Millennial Dreams for Our Hometown

Originally published in the seventh and final edition of #AloneTogether: A Cambridge Quaranzine. This special edition was created to be part of the Welcome Cambridge virtual event, and to celebrate the stories of our thriving and diverse community.

I’m a relative newcomer to Cambridge; to be honest, I only moved here from Guelph in 2019 because my partner, Blake, already had a place here. So while I have come to appreciate the natural beauty, people, and local businesses here, I decided that it made sense to include Blake in this article for the Welcome Cambridge edition of the Quaranzine.

Blake loves mornings. A natural early riser, he enjoys eating a quiet breakfast before heading outside for his “morning commute”. These days, his usual route takes him across the pedestrian bridge, through Queen’s Square and back across the river for a wander downtown Galt before heading back to start work in his home office.

“It’s a nice start to my day,” Blake tells me. “It’s good to get some exercise and see the neighbourhood.”

Blake first moved to Cambridge in 2015 when he got a job with Gore Mutual Insurance. He quickly fell in love with the architecture and history of the Galt area. On his lunch breaks, he would often take a walk outside or meet his colleague for coffee downtown. He joined the local chapter of Toastmasters to practice his public speaking, which used to meet every week at Monigram. Eventually, Blake decided that he no longer wanted to commute from Waterloo, and bought a condominium in the Galt area.

“I was inspired by the potential in the three city cores of Cambridge,” he says. “I like this area and wanted to invest in its future. I’m glad I found a place within walking distance of downtown Galt.”

Together, we enjoy driving around old neighbourhoods to look at heritage houses, or walking along the trail behind Preston Memorial Auditorium. Before COVID-19, we often went to the Queen’s Square Idea Exchange or Old Post Office to read, study, and work. I particularly enjoyed eating at local restaurants.

What do we hope for the future of our adopted home city? Our dream is to see even more independent stores and businesses thriving in each of the three downtown cores; for increased walkability and bike lanes; and for more inter-city transit (we’re looking forward to the ION light-rail system extending to Cambridge!). I hope for greater diversity and cultural celebration. And, of course, we can’t wait for the day when we’re allowed to meet with friends and neighbours again. Until then – we wish all newcomers a warm welcome to Cambridge. We hope it becomes your home too!

The Drive-In: A Perfect COVID-19 Activity

Originally published in Volume 6 of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine at: https://www.flipsnack.com/IdeaExchange/alonetogether-issue-6-retrodiscoveries/full-view.html

When our lovely Idea Exchange Volunteer Coordinator, Shannon, reached out to me to write an article about my first experience at a drive-in theatre, I jumped at the chance. I grew up in Vancouver, where the closest drive-in was in a suburb an hour away. I don’t think I even knew what a drive-in was until I came to Ontario! After a quick Google search, I decided to take myself out for a Thursday night date at the Mustang Drive-in to see the 80’s classic films Dirty Dancing (which I had only recently seen for the first time on Netflix) and Footloose (which I knew nothing about).

I wasn’t quite sure when people tend to arrive at a drive-in, or what the quality of the food at the concession stand would be, so I drove to Guelph early to grab a quick dinner. I stopped by Royal City Park to eat my sandwich and say a socially-distanced hello to a few friends from the Flying Dance Community; I used to be a regular at their Friday night social dances, back when those existed. The familiar Latin music piping from their speakers as they set up for a lesson in the gazebo put me in the perfect mood to head to the drive-in for some Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey!

I arrived at the Mustang five minutes after “doors” opened to find about 30 pick-up trucks and SUV’s already parked on the simple gravel lot. Most people had backed into their appropriately distanced spots and were setting up with blankets in their open trunks. I found a place with a good view of the large screen and ventured out of the car to check out the single building at the back of the lot. The cash-only concession stand had a small selection of candies and cold drinks, with just a few pre-wrapped burgers under some heat lamps, the sight of which made me glad that I had eaten before attending. The washrooms were well-maintained and clean (for some reason I had been expecting Port-a-Potties), but I wished I had brought a flashlight as I navigated puddles on my way back to my spot.

I leaned my seat back and settled in for several hours alone in my car. I found myself wishing for a hot drink and a blanket as I waited for the movies to begin, especially as the evening grew colder and rain began to pour down in sheets – it almost completely obscured my view of the first fifteen minutes of Dirty Dancing. Thankfully, the rain did not return for the rest of the evening as I enjoyed the feature films. I was originally hesitant about the sound quality in my very old little Toyota Matrix, but the audio came through loud and clear through the radio.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience at a drive-in, despite being alone and cold. I look forward to returning with friends and blankets some day!

Community Help for Endangered Baby Turtles

A version of this article was included in Issue 005 (July 31, 2020) of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine. Header photo from @raresites.

Have you ever seen a turtle crossing the road?

All eight species of turtle in Ontario are considered at-risk, mostly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by roads or construction. Since 2017, rare Charitable Research Reserve has been working hard to mitigate these human factors with its Protect the Turtles egg incubation project. rare gathers turtle eggs that are in danger due to the location of their nest, brings them back for artificial incubation, and releases them back into the wild after they hatch. The project also collects valuable data such as nesting locations and turtle mortality rates.

This year, rare’s permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to excavate turtle nests was extremely delayed, while reports of nests in dangerous locations across Waterloo Region began to pile up. Without the permit, the organization was not allowed to collect any eggs. All rare could do was put out a call to the public to help build nest protectors to cover the eggs where they were, and hope that would be enough.

Dave Devisser, a long-time resident of Cambridge, was one of the people who heard rare’s call. Dave has always loved living close to nature, and enjoys hiking and checking out the local wildlife, like butterflies and ospreys. He had supported rare before, through the annual Walk & Run for rare, and jumped at the opportunity to do even more.

Dave dug out his tools and got to work. He drilled four long, narrow boards to create a square frame, and covered the top with hardwire mesh nailed tightly to the wood. He included two notches, just 2×1” big, for the baby turtles to exit the protector once they hatched. In the end, Dave completed four identical turtle protectors which he dropped off at rare.

Images by Dave Devisser

 “The protectors are to stop people from stepping on the nests or from predators getting in and harming the eggs,” Dave said. “I was looking for ways to be more involved with nature, and this was a great way to physically protect it. It’s nice to support local biodiversity.”

This year, rare was able to collect 1900 eggs from 66 nests (once the permit came through), and protect an additional 42 nests thanks to protectors provided by community members. While uplifted by the community support, Logan Mercier, a conservation technician assistant at rare, cautions that this is not a permanent solution to turtle endangerment. “Really, we need to focus on road mitigation, and we need to stop building in their habitat; we need to stop fragmenting their habitat,” Mercier said in a recent article in The Record.

The turtle hatchlings are expected to be released in mid-August. This year’s Walk & Run for rare will be held virtually for the month of September. For more information, please visit https://raresites.org/.

If you find an injured turtle, please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre Hotline at 705-741-5000.

Community-based Social Media Boosts Local Businesses during COVID-19

Read time: 2 minutes

Having a social media strategy is essential for businesses, especially small or local ones. Social media business pages are cheaper than radio or newspapers advertisements, and don’t require much infrastructure to run. Most importantly, social media provide the opportunity to create direct relationships and a sense of community with their customers, building brand loyalty and resiliency. This is proving extremely helpful for many local businesses whose existences are being threatened by COVID-19.

Many local business owners are especially great at taking a community approach to social media. Owners will answer every comment personally, take suggestions and concerns seriously, and participate in community events or markets. Customers come to care not just about the product or service, but about the owners and staff themselves, who just might be their neighbours. So when a crisis like COVID-19 forces owners to shutter their doors unexpectedly, the customers don’t disappear – in fact, they’re eager to help out as much as they can.

Every day, when I check my social media feeds, I see local businesses reaching out for support, and customers responding by writing encouraging comments, making purchases, and sharing posts with their friends. I even see local businesses sharing posts from other businesses – a true “We’re all in this together” mentality. This, in my opinion, demonstrates the best of what social media can do – rally a community together around a common cause.

I reached out to Jules Van Bergen and Dee Hernandez, the owners of Pressed for Time Paninis in Guelph (one of my favourite local restaurants), for their perspective. I’m a long-time follower of their Instagram account, and have seen first-hand how they’ve used it to stay close to their customers.

Q: Why did you originally decide to take such a personal approach to your social media accounts?

A: We have said from the beginning “we are our brand”. We wanted it to feel like we were cooking for you in our home kitchen surrounded by our plants and favorite cookbooks. We love that our guests know who’s preparing their food and coming up with all those puns! The Guelph community is extremely important to us, they are loyal and they care about supporting small business and community and that’s the reason we chose to start this journey exactly where we are. When you give a large company a sale, you don’t get a “little song and dance”. We want our followers to see investment in ourselves and our business when you look through our social media accounts. Our custom made t-shirts “paninis pay my bills” is the genuine truth, it’s just the two of us with no staff and that shines through, now more than ever. 

Like many restaurants, Pressed for Time Paninis has recently adapted to offer produce baskets and prepared meals, which has been well-received by customers. I was curious to learn how Jules and Dee are leveraging their social media community during COVID-19.

Q: How have you used social media to change the way you’re conducting business during COVID-19?

A: We have used social media to share information on our store hours, menus and notifying our followers of any new or changed procedures in this strange time we find ourselves in. We are posting about our prepared meals, produce baskets, gift cards/videos on how to buy them. We also started using Instagram as a store, a few days ago we added a button on our Instagram profile page where people can purchase gift cards, this shop feature was just released. We also have been using it as a communication tool to keep in touch with fellow business owners and our well missed guests of the Panini Palace! This communication led us to collaborate with local businesses for giveaways and participate in the Guelph Box subscription service, which allowed us to sell and distribute 225 bottles of our hot sauce to the community.

Sharing posts and showcasing profiles of local businesses has helped boost our business, along with the other activities mentioned. The number of weekly profile visits has just more than doubled in the last month, we’ve gained approximately 200 followers, and our story mentions have increased around 50%.

Jules and Dee say that 80% of their current customer base previously existed before COVID-19, which is a clear example of the loyalty their customers feel toward their business. It isn’t the social media platforms themselves that have created that loyalty, but Jules and Dee’s brand and personalities, authentically reflected in their online presence.

“While we still feel the uncertainty of the world right now, we don’t feel we would have to permanently close if we didn’t have a social media community. We attribute this due to the loyal local community support we have surrounding our business, and this amazing downtown neighborhood we are lucky to be a part of.  There are other tools we can and have been using to help get the information out there – for example: our website and monthly newsletters, advertising through Guelph today and 3rd party delivery services such as Skip the dishes and Uber Eats, selling our products at other local businesses, as well as distributing updated menus to neighborhoods.”

Based on this testimony, and what I’m seeing on my own feeds, I conclude that while social media communities may not be the only thing holding up local businesses right now, they are certainly providing a boost during this time of crisis. It’s a pretty compelling argument to inject authenticity and personality into your social media accounts.

On that note, if you’re a small business owner and need some help communicating with your customers during this time, I have capacity for some pro bono work such as press releases or email statements. Please reach out to me.

For information on how to support local businesses, check out the following resources:
Coronavirus is hurting small businesses. Here’s how to help. (Global News)
Guelph Coronavirus Community Response, a Community-sourced page for people needing and offering help.