The cozy Broken Paddle Coffee House in Metchosin turned into the site of a passionate panel discussion between six longtime residents, when the question arose: With the highest voter turnout among all Capital Region municipalities in 2011 election, what is it that drives Metchosinites to be so involved in their local politics and community?
Creamy coffees and London fogs rested between clasped fingers, voices rose and fell, the natural rhythm and respect at the table giving everyone the chance to speak.
“People think their voice makes a difference here,” said Betty Hildreth, who’s lived in Metchosin for more than 25 years, and has been part of the community association for almost two decades.
“There’s a passion to live here,” added Jan Paulin. “It was one of the first areas developed in the 1800s, so it’s got history. There’s a lot of people who really love this place.”
Paulin was raised in Metchosin, as her mother and grandmother were.
Heads nod around the table with murmurs of agreement between sips of coffee.
Longstanding personal history and community involvement is a constant refrain as the conversation moves around the table. Metchosinites clearly love where they live.
John and Lorraine Buchanan own Parry Bay Sheep Farm, an establishment that has stood for nearly 40 years. Their passion for the rural beauty of Metchosin is a common thread amongst all who live there, they said.
“I’d rather see a place look a little rough than all pretty,” said Lorraine. “I’m glad we have these big chunks of land. We want to protect what we have.”
Jane Hammond, owner of Glen Rosa Farm for over 30 years, chimed in. “From 1984 when we incorporated, that persona was present at the beginning.”
“And we see the development coming right up to our doorway, so we have to interact and feel like we have a finger on the pulse of what’s going on,” Paulin said.
Something unique to the small community seems to be the lack of apathy that rears its head all too often in local politics.
“There’s a polarity here that I see,” said Shannon Meeker, owner of the café since it opened almost 10 years ago. “People are very passionate, either for or against issues.”
Meeker’s also seen a quieter, but no less exceptional loyalty from the residents to each other.
Strangers would stop to help her daughter cross the street just outside the café, she recalls, and she remembers the community banding together to keep tabs on an older resident who lived alone.
“Every day, you’d hear people asking, ‘Have you seen Peter? How’s Peter doing?’ He was able to stay on his own for a long time because of that.”
The dedication to that ‘small town’ feel is clearest when it comes to voting on leadership, with a local government that’s committed to keeping Metchosin rural continually voted in.
“The majority want things to stay relatively the same,” said Paulin, adding, “Those values are pretty ingrained.”
“And we really have to give credit to the founders of the community association for bringing together neighbours positively,” Hammond said.
“The health of the community has really increased.”
With the Nov. 15 municipal election coming ever closer, the residents of Metchosin will no doubt again come out in droves to make their voices heard. Their 48 per cent voter turnout in 2011 topped the CRD and was 20 points better than the next best turnout on the West Shore. Perhaps they’ll also provide an inspiration to other communities to get involved.