Kristin Catherwood, Director of Living Heritage

Last week it was announced that Prime Minister Trudeau has appointed Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan to a newly created cabinet position of Minister of Rural Economic Development. There has been plenty of commentary on this new position, which will operate out of Infrastructure Canada, and especially the timing of it, but however its creation came about, it is nonetheless an important opportunity for those of us who are concerned with rural issues.

In October, 2018 the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), in partnership with the Saskatchewan Economic Development Alliance (SEDA) and the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Nursing, hosted its national conference in Saskatoon. I presented a paper about our Coal in Coronach living heritage project. I saw the conference as a good opportunity for us to network and share our work with an audience made up of researchers and practitioners from a diverse set of backgrounds, many representing national and international communities. I didn’t expect to be so personally inspired by the workshops and presentations I attended. I was struck by how the researchers seemed dedicated to truly understanding the communities in which they worked, and were committed to finding practical solutions for the problems faced by rural and remote places. This may seem like a “no-brainer,” but I have seen that oftentimes there is a gap between researchers and policy-makers and the real world concerns and viewpoints of the communities they are meant to be serving.

By the end of the first day of the conference, after consulting with some trusted colleagues, I decided to put my name forward for a board nomination at the annual general meeting of CRRF. I have never sat on a provincial board before, much less a national one, but I managed to state my case well enough to be elected!  My decision to join was motivated by my desire to connect Heritage Saskatchewan and the communities we serve with research and resources that can make a real difference to them, but also by my belief that I can contribute ideas and perspectives to the board based on my ongoing community engagement work which is rooted in concepts of living heritage. I am currently the only board member from the three westernmost provinces.

My work in the ThriveSask program last year contributed to this strengthening desire to apply the principles of living heritage to real-world situations in community. While living heritage is integral to the wellbeing of all communities, whether urban, suburban, rural, remote, or otherwise, much of my work here in the province is focused on rural communities simply because, well, we have a lot of them! And, of course, I also have a personal interest in rural resilience since I grew up in a rural community and have returned to rural life in adulthood by choice. hough our rural populations have been steadily declining for decades, at 33%, Saskatchewan still has one of the largest percentages of rural population in Canada, surpassed only by the Atlantic Canadian provinces. And while 1/3 of our population is living in rural communities, our two largest economic industries, agriculture, forestry and mining, oil and gas, are based predominately in rural areas (State of Rural Canada: Saskatchewan).

Statistics notwithstanding, people who choose to live a rural life are entitled to the same standard of living as their urban and suburban neighbours. My experiences living and working in rural Saskatchewan have shown me that people’s close connection to their natural environment and their identification with the living heritage of their communities are deeply felt. Living a rural life is more often than not a conscious choice, one that is made knowing that rural communities face increasing pressure to survive.

As we begin our work in 2019, one of my priority areas will be continuing to collaborate with SEDA on the ThriveSask program. I am thrilled that we will be visiting Coronach in February to work with that community as it envisions a future beyond its current coal-based economy. This is directly related to our 2017 Coal in Coronach Living Heritage project. As we work together to build the capacity for rural resilience, understanding and utilizing a community’s living heritage is an essential component in this. I would go so far as to argue it is the very foundation on which a community’s future wellbeing depends.