The issue of 'locals vs cottagers' will continue past Covid-19 but during this crisis Be Kind

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Danial McCoy

This is a topic that, while only coming to public light in this time of panic and fear, has had its roots in the community for as long as I had been living in Huntsville, and all likelihood, much longer than that. There has always been a degree of animosity towards cottagers and tourists from many of the local residents. My experience of this was as a front-line retail worker over the course of 11 years. When I first started working I was shocked at the vitriol I was hearing from my coworkers regarding the tourists who would come in. And as so many who enter into the, sometimes gladiatorial, arena of cottage country retail, I was quick to understand where their sentiments came from.

Yet at the crux of this issue lies the concept of ownership, or to be more specific, entitlement of ownership. Both locals and tourists claim ownership to the region, both feel entitled to claim this. One group's sense of entitlement comes from an intimate connection to the area built through living and raising family there, in some cases for many generations. The second group's comes from owning a secondary residence or frequenting the areas many parks and recreational facilities. It is based on memories built here with family and friends, as well as from spending their free money in the area; something that for some, is steadily becoming more scarce.

It really doesn't matter if a person cannot own the place, what matters is that some who feel passionately about it think they can. Passion and entitlement are two things that when combined often end up not only with the 'Us vs Them' situation, but in rapidly escalating tensions that leads to violence. And nobody wants that.

What we are seeing in the numerous posts and tweets and articles about the rising tension between these two supposedly opposite sides is just a general sense of fear for ones own security, and the security of their loved ones.

Locals know that the rapid influx of seasonal residents, cottagers or not, will tax the entire system, as it does every year normally, and thus during this pandemic it will put them at risk. This risk not only coming from the spread of the virus from outside of the community into it, but because of the overall strain the additional people will put on the medical, food, and infrastructure that they know is inadequate to deal with it.

Cottagers know that the spread of this virus will almost certainly be less in smaller more isolated communities that they happen to frequent. Communities that have always been their source of joy during the summer months of vacationing with their families. They may or may not think that the logistical situation in Muskoka may be able to handle the added pressure of them migrating up there, but they have made the decision that that risk is less than the risk of staying put.

And THAT, ladies and Gents, is the common thread that binds these two opposing sides through this whole debacle. Both locals and seasonal residents are making the choices that they believe to be best for the safety of their families. It is the kind of mindset we don't typically see in our typically comfortable Canadian lives. That is: “Stay here where the risk is higher, but where we put fewer other people at risk, or, head north where the risk is less, but where our presence may put more other people at risk”

For locals the question is simply whether or not to let them come up from the south. It is a simpler choice, and one that is realistically a pseudo-choice given the law ... unless it isn't. You see the human brain is very good at justifying actions when it needs to. The old adage of everyone being capable of anything in the right conditions is a very real thing.

Since the beginning of this Covid mess I have been holding my breath for the residents of my beautiful and beloved home. Knowing all too well the feelings and intense emotions that reside behind the thinly veiled facade of the smiles in the retail and tourism service, I know it is simply a matter of time, fear, and building resentment until someone does something they cannot take back. An action that, taken in the heat of the moment and justified by a brain that feels trapped, leaves the community reeling, or sparking more such actions.

This is not the time for reinforcing the fears that we have as a community, for getting each other riled up and on edge. This is the time for understanding, for patience and dare I say, finding common ground. This last statement is directed at the permanent residents of Muskoka, mainly because it is you who will have to find that common ground, as it is you who will be on the receiving end of those who choose to go north.

There are some facts to be faced by both locals and cottagers.

Fact one; Travel bans may be set, but legally enforcing them is a grey area that may infringe on the rights and freedoms that are a part of what make this country the place it is. Enforcing them is also very slippery slope that can open the gateway to some more draconian laws that, while in the short term, might make some people feel more secure, would ultimately be nothing but trouble for our country.

Fact two; We must rely on our fellow Canadians to make the best decisions that they can in their own situations. We are all in this together, you cannot divorce yourself from those who you disagree with in this country. We are all one people. You will disagree with others, step back and breath, this too will pass.

Fact three; The decisions you make will fundamentally impact your neighbours, physical and metaphorical. Moving about the country, to cottage country or elsewhere, WILL endanger lives that are not known to you. WE ALL carry the responsibility for the spread of this virus. Likewise, retaliating against someone coming into your area from outside of it WILL forever change not only your life, but the lives of the loved ones in it and the community as a whole, who will have to deal with the fallout of your choice.

The facts are a hard swallow. This year is hard to swallow. 2020 came busting into our lives like the cool-aid man and left us all standing in the rubble of what used to be. We are all in this together.

If you are upset, find someone to talk to. If you can, be there for someone who is having a hard time dealing with the emotions that are boiling up, please do so. Be there for each other! This is also a call for all those lightworkers, healers, and the like...and we know Muskoka is full of them! Now is the time stand up and do those things that are so often spoken of. Your hands in the hands of a fellow distressed human, metaphorically or not, will do much more for the community than twisted into mudras during this time.

Be kind. Offer words of encouragement. Thank those on the front lines. Offer aid to those who need it. And above all, remember that every person you see or hear or come into contact with is going through the same things you are. The virus will be beaten eventually, and together we can beat the fear that has come along with it. The old issue of “Locals versus Cottagers” will likely continue, but for this crisis at least, lets build each other up in place of tearing each other down.

Stay safe out there!

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