. The all-candidates meeting at the Community Centre, organized by the Lions Club, saw a full house with many questions (and rants) from the public, focused on the past actions of council and how the candidates would promote moving forward in a positive way. In the end, residents chose to elect an entirely new council, led by former Mayor Doug Struthers. The year ended with another wonderful Christmas in Merrickville event. The Village saw roughly 10,000 visitors throughout the day, who enjoyed breakfast with Santa, the parade, marshmallow roasting, and lots of shopping at the stores, which were all decked out for the holidays.
Merrickville-Wolford in Bloom ran a Best Decorated Business competition, and Nana B’s bakery won the top prize for decorating her shop like a gingerbread house. It was a fun day full of smiles and lots of holiday cheer.
This is just a sampling of all the things that went on in Merrickville-Wolford over the past year. As I look back at the stories I have covered, I can’t help but be impressed by what this small municipality has to offer. Yes, there has been struggle; but it just goes to show how strong and resilient the community really is. There is no doubt in my mind that Merrickville-Wolford is full of passionate people who care deeply about where they live and want to do their part to help it grow and thrive. I feel very thankful for the opportunity to tell your stories and for the people who allowed me into their lives so I could do so. Here’s to lessons learned and memories made in 2018 and a fun and interesting New Year!