A film crew from TVOntario (TVO) was in Vankleek Hill from August 19 to 24, interviewing business owners in the area for an episode in a new documentary series. The show will visit six towns on the brink of a boom or bust, with one hour-long episode per town, and detail what happened to them after their biggest industries closed, what have they done since then, and if they will be able to recover.
Despite the obvious assumption to make, the show doesn’t focus on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, although producer Jennifer Horvath admits it has impacted some communities more than others. The series also doesn’t just focus on communities experiencing a decline, Vankleek Hill itself was chosen because it hasn’t experienced a bust at all.
“Vankleek Hill initially interested us because of the success of Beau’s Brewery,” said Horvath. “[But] once we started researching it, we found something that we weren’t expecting: unlike some of the other towns we’ve filmed in, Vankleek Hill doesn’t seem to have experienced a bust cycle.”
The town appears very stable in terms of population and multi-generational businesses, and the new housing development suggests that Vankleek Hill is in a bit of a boom right now.
“We interviewed not just business owners but residents new and old, including a few people who left Vankleek Hill when they were younger, only to return as adults,” said Horvath. “All of them talked about the aspects of life in a smaller community that they really love: getting to know your neighbours, feeling community support for their family and businesses, pride in the town’s history and specifically in its historic homes and buildings.”
She noted that population isn’t the sole factor in avoiding an economic bust.
“In all our locations, it’s often been a combination of individual vision and effort, and being the right place at the right time,” Horvath said. “It’s also been fascinating to see the impact that the (past) Harris government's amalgamation of municipalities had, and continues to have, on the outcomes for individual communities. Whether a place became the centre of the new municipal government or not has had a big impact on a number of the towns we’re featuring.”
Horvath also noted, however, that fears of economic busts may become less relevant as time goes on.
“We’re in a period where more people are considering leaving cities for smaller towns,” she said. “Increased housing costs, the option of remote work thanks to better internet access and changing values are making rural and small towns a more appealing option than ever before.”
The series will air on TVO in early 2022. Neither the name nor the exact date are decided yet.