By Stephen Vance, Editor
I had to kill some time on Saturday afternoon and evening, so I went for a walk in downtown Meaford.
As I walked I tried to imagine that I hadn’t lived here for the last four and a half years, I tried to walk the downtown as an outsider and consider what impression I could form about this little town.
Prior to moving here, I had only been through Meaford once, many years ago. And I do mean ‘through’. I was driving from Barrie to Owen Sound, and my route took me through this town.
At the time I didn’t really think much about Meaford. I drove through, thought that the enormous red apple downtown was somewhat curious, and kept driving.
My recollection of that brief drive through Meaford was that nothing really grabbed my attention, and as I walked the streets of the downtown core, I think I figured out why that was.
I began my walk after parking my car in the parking lot beside Meaford Hall. An outsider would see this expanse of snow covered asphalt as little more than a parking lot that serves the needs of a hardware store and a large building called “Meaford Hall”.
There is nothing in plain sight to let people know of the historic significance of this little piece of land known to locals as “Market Square”.
Obviously it would not be practical to provide a full history of every parcel of land in any municipality, but some simple signs at the two entrances, or some other signage perhaps hanging from an arbour placed over the pedestrian path from Sykes Street into the square would be enough to at least let people know that this patch of land has a history that is significant.
I walked along Sykes Street looking in the windows of the shops, many of which were already closed as I began my walk at roughly 4 pm. Viewing the town as a complete outsider, I might not realize that there is much to do or see in Meaford, and I might just think it is just another rinky-dink town.
I did not see any sign that would alert me to the fact that there is a beautiful harbour to enjoy, or that the town is home to a wonderful waterfront park called Memorial Park.
Beautiful Joe Park also would be difficult for an outsider to locate, let alone be aware of. And what about some indication that there are cultural gems beyond the downtown such as Leith Church- the burial site of Tom Thomson, or Bognor Marsh?
I walked the streets of the downtown for the better part of two hours, and what I saw as an outsider was a quaint little town with some shops and a couple of restaurants. Of course there is the big red apple beside which stands a fabulous statue of a scarecrow, but how does an outsider link the significance of these things to the municipality as a whole?
I continued my walk through the downtown and crossed the bridge over the Big Head River. I thought it might have been nice if there were a sign to tell me as an outsider the name of this river. I walked up the hill past the Tim Horton’s restaurant (which by the way has a huge sign to alert people to their existence), and walked up to the corner of Sykes Street & St. Vincent.
I stood at this corner and looked in all directions. Nope, no directional sign to guide me down to one of the more beautiful waterfronts to be found in Ontario, no sign to tell me that I was just a hop, skip, and a jump from Memorial Park, nothing to inform me that there is a fabulous little museum just down the road.
And there was certainly nothing to indicate that this town I was entering encompasses 588 square kilometres, and that there is much to discover once I passed through the three sets of traffic lights in the downtown core.
There is of course the ‘Welcome’ sign with a nice image of Beautiful Joe, and a banner for Meaford Hall. Below this information is a letter-board sign that had some information about the Chamber AGM, but when I later drove by this sign in my car, I noticed that because of the snow banks, I couldn’t see the information on this letter-board.
Now obviously we don’t want to plaster the municipality with large ugly signs, but there are ways to do it while maintaining the aesthetics that are desired in a small town.
As I walked back down the hill toward the downtown, I recalled last summer when I had to go to a place in Owen Sound called Kelso Beach. I don’t know Owen Sound well, I don’t really spend any time there, so I asked someone how I might find this place and I was told “When you come in to Owen Sound, just follow the blue signs.”
So that is what I did. Upon driving in to Owen Sound I was met with a large blue sign that listed several points of interest in the town. One of those was Kelso Beach. And I did what I was told, and followed the blue signs. What a great idea.
I arrived at Kelso Beach with no problem, and I discovered something about Owen Sound that I hadn’t known existed previously.
The topic of signage has been discussed often in Meaford. One of the many recommendations to come out of the MEDS project was to improve information and direction signs in the municipality. Our friends from Port Dover who participated in a “First Impressions” exchange last summer also identified poor signage as an issue in this municipality.
If our municipality wants to encourage weekenders and other passers-by to stop and explore this town, and perhaps even spend some of their discretionary income here, then I think that there needs to be a serious look at getting some signs in place.
You never know, it might help people discover that there is more to Meaford than our well publicized problems.