If there is something that I know, it’s that I will not be swayed on my opinions of my fair city.
I was born into and raised in Cambridge, Ontario. Really I was born in what I deem to be Preston and raised in Galt but that’s a mute point.
Back in 1973 Cambridge was forced into creation. The province wanted to save a little money and it made sense to join people who lived somewhat together into a big city. It’s worked out in a lot of ways in that it gave us more power as a collaborative. We had more people in our population and were able to have more clout on the provincial stage. We were able to have a central hospital, share our police and fire services.
But it really hasn’t been all roses and sunshine in Cambridge.
Cambridge has three main parts: Galt was the county seat for North Dumfries. It was already a city in it’s own right and had things pretty good as it was strongly connected to Dundas and Hamilton. Preston was a town and had it’s name on the map for a few other reasons. The main reason people went to Preston had to do with the rejuvenating springs that were the home to the world renowned Preston Springs Hotel. Preston and Galt were connected by streetcar so that many of those needing the healing waters were able to find them. Hespeler, the third party in this wonderful city, was a village by the river. Fiercely loyal to their roots, Hespeler was strongly connected to Guelph.
All three were textile communities and used the rivers running through them to their advantage. All three were unique and special in their own right with interesting histories.
Joining them together might have made sense on paper, and yes it brought some good things to the area, but there ended up being a strong disconnect away from the small community feel you had to a joint hustle and bustle. We went away from the downtowns and focused so much on building up our central area that the downtowns started to suffer. You no longer saw shopping and commerce in the core areas – instead everyone was at the mall or worse yet, leaving town to go somewhere else.
The City of Cambridge has been so afraid to offend any one segment of the community, that they need to do something in each down town or not at all. For years you never heard the name of each piece of the puzzle. It was only a hushed word said here or there.
What they don’t realize is that the downtowns are what make us unique. This amazing history has been lost. Our city has grown to over 125,000 people that came here for many different reasons. But what we need to understand is what it’s going to take to make them stay here.
People come for cheaper land than in the big bad Toronto – but they stay for the good schools and nice neighbourhoods. They make friends here and like the shopping. They enjoy hopping on the 401 to get anywhere and being not too far from cultural events and activities.
The sad thing is – they are completely missing out on what makes Cambridge – Cambridge. The pieces make up the city and they are all unique and special and should be celebrated. I know I focus a lot on the downtowns, but it truly is indicative of the way the city is put together and the way it is looked upon by the world. When I was a kid we shopped downtown Galt on a Saturday. Made a day of it – going in and out of shops and getting everything we needed. We ate lunch there, maybe took a stroll down by the river. I’m sure kids in Preston and Hespeler would say similar stories of their youth. Instead now you go downtown and see half the stores empty or wanting to be rented out. Preston is the only exception to the rule by having a strong core. Businesses have stayed in Preston for decades and there truly is a sense of community there.
We need to get the sense of community back for each of the areas in town. We need to celebrate what we have. It’s going to take a lot more than just putting up signs to indicate where the cores are. We need to promote what we have. The old buildings, the history and our uniqueness.
It’s entirely possible that we can save our City but it’s going to take work and passion. I wonder how loud we need to yell in order to be heard.