Once upon a time Lanark Village, Ontario was the place to go on weekends when you wanted to enjoy a lovely Sunday. Lanark is no different than the small town that you and I grew up in.
The village was first settled in 1820 by Scottish immigrants who named it after the town of Lanark in Scotland. It soon became a major hub for the lumber and textile industries, both of which used the Clyde River. It runs through the village, as a source of power and as a transportation route to move logs east to the Ottawa River.
The textile industry lasted for about 170 years, but was finally defeated by the flood of cheap Asian imports into North America. Logging still continues in a much reduced manner, producing wood mostly for the pulp industry or for firewood.
Until the late 1990s the major employer in the village was the Glenayr Kitten Mill which produced clothing and offered their products at several factory outlet stores in the village. After the Kitten factory closed the town just was not the same and one by one the businesses closed down and now it's just a shell of what it once was.
The busiest place in the village is the "Chip Truck" on one of the corners. A man asking if they have any old deep frying grease is greeted with laughter when he tells them he uses it to attract bears. The two high school girls admire my wallet and ask me a series of questions about life outside the sleepy hamlet.
"Is it true they have taco trucks in California?"
"Do you drive a Hummer?"
"Have you ever met Lauren Conrad from The Hills?"
I pull into the park and there are children at the unsupervised beach swimming with inner tubes. It really wasn't a beach but just the lazy Tay River with lily pads and bull rushes. No one thought for a second about the bacterial content of the river after last night's storm. No one thought about life guards or safety precautions. It was nothing but a Norman Rockwell situation in all its innocent glory.
I drove through the main street and down the highway to Herons Mills. Once a small thriving community supported by a mill, it died decades ago. The abandoned houses that were once there are now gone. Someone has torn down the old frame mill but the stone bridge across the river is still partially there. If there wasn't a sign no one would know what it once was or how people had their roots there.
I pass by the old frame Victorian home sitting back in the field that has been deserted for at least 30 years. The wood is black now and I think a strong gust of wind might blow it all down. I keep a picture of it on my desk top back hoping one day I might win money and restore it to its former glory.
At age 59 it is now a passing dream, yet it will always be there for me to think about. I think about innocence of a time gone by, where people went out at night for ice cream. Families were strong and plentiful, as were values. Mothers didn't work and you came home from school and there were homemade treats and neighbourhood friends to play with.
When did it all end?
When did the innocence stop?
I fear for the younger generations and how they will not know what it is to stop and feel the breeze of the trees on your face, and the peacefulness of the land.
Dying villages give way to the urban areas where memories are few. Huge box stores are replacing the mom and pop shops in small towns where no one knows your name when you enter the store.
It is a time now when people want it all but if they stopped one second and remembered a passing memory maybe they wouldn't want it anymore. Maybe small towns and villages wouldn't be dying by the second. After all if a house and lives have no foundation what do you have?
Text and Images: Linda Seccaspina