Our community had a 99th birthday party, a week ago, for Anne Land.
For more than two hours, a succession of people lined up to shake Anne’s hand, to kiss her cheek, to give her a hug.
And she—bless her!—knew everyone by name, and responded brightly to the congratulations she received.
The community of Okanagan Centre didn’t exist before 1906, when the Maddock brothers from England subdivided a small level stretch of land along the shore of Okanagan Lake. Eight years later, Anne was born to one of the pioneer farming families in the area.
In 1914, there were no roads to Okanagan Centre; no highway running up the Okanagan Valley, no railway connecting to the transcontinental CPR. Rather, the communities along the lake connected by water. By paddlewheel steamer, to Vernon or Kelowna. By rowboat, if they were visiting friends across the lake.
As the tributes noted, Anne is the living history of those days. Aside from attending high school in Vancouver, she has lived her entire life in this community. She still lives in a small, single-storey house on a well-treed corner lot.
As the only formal speech of the afternoon noted: “Her door is always open. If you stop by, she’ll invite you into her kitchen for a cup of tea.”
The speaker concluded: “Anne is the face of our community.”
In a sense, of course, we all are. The way we treat our property, the way we treat our neighbours, shapes the kind of community we live in. A community is not a collection of houses and streets, shops and sewers. The people embody the community.
A few years ago the municipality of Lake Country appointed a committee to develop something called a Sector Plan for Okanagan Centre. Our mandate was—I’m summarizing several pages of legalese—to identify the unique elements of our community that we wanted to preserve.
So we made zoning recommendations. We considered economic development. We consulted professional planners. We drafted policies and guidelines.
We wanted to see stars at night, so we opposed street lights. We also opposed wider roads; we didn’t want increased traffic flow. We wanted life on a human scale—comfortable smaller houses, no highrises, no monster homes.
The municipal council received our report. And then filed it and forgot it.
In hindsight, I think what we were really hoping to define was the kind of people who would live in our community. Those houses and roads, shops and sidewalks, streetlights and sewers, were merely a means to an end.
Everyone knows that run-down housing tends to fill with run-down dwellers. It’s perhaps less obvious that big houses, set far apart, will attract people focused on individualism and self-sufficiency. Walled gardens and high fences promote obsessions about privacy, security and exclusiveness. So, tragically, do soundproof apartments.
Small yards, conversely, move social interaction into public spaces Residents mingle, children play on the roads, visitors drop in for tea.
What we really wanted—and didn’t know how to define—was a community of people like Anne Land.