Getting away and bringing it all

The Highlands sure is getting bigger. As we’ve reported, our County has the fastest-growing population in Ontario and fourth fastest in Canada.

Whether it’s people retiring to the family cottage, buying a second home or purchasing a property to rent out to others for August weekends, this place is booming.

There’s certainly an allure in getting away from it all. This was highlighted by the pandemic, when being locked down in your city home must have felt like jail. But it’s a trend that’s gone on for decades: we want to escape our lives to somewhere in nature, in the peace and quiet. Technology is now allowing us to do that without leaving our jobs, greatly expanding the numbers of people who can move here.

But here’s the big irony: many of those trying to get away from it all are bringing all of it here.

TV shows and magazines lavish hours and ink on the lakefront lifestyle, claiming you can live in a cabin in the woods, if you hire the right designers and buy the best gadgets.

So people’s desires to escape the “keeping up with the Joneses” lifestyle of the city end up importing that very lifestyle to the Highlands.

The traditional values of cottagers who respected this place and engaged with the community are getting overwhelmed.

Deep down, we know all this doesn’t make us truly happy. 

Perhaps we don’t realize it, but when we ache for the lake, we’re actually aching for distance from a society that is detrimental to human flourishing.

Escaping to the Highlands is never going to work if people bring Toronto here.

And what’s more, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, we’re going to be flattened by the values this wealth brings. We’ve never been a place to judge people by the size of their house or make of their car; that doesn’t mean we won’t become that.

Perhaps they don’t articulate it, but our local governments’ moves on shorelines and short-term rental bylaws are aimed at combatting this shift to selfishness.

What’s missing is leadership: the voice standing up for our smallness, for the values of being a modest place that puts people before money.

Live here long enough and you know it. The energy of Haliburton is in our service clubs and non-profits. It’s in the random encounters with friends and acquaintances at the grocery or hardware store, in the waves exchanged between passing trucks. It’s in knowing each other and in a community that treats every member as important and worthy.

It’s about place and it’s about people.

As we look at the future and plot our economic development strategy, maybe we need to think about who we are and what makes us happy.

I’ve never met a Highlander who wanted an Airbnb or monster cottage next door to them. But I’ve met plenty who care deeply about this place and the people in it.

Maybe that’s a clue as to where we should be heading next.

This article first appeared in The Highlander.