Wakaw holds community meeting to talk future planning

Photo from the Wakaw Community Information Facebook page. More than 50 people came out for an information session hosted by the Town of Wakaw recently.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder

More than 50 people came out for an information session hosted by the Town of Wakaw and, specifically, the Recreation & Community Development Manager for the town, Dwane Burke.

The goal of the evening was to share information with the community, connect individuals within the community who share the same interests community-wise, and advance ideas around future planning. Establishing a vibrant community involves economic development, it involves recreation, it involves community groups, and it involves individuals.

The Town of Wakaw and the Town Council, are one part of the team that works together to create community success, through connecting people, providing civil services, developing policies, sharing information, and supplying resources, and these are but a few of the services that are part of the town’s role. The efforts of the Town Council, community groups, and individuals help the entire community move toward becoming an even stronger and more vibrant community.

Burke wrote in an email the morning after the event that the successful evening accomplished even more, “including creating some momentum and taking a step forward. We’re already working on the next steps.”

In a lead-up to the event, Burke shared an article written by Verona Thibault of the Saskatchewan Economic Development Alliance (SEDA) that gave further insight into what it takes for communities to be competitive in today’s world. A truly competitive community, Thibault writes, is one that is resilient. It is one where residents have jobs and opportunities, and they benefit from efficient and reliable services, regardless of upturns and downturns in the economy, and/or fluctuations in government funding. It can help leaders change challenges into opportunities and gain an advantage that a single person, organization, or community cannot achieve alone.

Tapping into the diversity that exists in rural Saskatchewan and working in collaboration with partners in the same community and those in neighbouring communities, can result in stronger and more competitive entities. She states that towns and municipal communities are faced with a growing list of responsibilities and demands, and those who continue to try and ‘go it alone’ will continue to miss out on investments, jobs, and opportunities that will favour others that are engaging in a systems approach.

To leverage both financial and human resources, collaboration between municipalities and nations is arguably an essential element in ensuring equitable and sustainable rural development. With a systems approach, neighbouring communities examine how their goals work together for each other’s benefit and how they may be working against them. Communities do not abdicate their autonomy when they seek out common ground to build trust and collaborative solutions with neighbours. Rural, urban, and Indigenous communities can benefit by seeking partnerships with their neighbours and public, private, and nonprofit organizations to fulfill joint initiatives.

Some of the challenges that have been identified by business owners, community groups, and individuals in Wakaw are that multiple community groups and volunteer organizations need more volunteers or helpers. Some of the town’s facilities are showing their age and in need of some physical TLC, and some like the transit van are nearing the end of their lifespan and need to have their futures decided. There are many new community members and making connections with them is not straightforward, some come from different cultures and may not fully understand how they can get involved without someone reaching out to them first.

Along with the challenges, Burke shared with attendees, there are many positives the community can celebrate such as the many fresh faces in the town and area which makes for a culturally diverse community. Over the past few years, many partnerships and connections have been developed with neighbouring communities, municipalities, and regions including business and community groups, as well as organizations such as Prairies Economic Development Canada, Saskatchewan Economic Development Alliance, Lakeland District for Sports, Culture & Recreation, Prairie Food Link, Saskatchewan Park & Recreation, Sask Lotteries, Sagehill Community Futures, and the Community Initiatives Fund to name but a few. 

In a move to bring ‘all the players to the table’ representatives of town completed a recent business walk to learn what the local business community thought and to hear their views on several points. From the data collected and shared, overall local business owners shared that they felt both hopeful and encouraged around doing business in Wakaw. They also shared that what they liked most about doing business in Wakaw was the community itself, the lifestyle it afforded, and its location.

The second most important thing they liked about doing business in Wakaw was the clientele, the people who walked through their doors. Some of the challenges businesses noted included the quality of the internet services, finding employees, and affordability. Several businesses identified in the survey that they saw other things as challenges, but no further information was received before publication about what some of these “other” challenges were. 

Several businesses identified the revitalization of 1st Street South as both a tangible sign of the town’s economic development efforts and as something that will support local businesses. This project is moving forward into Stage 2 this year where improvements will be made to the 200 block. Concerns about the state of the sidewalks in the core business district will be addressed and more information will be forthcoming.

Saskatchewan’s provincial motto is “from many peoples strength” and that is the benefit of collaboration and working together for the betterment of all. It is not a case of “I win, or you win,” but rather it comes down to together we both win.

As rural populations struggle with depopulation, working together makes both economic and strategic sense. The information sharing night brought forward ideas of trying to attract a medium to large-scale employer, and micro-manufacturers, and even encouraging a developer or developers to invest and create a multi-resident housing project. Sharing ideas may inspire action by another. Examining where we have been and sharing where we want to go, may make it possible for Wakaw and the area to go further than was even dreamed.