Growing green in Wilberforce
By Sue Tiffin
Wilberforce has the kind of charm that leaves visitors with a feeling of small-town, tight-knit community even if they’re just passing through. From the historical legacy of Agnew’s General Store and the Red Cross Outpost located front and centre on the main drag, to the area’s natural beauty, to the resilience showcased in the building of a sort of geocaching empire, the laidback hamlet leaves you wanting good things for the area and the people who live there.
At events held in Wilberforce, whether it be summer’s agricultural fair or the Santa Claus Parade, it always seems the entire population of the area is coming out to cheer each other on and celebrate the tradition, history and effort of the community.
In fact, when CBC’s Still Standing came to the area to highlight the success of the Highlands East settlement in surviving despite the fall of industry and even the exit of Wilberforce’s one bank, that sense of community was highlighted. On their episode’s webpage, it’s noted, “the community came together as volunteers to raise money and help build these buildings with their own hands. There’s a real attitude in the community of, ‘I thought we needed this, so I just did it.’”
Wilberforce is about to get another good thing: a seven-acre shoreline park perfectly located in the heart of the hamlet, between the downtown area and Dark (Pusey) Lake. The land for what will be called Herlihey Park in honour of Beatrice and Harold Herlihey was donated to the township on behalf of Carol and Karl Marcus. Harold operated the former Wilberforce Veneer and Lumber Company on the site, which is now referred to by locals as being “the heartbeat” of the town.
At the latest public meeting – there have been a few – bringing residents together for an unveiling of the most recent design of the Herlihey Park project, landscape architect Peter North of North Design Office Inc. seems motivated by suggestions from the residents, expressing his own excitement about the potential of the space – their space.
And there should be a lot of excitement. In an era in which we continue to build expensive, monolithic buildings often at the expense of the natural environment while chastising a younger generation for not getting outdoors more, the Herlihey Park project is refreshing and forward-thinking and enables free exploration and exercise and growth.
The green space is endearing – there’s nothing bold or bright about it – it’s just a calming area to be outside and fully engage in active or passive recreation. Landscaping honours the natural vegetation and wild habitat and the focus in the park is the trails that run throughout it, the public beach area, a central area for gathering and what residents are saying they want: a reminder of the history of what once brought the town together. Hilda Clark’s memories of “scamps” running around the area in the past are as vivid as the future painted by North when he imagines people getting an ice cream cone downtown before strolling through the park.
Wilberforce is still being brought together. Kudos to all those involved in thinking the space is needed, and getting it done.