Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Cottage Town Establishment

Summer. Parry Sound, the Fitness Trail. Locals and cottagers, locals claim, are elbow to elbow in the summer. Only at the A&P I'd say. Generally they don't mix much, with cottagers being city people and in a hurry to shop and get back to their monstrously expensive cottages. Cottagers are friendly as they are supposed to be having a good time. With locals it depends. There are all sorts of things going on, under the placid surface of any town. People are cogs on various wheels. Some are strictly family people and that's all they want. Some are family, old school friends, maybe buddies at work and neighborhood people. In most neighborhoods you would connect eventually even if you're a dreaded foreigner from the big city. Business people naturally make an effort to be more expansive. Real Estate and Insurance Agents which make up half a cottage town's business are ubiquitous. Any event, function, restaurant, club, golf course, junior league hockey hockey game, they're there, supporting the community and drumming up more business. The other professional class, the only one you'll find in dusty history books, is the lawyers, mostly real estate and estate lawyers, but somewhat scarcer in public as they already have a lot of work in retirement towns. Some of them are straight out of Dickens, with musty old files stacked to the rafters. The bankers' boxes full, not in the basements because nobody has basements in bedrock, but in storerooms and cupboards that would would require an archaeological dig to recover a missing file. Computers, bah humbug. Cottages change hands like Russian revolvers playing Russian Roulette. The aging cottagers and locals and the widows about, make for a lot of office rummaging in estate work. Going down the main street you'll see their shingles, so many you might think you've stepped into a Litigious Twilight Zone where lawsuits and juvenile crime must be really big. Lawsuits are always big, even in small towns. But most juveniles have already left town with or without a high school diploma to work in the big city. Then there's quite another class in each town, the Old Establishment.

Summer. Parry Sound, near the town dock. The Old Establishment who own most everything and who are largely invisible, the Five or Ten big families. They came first. They built the first hotel, or sawmill, or warehouse. And they bought all the land and they've been doing it for generations, even though many of their siblings only touch base at the family manor, before they're off again to Florida. Florida's popular. Respected by some. You might need to buy gas at their gas station or see their lawyer or rent an apartment or house from them. Sometimes liked well as benefactors to the community, sometimes idolized as the families who made it, and sometimes despised. Even despised for generations because of some swindle or other touching wounded families still living in town generations later. No feuds and brawls that you'd notice, but a certain coolness and distance, a certain resentment you might not fathom in the city, where of course you don't really know the transient population around you, or the big shots who pull the strings. This bears on how friendly everybody is in a small town. Places with a better history are obviously happier. Places where there's a strong middle class, where there is a general prosperity. Perhaps the people who are the most disliked aren't any of the above, not even rich bastard cottagers or noisy tootin' tourists. It's outsiders living in the town, especially big city outsiders working at the best jobs in town, the professional level government jobs the disadvantaged locals don't have the qualifications for. You want to work at the hospital and they want a diploma from a community college in Hospital Reception Clerk or they get a used, but experienced, Hospital Reception Clerk from Toronto or Barrie or Hamilton.

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