Still Standing

5 small towns taking on big issues

Across the nation, small towns are tackling big problems.

Across the nation, small towns are tackling big problems.

Putting up nest boxes in Antigonish, N.S. (Randy Lauff)

Across the nation, small towns are tackling big problems. From reviving dying languages to supporting refugees, here's a round-up of five changemaker towns who are showing us what it's like to be small, but mighty.

Reviving an Indigenous language in Manitoulin Island, Ont.

Learning on Anishinaabemowin on a smartphone in Manitoulin Island. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

It may come as a surprise that a northern Ontario island town of 13,000 people is where technology is being used to revive a language, but that's true of Manitoulin Island.

Residents have helped create an app that teaches the Anishinaabemowin language through lessons on common words and phrases in a gamified-style that lets users collect points and compete against others.

Indigenous language loss was highlighted in the final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which said residential schooling along with physical abuse contributed to the decline of these languages. Experts say the majority of Indigenous languages in Canada are endangered.

The app is part of Challenge4Change, an initiative by members of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Nation on Manitoulin Island to retain and grow Indigenous languages in Canada. It is free and can be found under "Challenge4Change - Languages" on Android and iPhone devices.

Promoting ethical consumerism in Selkirk, Man.

Knowing that global trade practices are often unfair, residents of Selkirk, Man., have made their town one of the best places in Canada to shop for ethical products. The town, home to 10,000 residents, is known for its support of fair trade.

Fair trade certification guarantees better work conditions and pay for the workers and farmers that produce the products — and everything from coffee to flowers can be fair trade. Companies that are certified must meet social, economic and environmental standards, such as investing in community projects and not participating in child labour.

Last year, Fair Trade Canada named Selkirk the Fair Trade Town of The Year because of the availability of fair trade certified products in the town and the commitment of the local municipality authority to source and purchase ethical products. In fact, the City of Selkirk became the first municipal government in Canada to be a Fair Trade Workplace.

With a number of local businesses stocking fair trade products, residents of Selkirk have ethical purchasing options when shopping at the liquor store, local café and more.

Saving birds in Antigonish, N.S.

People Selkirk celebrate being named Fair Trade Town of the Year. (Photo courtesy Fair Trade Canada)

Aerial insectivores (birds which feed on insects in flights) are on the decline in Canada, and one Nova Scotian town is doing something about it.

Residents of Antigonish, a town of 4,300 people, are building nest boxes that the Tree Swallows can use for nesting.

The group received a small community grant to build 100 boxes for Tree Swallows, and when local businesses and the mill operator heard about the project, they pitched in, contributing enough nails and wood to build almost double the target number of boxes.

The nest boxes were built by members of the local Boy Scouts and 4-H. The boxes have been going up over the last year and are being monitored by the kids who built them and their families.

Randy Lauff, an ornithologist, who spearheaded the project says, "We're not quite sure why they're declining [Tree Swallows], so providing nesting sites certainly helps them out."

There have already been a number of nestings, and more boxes are set to go up prior to the next breeding season. Lauff hopes the kids will be monitoring the boxes for many years.

Welcoming refugees in North Dundas, Ont.

Eric Duncan, his mother, Dania Al Muazzen, Adel Al Ghorani, and their children in North Dundas. (Eric Duncan/Facebook)

Across the country, Canadians have been welcoming Syrian refugees who are making Canada their new home. In North Dundas, a community of about 2,400 people 50 kilometres from Ottawa, residents have made a commendable effort to support a Syrian family.

Twenty people in the community fundraised for two years to raise the money needed to bring the family to Canada. This summer, they warmly welcomed Dania Al Muazzen, Adel Al Ghorani and their three children to North Dundas.

When the family arrived, community members pitched in to ease their transition. A local dentist volunteered to provide free dental care for the family. One community member donated a vehicle to the family. Local retailers provided the parts needed to fix it up and students from the high school volunteered to do the repairs. Teachers pitched in to cover costs so the family's teenage son could join the local soccer league and his team members provided cleats.

The town's mayor, Eric Duncan even gave up his own home for the family. Duncan, 30, moved in with his mother for five months, allowing the newly-arrived family to save money before moving into their own accommodations.

Championing autistic-friendly communities in Channel-Port aux Basques, N.L.

At the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, lies Channel-Port aux Basques, home to 4,000 people who've made it Canada's most autism-friendly town.

Six years ago, the town had no resources to support families with autistic children. In fact, parents had to drive over two hours to access basic resources for their children, making them feel isolated.

That changed when a retired special education teacher, Joan Chaisson, along with April Billard, a mother to a son with Autism Spectrum Disorder, started a group called Autism Involves Me. The group built a library of parenting books, provided sensory toys for their kids and became a support to parents in the community.

Soon, they began to think of ways to include others in their work. The duo trained everyone — from the local barber to waitresses — on how to interact with children with autism and what they could do to create more inclusive spaces.

One of the people they trained was Cathy Lomond, owner of Hotel Port aux Basques, who embraced the idea by creating a sensory room for kids and developing picture menus for the hotel restaurant so that non-verbal kids could place their order by pointing. National media called it "Canada's first autism-friendly hotel" and they've been booked up with visitors who are flocking to the town for its inclusivity.

Original published in November 2018.