The Townshippers’ Association plays a vital role in the community. They help ensure access to English health services. They help young people get training and find jobs in the area. They celebrate community volunteers with special awards, and lobby government to protect minority language rights. But recently, the Association has been in the news for other reasons. It recently announced that Townshippers’ Day, one of the best known annual celebrations of the Eastern Townships English community, will not be held this year for the first time since 1979.
It is disappointing that after 38 years, the Association has allowed the situation to come to this.
Traditionally, T-Day was held in a different town or village each year, attracting thousands of visitors to discover different corners of the Townships and contributions that English speakers make to the region. The host municipality would sponsor the event by providing funds and volunteers to organize activities. But unfortunately, municipalities have not been stepping up the way they used to, says Gerald Cutting, the Townshippers’ Association president, something he acknowledges has been obvious for at least five years. The Town of Brome Lake and Brome Village had volunteered to host T-Day at Brome Fairgrounds again this year, as they have done successfully for two years, but the Association didn’t want the same location for a third year.
Cutting says the Association is setting up a committee to come up with a new plan for a sustainable T-Day, and that all ideas and help are welcome. Indeed, the Association may need to reinvent the T-Day concept to generate more interest. Perhaps it needs to hire organizers rather than depend solely on volunteers. And it may need to abandon the idea of getting municipalities to sponsor the event, or to come up with the kind of event that municipalities will want to host. And perhaps the Association should reconsider its 38-year-old stance on different locations – why not make it an annual event at the Brome Fairgrounds, in an area where there is a critical mass of people who appreciate English Townshippers?
But the Association should not let the spirit of T-Day die. It is true that the English community has been changing, aging and shrinking for decades, as Mr. Cutting laments. But, the community is still very much alive, and still a vital vibrant part of the future of the Eastern Townships. It still needs to celebrate and be celebrated.
Perhaps this is the impetus that we need to come up with a new more dynamic, more inclusive and forward-looking way to celebrate the English community and its contribution to life in the Townships.
Celebrating the community and cheering on our diversity should be a priority task for the Townshippers’ Association. Like any community-based organization, especially those supported primarily with public funds, the Association needs to constantly reassess its priorities and strategies to remain relevant to the community it serves through times of continuous change. Rethinking T-Day and the messages it sends is a great opportunity for the Association to do just that.
If you would like to contribute ideas or support a renewed T-Day initiative, please contact Corrinna Pole at the Townshippers’ Association at 1-866-566-5717; firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the office in Town of Brome Lake at 450-242-4421.
Photo from 1981 Hatley Quebec event, courtesy of Townshippers’ Association