by Jeff Mills

I recently spent time in Savannah, Ga, a gem of a southern town. Thoughtfully laid out by English General James Oglethorpe in 1733 in a grid pattern on a bluff above the Savannah River, Savannah was spared Yankee General Sherman’s torch in the Civil War, and left to thrive.

Today one finds a heritage district of 2.5 miles square that includes 22 neighbourhood parks full of centuries old live oak trees with hanging Spanish moss, gardens, benches and monuments. People continue to live in a range of homes and business is thriving. Museums and art galleries abound. Years ago the city worked with the Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD, on a heritage sustainability initiative to save buildings dating back to the early days of the cotton industry. Today SCAD has a thriving campus that occupies 70 heritage buildings across the city. Talk about a cultural economy! Beyond Savannah, SCAD has international campuses in cities across the world including Paris and Tokyo. International hipster students on bikes flock to Savannah and SCAD.

I was fortunate to take in a music festival during my visit; everything from bluegrass to jazz.

I biked the waterfront along River Street stopping at each of the 13 interpretive history boards that taught me about everything from early settlement, slavery, Savannah as an important Atlantic port, the Civil War and more.

A great way to explore the city was to start with a “hop on and off” trolley tour; history, architecture, art and culture all with local commentary. One of my guides jokingly mentioned the need for a permit to apply for a permit within the heritage district. I instantly though of our town of Mississippi Mills hosting a survey to gauge interest in a study regarding the heritage designation for central Almonte.

Some shop windows had posters advertising the date of a public meeting to discuss the appropriateness of a new sign or other element for the building and the business. I was struck by the open nature of this public consultation process. This district is no Disney theme park. It’s a real neighbourhood that values its history. Thinking of the trolley driver I thought how short-sighted he was to criticize the city. This district and its preservation provide him with a secure job.

In an age when we collect our history in museums, heritage districts offer the opportunity to marry history and architecture, with daily modern life and economic development. Just imagine the textile museum “taking it outside” and “bringing it downtown” with interpretive boards; imagine the amazing opportunity to teach the world about why Almonte is where it is; our place in the history of the woollen industry; our commercial past while enjoying our commercial present; and celebrating where we’ve come from and where we are at. Creating an interpretive downtown Almonte heritage district sounds like a wonderful “Canada 150” project to me.

I sure hope you voted in the town’s survey in favour of the heritage downtown district study.

Our value is in our story.

(It is my understanding that staff is bringing forward a recommendation at this evening’s Committee of the Whole meeting to proceed with the study based on overwhelming support as seen in the survey).