More people live in cities around the world today than at any other time in history. This global trend holds true in Canada too. According to the 2016 Census, 81 per cent of our country’s population now lives in metropolitan centres, compared to just 62 per cent of Canadians who called cities home in 1951.
The migration from small towns to the bustling streets of metropolises puts a strain on the rural communities left behind, which often face school and amenity closures in the wake of declining population sizes. But for the 2000-person village of Cowichan Station on Vancouver Island, this challenge has given way to new opportunities to define and foster the culture of this rural community.
“Cowichan Station was a really thriving community when it was established 100 years ago, with a train station, hotels and a downtown core,” say Jill Thompson. “All that has disappeared now, it’s all moved into Duncan. All that was left in the early 2000s was the school and the church.”
So when School District 79 announced that they would be closing Cowichan Station Rural Traditional School in 2007, community residents rallied together to find a way to keep this anchor of community alive. A business plan was created by residents, and the school district and the CVRD agreed to lease the building to the community for $1 a year. The school was then adapted into a community centre, and that’s how the Hub at Cowichan Station was born.
Jill Thompson is the volunteer Chair of Fundraising for the Cowichan Station Area Association, the non-profit organization that runs the Hub at Cowichan Station. She’s also a mother, and supporting the Hub is important to her because she wants her son to have a strong connection to his community.
“A school is the anchor of a small community,” she says. “Kids come into a classroom, and meet other kids they wouldn’t otherwise meet. So through that, the parents also get to know each other. Now the Hub fills this role.”
Offerings for children at the Hub include an afternoon of drop-in games called Rec and Roll, Scouts and Girl Guides of Canada meetings, and a weekly night of food and socializing led by homeschooled teens, called Kids Café.
“The kids are expected to volunteer and pitch in. If there’s an event then they know they need to help with [set up and clean up], and they even host quarterly spaghetti suppers to help pay for their programs,” explains Thompson. “It makes them understand that if you want to make things happen, you have to do it for yourself.”
The Hub isn’t just for kids. It offers wide variety of programming for people all ages. Many of these activities are led and supported by a team of 100 regular volunteers, and these opportunities to participate also support a sense of community. “We spend afternoons together [volunteering and working], and talking about things, and when someone’s in need, we respond.”
In addition to local fundraising efforts, The Hub is also supported by the Government of BC, Canadian Heritage and grants from local businesses, including TELUS.
“TELUS has sponsored us twice now,” says Thompson. “Once through a ‘Phones for Good’ grant and then again through the TELUS Community Action Fund, which is specifically for community programs and helped us purchase equipment, including a second-hand movie screen.”
“These days, these rural places are in danger of just feeling like a collection of houses, but places like the Hub make the difference between just a location on a map or having a solid, active community,” she says proudly.