Mayor’s New Year’s Message
As with each of you, I’m certain, the holiday season is a time to reflect on the past and look forward to what the future will bring. We commit to letting bad habits go and are excited about starting fresh, each working towards what we fully hope will be a better future.
Of course I went through that process as we all do, on a personal level, but I also did it as your Mayor, and I want to openly and honestly share my thoughts with you.
I don’t believe we can be stuck in our past and move forward at the same time, but I do know the value and importance of looking back to see how far we’ve come and to ensure we carry those things that are part of us and that have served us well, into the future.
It wasn’t difficult to look back on the past year or so and see what I can refer to as an amazing beginning to a great transformation, and while it would be nearly impossible to touch on everything, here are some of the highlights:
At the top of the list is the return of the international link between Canada and the United States after a five-year, hard-fought battle. Although still wrought with grave concerns regarding spending, routes, pricing and more, ultimately she delivered nearly 60,000 visitors to our shores. That’s 60,000 more than the previous four years, and because of it, many operators saw dramatic increases in sales, allowing them to stay open instead of closing their doors. Taxes on the millions spent by visitors went back into the Provincial coffers that the funds came from in the first place. There’s a lot more work to do to get it right, but let’s not forget what it was like without a ferry.
A Dodge Dealership, Burger King, furniture giant Leons and a number of new shops throughout the town opened their doors this year. Winners and Giant Tiger begin work on their locations soon. None of this happened by accident. It not only takes courage to start a business, but the right environment in which to do so, and so I say to each business that has opened and will open, “Thank you for believing in this Town enough to put your dreams into a piece of real estate, provide jobs to locals and send the strong message that Yarmouth IS open for business,” because frankly, we are. The past two years have been spent focusing on changing the “closed for business” reputation, and we’re getting there. A new director of planning has been hired and has made tremendous headway is her short tenure to date, with much more to come. We now have an economic development officer who, among a vast array of other duties, serves as the much-needed navigator for those looking to start up or grow their business.
The Ekistics plan was taken off the shelf and the plan is being implemented. We’ll see bumpouts and streetscaping begin in the spring. The façade program is off the ground, and while we were told success could be measured by having six businesses take part, we saw 28 Main Street storefronts sign up, and improvements from paint to signage and more will be seen in the coming months. Main Street is getting the facelift she needs by businesses who believe in investing in Yarmouth.
This past summer, Main Street played host to the Antique Car Show that was an off-the-charts success bringing thousands of people from near and far to our downtown. Businesses reported it was their best day of the year. The show will return this year bigger and better.
Cape Forchu Light Station made the cover of Doers and Dreamers, meaning world-wide visibility for this area was at an all-time high. Yarmouth won the Communities in Bloom “Best Town” award on the National Level and Yarmouth South celebrated the start of the Christmas season with the lighting of a tree and goodie bags all brought together by local businesses and residents. It was not only a true testament to the meaning of community, but helped lots of children experience what their parents had many years ago as we stood in the lineup to see Santa and collect our goodies.
Two years ago, the doctor shortage was at its lowest. In the past year and a half, through the hard work of the doctor recruitment team, over 23 doctors have found their way to Southwest Health. Yes, some are still waiting, but the work is ongoing and the number of doctors will continue to climb. The Dalhousie family residency program has been set up in our hospital and will see five doctors per year go through the program. Another boost.
After what I’ve been told has been decades of issues with flooding on Argyle Street, a study has finally been completed and the plan to remedy the situation is underway. From those who repeatedly shared their concerns to those who walked myself, the CAO and Councillors through the issues, to those who continued the fight to see this remedied, thank you. We’re nearly there.
We’ve repeatedly been selected to play host to countless sporting and other events because our hospitality is second to none. The cherry on top is that Music Week is returning, allowing us to showcase our Town to an audience far and wide. We just continue to do it right.
The Town of Yarmouth and the Municipalities of Argyle and Yarmouth signed documents for further sharing of services. I can’t overstate enough the importance of the fact that we do so much together and do it well. With each additional shared service agreement, municipal units are leveraging funds and are thus able to provide more to the citizens.
While that only touches the surface of what’s been done in the past year, I hope you see what I see: Yes, I see a town that suffered incredibly at the hands of an economic downturn, a lost ferry service, forcing businesses to close their doors and leading to the subsequent outmigration of our families and friends to the west. Then I see what I consider the most resilient community coming together with heart and determination, with the most important factor of all leading the way: a change in attitude. This positive change in attitude that’s so evident you can feel it in the air will serve as the biggest determining factor in how fast we bounce back and move forward.
While there are many things to celebrate, there are also those things that saddened each of us this past year. We saw vandals try to pull us down, but we came out on top thanks to our Parks and Public Works Departments. We saw Arthur come through, uproot trees and try to set this town on its side, but the response was neighbours helping neighbours and a crew of staff and volunteers that saw an entire town cleaned up in record time. We witnessed the demolition of Zion Baptist Church, which I believe sent the very strong message that we need to be much more proactive in protecting our built heritage because it’s not coming back. Lessons learned.
Now after looking at how far we’ve come, it’s imperative we continue moving forward, but we can’t do it without a vision. The old saying “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” holds true. As a visionary, it’s second nature to me to see where I believe we can go as a town. I fully understand that everyone won’t agree on the vision or the way to get there, but what’s important is that we have a place to start.
My vision is that we use what serves us best, what makes us uniquely us, and up the ante with an urban flair. Allow me to explain. Yarmouth has “just about” everything. We need to fill in the “just about” piece. We are rich in history, heritage and culture. Our position as a seaside town makes us the envy of people the world over. Our quality of life includes public safety, fresh air and beaches, lakes and cottage country a stone’s throw away. The freshest of seafood is at our fingertips and sustainable living through eating local is a reality.
What has struck me this past year is that people from all over the globe have been purchasing property right here in our Town. As we work on bringing in industry that will bring our friends and families back from the west, we have to continue to look globally and listen to what we are being told by those who have come from other parts of the world and chosen Yarmouth as home. Looking through their lenses, together with what we as lifelong residents know are our strengths, provides us with a map of where to start. If we are going to draw more people to our area, which we want and need to do, we have to provide amenities. Those amenities include more and different restaurants that offer menus for global tastes, a real fish market that has what we offer, fresh daily, in one place, an air service that allows an instant connection with the rest of the world and much more. Done right, we will be “the” place to live and work.
What I can say is that we have begun that process and I’m excited that more is on the way. Investors are looking at Yarmouth with different eyes. I had an investor ask me a month ago “Mayor, if I were to invest, where would I start?” I didn’t hesitate: “You start in the south end because that’s where it all began.” I went on to express my excitement about the old sea captains' homes, the rich history including the shipping days, the amazing harbour views, a sense of community that can’t be beat and off-the-charts potential. The investor agreed.
It’s important to let you know that there is a lot going on in the background. I understand the frustration of not knowing all the details, but I do hope everyone understands that certain negotiations, legal issues and other related matters have everyone bound by confidentiality through the law until such time as the “deal is done.” Rest assured everyone is putting everything they have into moving this region forward. Real estate agencies are reporting tremendous growth and the market is global. My promise is to keep you posted as each piece of the puzzle is put into place.
In closing, I want to reiterate a couple points that I’ve said throughout the year. First, it’s going to take a team to get the work done. While I understand that not everyone will wholeheartedly want to be part of any number of teams put in place to move us forward, the Town is moving forward regardless. We’ve had a great start and we need to continue the momentum. Tough decisions will have to be made, but it’s imperative those decisions are based not on personal agendas, but on what is best for the entire Town. Again, not everyone will agree with some of the direction that will be taken but it’s important to have open minds that will allow us to put together the pieces that will get us to the next level.
I want you to know that I understand the immense responsibility that you have entrusted me with. Each decision we make at our table affects each of your lives. We know how desperately difficult it is to think about visions and changes in the midst of life struggles such as affordable housing, homelessness, hunger, unemployment and more, but please know each of these issues is always at the forefront of what we are trying to accomplish. This Council wants nothing more than to ensure the best future for each and every citizen, regardless of circumstance.
I’m excited at what the next couple years will bring and proud beyond words at what this community has already accomplished. Each of your Councillors and myself have an open-door policy. We welcome your concerns and suggestions and take each seriously. If you pop by Town Hall to chat, I make a great cup of tea. Happy New Year and the richest of blessings to each of you as we continue this journey. We’re well on our way!
Mayor Pam Mood