Greg Kielec writes: While chatting with city historian Ian Bowering a few years ago about his work at the Cornwall Community Museum, I mentioned to him how booming the city appeared to be during the first half (perhaps more) of the 20th century based on historical accounts I had heard and seen.
Then I threw him the $64,000 question: If Cornwall was such a boom town in the early 1900s, and up-river cities like Brockville and Kingston have appeared to enjoy so much more progresss, where did Cornwall go wrong?
It is a question with which I – and many others – have wrestled over the years. There are theories about what might have been done to change the course of the city. There are theories as well about things that happened that eliminated opportunities to grow.
But the museum curator raised an idea that up until that point had never been broached in any of my discussions on the subject. He pointed to Cornwall’s lack of a university. In fact, true or not, he said the said had the chance to land a university at one point in its history but opted instead for a community college.
The theory is that with a university, Cornwall would have retained much of its youth which would have remained in the friendly seaway city to pursue a degree in the field of their choosing. The university would have attracted more business, industry and research and development, creating jobs that would have been available for these youth upon graduation.
Then you factor in the economic boost of having hundreds, if not thousands of new youth living in the city for four-to-six years — eating, shopping and paying rent here — and you would have had another huge economic windfall. And when those new residents to Cornwall graduated, they might have found work and remained here, further boosting the city’s population and economy.
If one were to look at Kingston, the city appears to have benefited greatly over the years from the location of Queen’s University near its historic downtown. But Kingston also enjoys the benefits of the Royal Military college and a St. Lawrence College campus within its borders, not to mention it was the seat of early Canada, which also adds to the city’s historic lustre.
Peterborough might be a better comparator, but while it has a university and it is located on a river, it is the Trent, not the mighty St. Lawrence River. And suffice it to say, I know Kingston and Peterborough is no Kingston.
So is it a university Cornwall desperately needs to bring the boom times back to Cornwall? Will we see a dramatic improvement in Cornwall’s fortunes of Gerry Benson’s group successfully convinces the provincial Liberal government to locate a university here?
I think a university can only help Cornwall. How dramatically it would improve Cornwall’s economic fortunes would depend on how the local economy evolves in step with its programs and the quality of its graduates. But there are certainly other things Cornwall can focus on — like becoming a Green Centre of Excellence much like Victoria or Vancouver — to improve our image and attract technology industry and skilled workers to this city.
Where does Cornwall’s future lie? With a largely new council headed by a mayor with a refreshingly public-focused style of leadership, the time is ripe for Cornwall residents to bring their ideas forward. This city can be great again. People need only determine their roles and play their part to the best of their ability — and trust the new government will handle the rest.
Greg Kielec is a career reporter and newspaper editor with more than 25 years experience covering municipal politics in Cornwall in the surrounding area. He most recently worked for The/Le Journal, where he covered Cornwall City Hall extensively. Prior to that he spent more than 10 years at the Standard-Freeholder in Cornwall as reporter, wire editor and assistant city editor.