A drive through rural Alberta makes two things immediately clear: the landscape is vast, and people live far from each other. This may lead to the belief that rural areas lack a sense of community. While rural community may look different than it does in urban areas, the same principles of volunteerism, compassion, and service are evident.
Rural communities are vibrant and come with a deep sense of belonging. Across Alberta, this means opportunity to pursue a wide range of activities while being there for neighbours, friends, and family.
Every rural community has something that makes it unique, from being the largest producer of sunflower seeds in Western Canada to being home to the world’s largest perogy. In Ponoka County, this means volunteering at various rodeo events. While both the Ponoka Stampede grounds and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame are located within the Town of Ponoka, these centres could not survive without rural volunteers and participants.
For Paul McLauchlin, Reeve of Ponoka County, being part of a rural community is second nature. Moving to a rural area to start his business was an easy choice, as it allowed him freedom and opportunity. Additionally, being in a rural community allowed Paul to contribute to a growing investment in rural Alberta:
“If you look at where the key investments are going in this province, it’s actually rural Alberta. Rural Alberta is where it’s at, whether producing energy, producing food, or at the same time keeping our water and our air clean.”
With this economic opportunity comes new rural Albertans. A common misconception is that rural communities are not welcoming to newcomers. This could not be further from the truth: “We’re gracious, we want to help, we want to welcome people to our communities. I think that’s important to understand about rural Albertans.”
Rural communities across Alberta are facing different challenges. Some are facing shrinking populations, while others are experiencing growth that requires new housing solutions. Both of these situations provide a challenge to rural community; however, the entrepreneurial spirit of rural Albertans is ready to take on these issues. From attracting investment to bring people back to rural areas to planning for growth, rural communities find a way. Along with this comes the support of rural Albertans welcoming new people into their uniquely rural communities.
While each rural community has its claim to fame, all share similar values of independence and helping each other out. That’s what drew Paul to Ponoka County: “We’re fiercely independent, but when someone needs help, we help one another and that’s what being rural is all about.”