At Keewatin, on Lake of the Woods, went on a search for the bakery, Allens, and the grocery store up the hill from the marina. They weren’t there. But we met a couple (B & B) who were able to fill in the blanks, so to speak, confirming that yes, we were standing in the right place, but that the landmarks we remember are gone.
B & B moved to Keewatin from Winnipeg a few years back and opened up a General Store. Their move defied practical logic, since at the time Keewatin was already losing its purpose to Kenora, while the mills around Kenora were closing, so the entire area was, and still is, searching for new forms of survival.
Yet this is where they want to live and it’s easy to understand why. Lake of the Woods is a jewel of deep blue waters on the edge of the Canadian Shield, full of thousands of islands and surrounded by boreal forest. But as one of the Bs tells me, E-Bay, Walmart and their like have killed retail as we used to know it, and there’s no money in gas when you’re off the highway. And it’s mostly a retired community that’s moving here and they don’t buy locally. But the other B has more work than he can handle building custom kitchens for cottagers. So the general store’s going to reduce in size; the workshop in back will expand.
It’s all disconcerting and yet hopeful. I’m happy B & B are able to adapt and make a living here, but the loss of local industry, retail and small businesses is troublesome. The changes that have stripped a town of its independence and left it to find a new one satisfying the whims of increasingly well-off vacationing cottagers, feels unsettling.
But searching for signs of hope and intelligent life in a supply chain that’s ruled by the price of commodities, market share and growth, and consumers who proudly believe that every dollar saved is a personal victory — is a frustrating, maddening and challenging quest.
A few days back, standing in a bookstore, I watched a woman pick up best sellers, comparing aloud, the prices to those at Costco. This isn’t Costco, I said. I know, she replied defensively, as if the only issue at hand was the sign above the door, not the fact that she admitted to me that she comes here to talk to the knowledgeable staff, and then goes online or to Costco to make her purchases.