First-ever Rural Ontario Summit held

by Rural Ontario Institute 10. March 2014 13:09

Rural stakeholders from across Ontario convened in Cobourg Monday March 3, 2014 for the Rural Ontario Summit. The goal of the Summit was to host a province-wide conversation on key social and economic themes with widespread impact across rural Ontario communities.   The event was a collaboration between the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Rural Ontario Institute.

Why does this conversation matter? The number of Ontarians living in rural and small town communities is roughly 2.6 million people – the same number of people that live in Toronto. For a detailed discussion of rural geographies see Focus on Rural Ontario: Overview of Ontario’s Rural Geography - click here.

There were roughly 120 participants in attendance and over 100 more that joined the conversation online. An interactive live-streaming platform helped to increase accessibility, and the Summit’s Twitter hash tag #RuralON was one of the top trending discussion in Canada during the event!

Minister of Rural Affairs, the Honourable Jeff Leal kicked off the day-long event outlining a number of successes he has noted in rural Ontario.  Excited about the opportunity to hear from Summit participants he encouraged those at the event and on-line to get involved and contribute to the ongoing dialogue.  

Keynote speakers Dr. David Freshwater from the University of Kentucky and Dr. Rob Greenwood, from Memorial University in St. John’s NFLD  both identified the need for a rural strategy, supported by ongoing political commitment, with goals and objectives that enable long-term planning. Dr Greenwood emphasized that the broader provincial framework should enable the implementation and development of local strategies.  Their presentations are posted on the Rural Ontario Summit webpage:

Facilitated dialogue among participants took place throughout the late morning and afternoon, covering a wide range of topics from workforce skills development for youth, new Canadians and rural residents, to investment ready communities and job creation. Outputs from these conversations will be made available soon – stay tuned!

There were a number of rural success stories shared in a session titled Stories From the Field. Headlines like "Rural Incubator delivers new jobs" and "Northern Ontario drives new immigration strategies" came from the participants’ own experiences in rural Ontario. This session was beautifully captured by a graphic artist on poster boards and will be added to our website soon.

Monday wasn’t the first time these issues were discussed, and it certainly won’t be the last. Let’s keep the conversation going! If you would like to write a guest blog for ROI, or just share your perspective and experiences, you can email us at, give us a call at 519-826-4204 or tweet us at @ROInstitute. 

One of the graphic recordings from the day - an interesting way to see a presentation!


More Like People - Organizational lessons from the world of activism and social movements

by 6. March 2014 11:16

Those of us working to serve and improve communities - NGOs, charities, civil servants, volunteer organizations - may sometimes wonder if we are having the impact we want. 

For decades, the world of activism has created massive change – from ending wars to awarding voting rights – all outside of formal management structures. What can our organizations learn from these successes to better affect transformational social change?  

More Like People

Drawing on lessons from social movements and social media, writer and activist Liam Barrington-Bush will challenge us to critically examine the workings of our organizations – how we interact internally and how we interact externally with our communities – and will make the case for why and how our organizations could be ‘more like people’. 

‘More Like People’ explores the merits of brushing away ‘professional’ structures and interacting as we do when there are no job descriptions or business plans. It is about reconnecting with a more natural way of working together. It reminds us of the power we all hold to make positive changes, even within the most entrenched bureaucracies. 

Two learning opportunities … 

March 18, 2014 
Noon – 1 pm

Join us online for a learning and Q& A session with Liam. Hear stories about consensus decision-making in Occupy camps and democratic structures in worker-run factories. What lessons can these self-organizing activist movements teach us about our own community benefit organizations? 

Register Now for the Webinar!

In-person - 10 Carden, Guelph
March 18, 2014 
7 – 9 pm

Join us for an evening of conversation and learning with Liam. How can ‘more like people’ principles impact the work of our own organizations? And how can we address the challenges associated with entrenched organizational philosophies? Coffee, tea and light snacks will be provided. 

Register Now to See Liam Live!

Space is limited for both so please register ahead. 

About Liam Barrington-Bush
Liam is an activist, journalist, facilitator and author, working with social change organisations and movements since 2001. He co-founded an international youth exchange between young hip-hop artists in Canada and Cuba; led the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ work on e-campaigning for two years; supported community leaders across London (UK) to sustain local community projects with the Scarman Trust, and co-founded ‘more like people’ in 2010, aiming to reinstill a sense of humanity back into the world of social change organisations. He is the author of the new book, ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom: How social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people’.


Is a community co-op an option for retiring owners of rural businesses?

by Rural Ontario Institute 4. March 2014 14:13

Guest blog: Peter Cameron – Co-op Development Manager

With the coming wave of retiring business owners of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), there will be a serious impact in rural Ontario. About 310,000 retiring businesses owners across Canada are expected by 2017 and selling their business to a community co-operative is a viable but little promoted opportunity.

For example, a privately-owned movie theatre in Campbellford, near Peterborough, could have become a boarded up eyesore but instead was transformed into a dynamic community co-op with over 450 members and still growing. It's not just a movie theatre - it is now a community cultural hub for the town featuring music, speakers, dance and more - because the community came together to revive it through a co-operative. 

In Moonbeam, a small town along highway 11 in Northern Ontario, the owner of the only grocery store wanted to close up shop but the citizens of Moonbeam wanted to keep it open. This is a wonderful example of citizens who realized they could not afford to wait patiently for an angel investor to save their grocery store. Over 400 people invested in a community co-op and saved them from having to drive 21 km to Kapuskasing to shop and more importantly helped stop the economic downward spiral that is impacting so many rural communities. Read a news article here

On Co-op is working with local credit unions and business development organizations to promote this business model and show how it can be used to retain and create jobs, preserve valuable services and community assets.

Some interesting facts, figures and thought starters can be found on this PDF ON Co-op and CWCF BRICS V4 Aug 28-13.pdf (99.46 kb). For more information please contact Peter Cameron – Co-op Development Manager 519-763-8271 ext.23 



New Provincial Policy Statement Released …

by Rural Ontario Institute 28. February 2014 11:22

The Planning Act provides for provincial policy direction and requires that all local and upper tier municipal planning decisions as well as those of provincial agencies conform to the Provincial Policy statement (PPS).  A new PPS was released this week that will come into effect April 30. This replaces the 2005 Policy Statement which has been under review for some time.  The Minister of Municipal Affairs is required to review the PPS and determine if there is a need for revisions every 5 years.  This implies that the new PPS will be in effect until at least 2019 but in practice these reviews usually take years to complete.   Thus the 2014 PPS will have an important long-term impact on how successful we are at managing urban growth, protecting farmland and conserving important ecological functions across the landscape.   

The new PPS includes a pre-amble to section 1.0 Building Strong Healthy Communities  in which Rural Ontario is described as “important to the economic success of the Province and our quality of life”.  The diversity of rural areas is spoken to in these sections, citing the interdependence of the economy, natural resources, the environment and changing rural demographics.  The new section ( asserts some general value statements about how new policy should support “healthy, integrated and viable rural areas”.   The focus is on creating economic sustainability through leveraging rural assets and amenities while protecting the environment. 

Much is made of the potential for sustainability or “viability” in rural areas through value-added agricultural activities.   Section has added home occupations and home industries to the list of permitted uses on rural lands located in municipalities in the 2014 PPS.   Section further supports these goals, stating that permitted uses and activities in prime agricultural areas include “on-farm diversified uses” which are defined in the PPS as including, but not being limited to, home occupations, home industries, agri-tourism uses, and uses that produce value-added agricultural products.   

Other changes relate to flexibility for municipalities in setting out intensification targets for rural settlement areas and preclude aggregrate extraction below the water table in speciality crop areas.  Municipal Affairs and Housing has created a spreadsheet of key changes which can be viewed here.



by Rural Ontario Institute 1. February 2014 20:39

Guest Blog: Lance Thurston, Chair of Steering Committee

The Regional Imperative: To Prosper is to Compete; to Compete is to Connect

Communities that invest in high capacity broadband communications and information technologies achieve above average rates of economic growth, job creation, social diversification and environmental innovation. Yet, with the exception of a few urban centres, Southwestern Ontario is lagging far behind in availability of and access to affordable high capacity broadband. 

Making the Business Case for Regional Broadband

The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (WOWC) is calling on the Provincial and Federal Governments to take SWIFT action to ignite business growth in southwestern Ontario through government investment in universally available, equitably affordable,  scalable capacity, ultra-high-speed broadband access to the “Internet for everyone”. 

The Proposed SWIFT Network

The WOWC is proposing the SWIFT (South West Integrated Fibre Technology) network which will provide up to 1 Gbps symmetrical access for everyone.  SWIFT will be built in partnership with users, providers and upper levels of government proposes to provide an equitably affordable, universally available, “open access” fibre optic network that will scale to the continuously growing applications needs of users without triggering additional large capital investments or provisioning delays. Once fully established, the SWIFT network will serve over 300 communities, encompassing 3 million residents – including rural areas with population densities as low as 4 persons per square km.   

The WOWC is now undertaking detailed business planning and financial modelling in order to make a firm proposal to upper levels of government in the Spring of 2014.

The following figure is a map that outlines the network configuration (Please note the configuration will change as the business case is further developed).

What Can You Do?

Contact your local municipal council, your M.P. and M.P.P. to express your support for this project.

More information can be found at, including the WOWC Broadband Feasibility Study and details about next steps for the SWIFT project.


Open Space Facilitator Training in Guelph!

by Rural Ontario Institute 24. January 2014 18:06

Guest Blog: Nichole Fraser MacDonald, Managing Partner, Shared Value Solutions Ltd.

Shared Value Solutions and the City of Guelph are excited to host two professional leadership coaches from Sweden on January 29th and 30th, 2014. Anna-Eva Lohe and Marie Kaufmann work with municipalities, regional governments and organizations in Sweden. They will be coming to Guelph to offer a two-day workshop to train people to use the Open Space approach to group facilitation.

Open Space is an innovative approach for managing complex and contentious issues and organizational change and for sparking community and staff leadership. A third follow-up day is also included in the training and will take place sometime in the late spring depending on the availability of workshop participants. More information is available on our website

If you are interested in signing up or finding out more information please contact Jeremy Shute ( or 226-706-8888). For more information about the trainers visit




2014 Farmland Forum: Toward Permanent Land Protection in an Evolving Policy Environment

by Rural Ontario Institute 24. January 2014 12:38

Guest Blog: Matt Setzkorn, Executive Director, Ontario Farmland Trust


Join the Ontario Farmland Trust on March 7th for the 10th annual Farmland Forum at the University of Guelph. 

Engage with the discussion of challenges and successes of urban growth management and the protection of agriculture in Ontario’s near-urban farming communities. 

• How permanent is farmland protection policy in Ontario?

• Are current policies effectively curbing sprawl and protecting agriculture?

• Can policy makers and community stakeholders work more collaboratively to improve farmland protection?

Learn from the experts, and share your concerns and recommendations to help inform the policy debate in advance of the 2015/16 Greenbelt & Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan reviews.

To register, and for more details on the event, click here 


Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture Announces 2014 Competition Topics

by Rural Ontario Institute 16. January 2014 13:24

Each year the renowned Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CYSA) Public Speaking Competition is held at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. The competition is open to youth ages 11 to 24 who have a passion for agriculture, whether raised on a farm, in the country or in the city.  This national, bilingual competition gives participants from across Canada the opportunity to share their opinions, ideas and concerns about the Canadian agri-food industry in a five- to seven-minute prepared speech. 

2014 marks the competition’s 30th anniversary.  Since the first competition held in 1985 at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in honour of the International Year of the Youth, the event has become a premier public speaking event in Canada for young people interested in agriculture. There have been more than 900 participants in total over the years. 

The 2014 public speaking competition topics are:

* I am a Canadian farmer and this is my success story

* Why succession planning is crucial to the future of Canadian agriculture

* As stewards of the land can Canadian farmers do more?

* Why social media is an opportunity farmers cannot ignore

* Why I am choosing a career in agriculture

For more information about CYSA and the 2014 competition visit 


Bringing together a community around an issue

by Rural Ontario Institute 17. December 2013 16:30

Have you ever wondered how to tackle an issue that touches every person, but is really no one person’s responsibility? Or an issue that is so complex that no one person or organization can ‘fix’ it?

The Town of Smiths Falls had an issue like that: the need to attract and retain Physicians. That issue is certainly not unique to Smiths Falls, but they wanted to do more than put out a “Doctors Welcome” sign.

So, together with the Rural Ontario Institute, a team from many sectors of the community hosted a two-day Community Action Lab. These two days were not intended to just talk about the issue – they were designed to get broader community involvement in both the design and execution of a plan.

Using many different tools and techniques, the group of 40 interested citizens brainstormed ideas, explored different ways to tackle the challenge, and gained clarity on who would spearhead actions and how members of the community would be involved in helping with and carrying out the different activities needed to bring the plan to life.

Many communities and organizations have “the usual” people who come forward to dig in and do work. The planning team from the Town of Smiths Falls was pleased to see the diverse group of people who showed up, participated in the process and committed to continue the work. When the team was asked “Why do you think more and different people came?”, the answer was the pre-work done by the group in mapping the network – looking at all the different groups of people that would care about the issue and then identifying specific individuals within each group with whom they had a connection and could personally invite.

As with all of ROI’s leadership training initiatives, another expected outcome is increased leadership capacity within the community. The tools used at the Community Action Lab can be used in many other situations – from small group meetings to tacking large, complex issues. 

Read more here


Linking Health and the Built Environment in Rural Settings

by Rural Ontario Institute 9. December 2013 12:06

Guest blog: Emily Hill, Public Health Nurse, Healthy Communities & Injury Prevention, Middlesex-London Health Unit

"Healthy communities are places that are safe, contribute to a high quality of life, provide a strong sense of belonging and identity, and offer access to a wide range of health-promoting amenities." - Jason Gilliland

Linking Health and the Built Environment in Rural Settings: Evidence and Recommendations for Planning Healthy Communities in Middlesex County is a report initiated by the Healthy Communities Partnership Middlesex-London (HCP) and written by the Human Environments Analysis Laboratory at Western University in collaboration with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU).

The purpose of the report is to increase knowledge of the relationship between health and the built environment in rural contexts, while providing a local application to Middlesex County. The report underlines the critical role that community design plays in supporting safe, healthy, and active lifestyles in rural communities. The evidence and recommendations provided show how rural environments can be designed and retrofitted to promote healthier behaviours, increase safety, and improve health. Investments in infrastructure and commitment to policies that promote healthy communities are essential for governments to continue meeting the health and safety needs of their citizens. 

Policies and supplemental strategies are recommended throughout the paper on the following four topic areas:

1) Active living;

2) Road safety;

3) Food systems & healthy eating; and

4) Social capital & mental well-being.

It is the goal of the MLHU and HCP to build community partnerships that guide policy development and facilitate healthier communities within Middlesex County. A description of Middlesex County and its municipalities is included in the report to illustrate the generalizability of recommendations to other rural communities. It is our hope that through sharing this resource, policy development that supports healthy communities will be possible to a greater degree in rural settings.

To download a copy of the report, please visit: