Thank You Signs from the Past

There’s something both nostalgic and eery about walking through brookfield mall at night these days. The crumbling pavement, the interior debris, the liquor store standing as it always has, as if oblivious to it all. There’s a sign that still stands over the exit to our old grocery store, “Thank You For Shopping at Safety Mart”, as if the ghosts of the once bustling centre still shop inside. In many ways, it mirrors the crossroads Clearwater itself stands at: a decaying past, and a bright future.

I spoke to an old friend the other day about how the children of Clearwater will forever have a different orientation of the town. Where my Clearwater was always centred on Safety Mart, Young Road, and my neighbourhood on lodge drive, to those in Raft River school today, this area is but a peripheral corner, much like the Flats was to me growing up. Although it still contains many residents and businesses (as the Flats does today), few can deny the centre of gravity has shifted to the Yellowhead. There’s going to be a whole generation of this town who will never know what it looked like to see the old timers eating outside Baily’s bistro, to crowd into Movie Gallery or Taipan Video on a Friday night to pick out a movie, to walk through Safety Mart’s low ceilings and discoloured walls.

It’s an peculiar feeling having grown up near this commercial centre, and walking through it, not hearing a sound, not seeing a soul. Even the employees who used to smoke cigarettes out back have disappeared. Perhaps it’s odd for me me to feel so strongly about a town I no longer live in, but Clearwater has always remained my home. Through all our struggles, we’ve always kept with each other. A community. A place unique to itself, a place that never wished to be like any other.

But will it remain so? When today we get our movies off netflix in our homes instead of going to the town video store. When Dutch Lake has a 30km speed zone, but no playground for kids to play. When our grocery store is a carbon copy of the highway stops that dot unending towns in this province. Will we remain distinct? We will remain the community we once were?

It’s these things that trouble me as I walk through the remains of my youth, despite the new economic footing we’ve found. And even though this worries me, deep down, I know we’ll pull through. We’ve survived mill closures, forest fires (both in 2003 and now), and a country that increasingly prizes a select few urban centres. I think that strength is what has carried Clearwater with me in the many places I’ve lived. Our town is far from perfect, but it is ours, a fact that remains as true in the ruins of Safety Mart as it does in the Flats, in Raft River, and even on the Yellowhead Highway. Perhaps it’s fitting then that even when abandoned, Safety Mart continues to thanks the citizens who once walked through its doors, still unworried by an uncertain future.

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