On Returning to my Hometown


Ones Hometown can often be this entangible thing over time. Changing, growing, or atrophying from the core out.

I grew up just 20 minutes outside of London, and I lived in London from 1987 until just after Mom died in 2001. I’ve been away ever since. In that time, but for brief visits back, I have seen the main streetscape in London change and decay. Now I see a gentle resurgence, though still tentative.

Downtown London 1980's

Downtown London 1980’s

This morning I was reading in the local news about another potential employer changing their mind about moving to London, and instead has moved his 200 jobs just a bit North to our next door neighbour, St. Thomas.

Frustrating, reading the news some mornings. Jobless rate in London is around 7.8%, either THE highest or at the very least ONE of the highest in Canada. Does of course make one thankful for what you do have, but also leaves you feeling empty as to growth and opportunity within your own community.

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Top left corner of building – REID’S CRYSTAL HALL – my Great Grandma Jean’s Uncle owned this china shop, until the early 1900’s when it collapsed. This wall is all that remains.

It can be so disheartening to read once again this city is too busy, I don’t know, playing footsies maybe. The mayor had PROMISED this new employer he could bring water to the owners chosen location, but it never happened. Mayor Joe Fontana again has proven himself unable to deliver. I suppose he’s perhaps too busy milking his constituents out of charity money.

I should move to Kitchener, apparently all the cool jobs have landed in Kitchener (all snuggled up beside one time great RIM/Blackberry Corporate HQ).

London always to me seemed like the little boy trying to mimic his older brother, but failing miserably. It has failed to have anything approaching it’s own identity. Once called the “Forest City”…the powers that be saw this identity as somehow frumpy and worn. Also I imagine inconvenient, financially, as the city has to pay for the maintenance of the many trees that grace many of London’s streets. Again the city has no foresight. London has been run for too long by rich snobs with no taste.

Many of the old century buildings and whole city blocks that used to define the core have crumbled from lack of proper maintenance, and conveniently slipping away in the middle of the night. Replaced by parking lots or ugly cement facades, overlaid with cheap brick, or glass encased structures lacking any architectural distinction.

Now, if your looking to score some drugs or a hooker, than just walk your arse down east a few streets, right around the cop shop area, and I would imagine you shouldn’t be waiting long for the right looking guy or gal to come along. I once had the brief pleasure of visiting this area a few months ago, and was rather shocked at how much it had changed. There is this one particular four-way where the main station house sits, and all around it you find this decay. The girls wander back and forth, their Johns not far off. Dealers doing the whole casual sale here and there, RIGHT smack-dab in front of the Main Station of the London Police Force. Nice. Lets just say I decided a wee jaunt up the street 5 or 6 blocks was in order.

That little tidbit should tell you something about what this FINE city has become. I used to frequent that very corner 25 years ago when I attended BealArt. Back then it had a kind of funky vibe, now the funk is just from the smell of the booze, and the dirt and filth lining the street.

What is even more sad is that it IS fine. Regardless of the imbeciles who lead, London does have many elements that I feel distinguish it from so many other City’s. The Market area, for one, was greatly missed when I was living in Mississauga. London also has many superb restaurants and some interesting old Hotels (the few that remain), and booksellers and other local business’ with a long standing in the core.

My Grandfather’s Church

Some architecture of London’s past remains as well downtown, such as the big churches and some of the original downtown and uptown streetscapes. Various old residences (now apartments mostly) pepper the core of Old North London. The majority of these examples of London’s history are mostly dated late 19th, early 20th century.

With many institutes of Learning, such as Fanshawe, University of Western, as well as many schools of business, almost every area of the city has a certain number of students, of various ages. Yet with all that potential fostering their futures in our fine city, many leave for greenery pastures down the 401.

What London lacks is VISION. Perhaps even a sense of self. London needs to foster an identity that encompasses the many pleasures and past times that Londoners desire. It needs a FIRST CLASS structured multi-formatted transportation grid that takes into consideration even the remotest and industrialized areas of the city.

It also needs to STOP EXPANDING, and concentrate more on filling up the spaces that already are vacant and empty. Some will argue that one has to accommodate the buyer, and I say, that one also needs to accommodate the seller – or the relationship is doomed from the start. The seller first needs to establish their mandate within the deal, and ensure it jives with the larger vision.

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The Thames River runs right through the heart of the core, and splits off and goes in two directions. That meeting of the forks has a long history in Canada. London at one time was first on the list for being chosen for Canada’s capital. With a full regiment stationed, and a vibrant downtown forming, and situated so close to the US, it seemed ideal. At the time though many felt that it wasn’t representative enough of Canada, and arguments were had by various factions with THEIR city in mind. After a time the backwater village of Ottawa was decided upon, and so London’s glorious chance fizzled and died.

Such has been London’s fate, that I wonder if perhaps its time for London to stop looking to others to make it great.

Funny that I should return now. With my Hometown and I at such a cross-roads together, I guess its fate and mine are shared in some fashion. If I choose to remain, then I will have to re-design my own mandate, and as well not look to others to define my greatness. I suppose, as well, I could do some work on my arts, transportation, and of course leadership skills.

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