MoneySense magazine ranks Hawkesbury 150th out of 190 cities, people ask ‘what the fuck is MoneySense magazine?’

Copyright Imagedowntown Hawkesbury, Ontario

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For a few years MoneySense, a Toronto-based magazine, has been ranking cities in Canada from best to worst. For the third year in a row they’ve decided Hawkesbury is one of the worst places to live in Canada, and the absolute worst city for household income.

The rankings published in the Toronto-based MoneySense magazine are based on a points system in categories like employment rates, crime, transit, population growth, weather, air quality, culture, recreation and sports, housing, income, and health professionals — such as dentists and doctors. Then each city is ranked and an anonymous junior member of the editorial team, having never actually stepped foot in your city, gets to write 600 words on how your city is an incredible suckhole.

MoneySense is basically a ‘lists’ magazine. The Rogers-owned magazine comes out six times a year, and to increase circulation and advertising revenue it publishes lists. Like the ‘Top 100 Dividend stocks to retire on’, or the ‘Top 500 US All-Star stocks’, or the ‘Top 200 Canadian Stocks of 2011’, or ‘Canada’s best credit cards’.

List features like ‘the best / worst city in Canada’ take very little effort to compile, no matter what the criteria, but they attract the most advertising dollars.

In Hawkesbury’s case, the MoneySense editorial board has decided the city’s numerous problems can be reduced to:

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“Hawkesbury’s tree-lined Main Street is quaint [but] the town lacks basic attractions like a movie theatre*.”
’11 Worst Places To Live’; A helpful suggestion from MoneySense Magazine

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Overall, MoneySense ranked Hawkesbury at 150 out of 190 cities. Hawkesbury was close to the bottom in “low crime”, affordable housing and “culture”. The city ranked 23rd in “walk/bike to work”, Hawkesbury has an incredible number of doctors per capita, and the city ranked 55th in “weather”.

What the magazine doesn’t tell its readers is that, for decades, Hawkesbury has been abandoned by both the federal and provincial governments. Or that Hawkesbury sits in the middle of the most economically depressed region in Canada, ranking highest in illiteracy rates, depression, addiction rates and crimes of abuse.

Or that Hawkesbury, once a thriving mill town, is still recovering from losing the thousand good-paying jobs the paper mill provided when it closed down in the early-80’s. Or from the hundreds of manufacturing jobs lost over the past decade, taking millions of dollars more out of the small city’s already devastated economy.

Hawkesbury was founded in 1859, and quickly became the regional centre for the pulp and paper industry. It sits on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, roughly halfway between Ottawa and Montreal. Eighty-five percent of the city’s current population of 10,550 speak French as their first language, making it the largest concentration of Francophone’s in North America outside Quebec.

Nine generations of Hawkesbury’s people worked in the paper mill, most of them either getting hired before high school, or right out of grade nine.

When the mill closed in the early-80’s there were hundreds of families in a city of less than 9,000 people who had done nothing else for 200 years. And then there was nothing for them.

If MoneySense, or anyone else, needs an example of what Hawkesbury would eventually end up like after the mill closure, take a look at Detroit when the car manufacturer left. It’s called institutionalized poverty. And it brings with it crime, addiction and paralysis.

Not the kind of things that can be fixed with a downtown, two-screen Multi-Plex* where kids get in half-price on Sunday afternoon. Not the kind of thing that can be summed up in a 600-word magazine piece calling your town a shithole that desperately needs some entertainment*.

To blame the people who live in Hawkesbury for the city’s current household income level is like blaming people for drowning when all the boats were swept away as soon as the levies broke.

Yes, Hawkesbury’s problems are mostly self-inflicted, but in the same way that a town recovering from a tornado has no timber or hammers to rebuild — they have to make do with the broken scraps that are left. Without outside help, without charity from surrounding cities, without government support, there’s no option but to fail in the rebuild over and over again.

Hawkesbury is an ugly, scarred little city with very little hope or prospects left. The best thing you can say about the place is, after all this time, there are still people living there who care enough to try and rebuild.

There have been attempts, big and small, over the past twenty years to make Hawkesbury a better place to live, and to visit — they have festivals now, they have street fairs. But it can’t be a surprise when some ideas end up in failure.

Ten years ago (or so) they had the chance to build a commercial and tourism destination along its Ottawa River waterfront, instead they handed the prime real estate, just seconds from downtown, to a developer, who then promptly built six ugly grey homes with an ugly privacy fence.

Instead of a walking and biking trail along the river, linking West Hawkesbury to downtown, and having a waterfront shopping and recreation district with open air food markets and a park extending from the McGill and Main Street intersection to the bridge, there’s nothing of value left along the river.

Downtown Hawkesbury is now completely isolated from the Ottawa River.

Then there was the decision to build a bypass around Hawkesbury’s downtown. Because Main Street turned into a two hour parking lot every weekend, a bypass was desperately needed. And built. But now most traffic never sees the trees and restaurants and businesses of downtown, except from the back.

The bypass snakes past all of the major downtown parking lots, and the back-ends of half the major downtown businesses, and, fifteen years later, still no one has put up one single sign giving anyone travelling on the bypass a clue as to what those businesses are.

Or put up new paint. Even if people know what business is in which building, just getting into the parking lots from the bypass is difficult. Some lots are blocked off entirely from the bypass, which doesn’t really matter, because there are no directions. No arrows, no signs saying “Pharmacy Parking here”.

See, we know what the problems are. We know what mistakes have been made, and we know they’ll be made again. Because for the past thirty years the people of Hawkesbury have been trying to rebuild their town using broken boards and bent nails.

And they deserve more respect than being told “you’re the worst” and then being given suggestions on how to improve by someone who, ten minutes ago, never heard of Hawkesbury, and really has no interest in the city beyond telling people what a failure the city is fills some space in their magazine.

In a magnificently tone deaf press release, Sarah Efron, the managing editor of MoneySense, blamed the decision to rank Hawkesbury as one of the least livable cities in Canada on Hawkesbury’s “negative population growth” and its “household income” — which, for more reasons than I just covered, remains the lowest in the country.

Well, with respect Sarah, what you and your magazine have done with this list is tell someone dying from asbestos poisoning that they look like shit, and maybe they should eat something.

Maybe, in next year’s best / worst list feature, your magazine can take a more serious look at the problems in Hawkesbury, and maybe bring those problems to the attention of people who can help.

Because, really, who gives a shit that Ottawa is the most livable city in Canada. Maybe, I don’t know, it’s the “bottom eleven” who deserve the most time, space, effort and attention in your publication.

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*There actually is a two-screen movie theatre barely a two minute drive from downtown Hawkesbury. $20 will get you two tickets to a new feature film, two regular bags of popcorn and two regular drinks. Surely having such a value so close to downtown should bump Hawkesbury up a few places.

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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in fifty-two places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
This entry was posted in Canada, Champlain Township, Eastern Ontario, Hawkesbury, Journalism, News, Politics, poverty, Vankleek Hill, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to MoneySense magazine ranks Hawkesbury 150th out of 190 cities, people ask ‘what the fuck is MoneySense magazine?’

  1. zoom says:

    This is an excellent rebuttal, Gabriel. MoneySense looks at places through a superficial lens and comes up with essentially meaningless rankings. You’ve provided context and meaning for this one place.

    • Gabriel says:

      Thanks. I left a comment on their website, but they wouldn’t publish it. I’ll try again. I know they were here a bunch of times, so someone there read this.

      Some of the first few jobs I had as a reporter was compiling lists like these — not nearly as vicious though. The Ottawa Business Journal is notorious for list publications, I put together one for them way back in 1998 as a freelancer. It was a ‘year in review of all the publicly traded companies in Ottawa’. I think the final word count was over 30,000. It took me a week to put together and I was paid $800.

  2. Bryan Jaskolka says:

    I wouldn’t classify MoneySense’s publication as vicious. I’m sorry that your city fell at the bottom of the pack, but they’re just reporting on stats. Perhaps they could dedicate an entire piece to Hawkesbury, and show more where the problems came from. But I’ve seen the piece, and none of the cities featured have long explanations as to “why,” just “what.” By the way, it was the Hawkesbury’s chief administrative officer, Normand Beaulieu, that criticized the residential living and suggested the movie theatre, not MoneySense.

    • Gabriel says:

      I have no problem with the “stats”, Bryan. The “stats” say this region is the poorest in Canada. The “stats” have said that for two generations. No one, especially the people who live here, would ever dispute that. Most of the words I used in this ‘rebuttal’ actually state that pretty clearly.

      But just regurgitating “stats” is not reporting. Nor is it commentary. It is lazy and, yes, vicious when done in a manner that leaves no context and no explanation. Because it leaves open the interpretation that somehow there is fault, that somehow the people of Hawkesbury are at fault, that the problems and dysfunction that come from being ignored by provincial and federal governments for thirty-five years after the collapse of their local economy is somehow Hawkesbury’s fault.

      The people of Hawkesbury deserve better than waking up to another news broadcast calling the place they live one of the worst in Canada, only to be followed by a quickie quote saying it can be fixed with a movie theatre.

      By the way, Normand — who barely speaks English, and whose quotes were also taken out of context (there is a newly renovated movie theatre two minutes from downtown Hawkesbury, which any student reporter would have found out by Google-ing “Hawkesbury Ontario Theatre”) — was turfed as CAO a few weeks after this “article” appeared in MoneySense.

      …also, I scraped the URL out of your name, I don’t allow advertising on this blog.

  3. Pingback: 2014 Hawkesbury Street Festival | Vankleek Hill Photo Club

  4. Being from Hawkesbury, born and raised, I have to add that the police force here has a serious problem with corruption as well. Obviously taking bribes from the well known criminals as they are never touched and taking it out on the folks who are harmless and down on their luck and youths that don’t know their rights to look like they are actually doing their job. This contributes to the dying town’s problems.

  5. Martin dufour says:

    Hawkesburys à shithole period. N stats Are stats. … the why part has nothing to do with the list …… besides … someone’s gotta be at the bottom of the list !!!! Might as well be us. !!! Lol

  6. Jeanne Charlebois says:

    Money Sense makes No Sense with it NONSENSE.
    We have the most modern waste water facility in eastern Ontario, our drinking water has been evaluated at close to if not 100%.
    The government of Ontario is presently investing $140 m. to upgrade our regional hospital.
    The government of Ontario invested recently invested $4 m in the construction of a new mental health and addiction center to serve the residents of our region.
    The Business Improvement Area board of directors (BIA) are working diligently to improve the look of our Main Street which would attract new businesses downtown.
    The Centre Culturel Le Chenail, the cultural centre along the Ottawa River, at the foot of the Long Sault Bridge is the envy of all municipalities in the region.
    Small and medium sized industries are discovering our Town and local investors and corporations are moving towards the redevelopment of lands vacated by large industries. An industry closed a few years ago, the neighbouring cookie manufacturer bought it and expanded, yep, we are moving up.
    We recently closed one of two ice surfaces at our sports complex and have established a multi functional area where people can play tennis, badmington, soccer, bacci, horseshoes and other sports, including a walking track for people who require physical therapy. Oh yeah, the indoor pool is a very popular place to be for aqua fitness, our local swim club ORCA and swimming lessons for kids of all ages. The one ice surface left is a very busy place also, with our Jr A team the Hawkesbury Hawks and minor hockey, local schools hockey teams (2 high schools in Town). Yep, the Complex is a busy place indeed!
    I was born and raised in Ottawa, would I move back there, nope.
    We have many social clubs in our Town who get involved in our community. A very big plus.
    We have one of the most beautiful waterfront parks in the area where Canada Day and our annual BikeFest happen! Open space – on the waterfront, where families from all over Québec and Ontario picnic on weekends, Sundays at the boat launch are busy, busy, busy! Oh by the way, try to get a reservation on Saturday or Sunday mornings at a restaurant on Main Street.
    I could go on and on, but, enough for today.

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