Retired teacher joins the fray
A former teacher who now puts her energies into “intergenerational community building” is the fifth candidate for the vacant Pelham council seat in Ward 1.
Colleen Kenyon lives in Fonthill, in Ward 2, and is a relative newcomer, having moved to Pelham from Kitchener-Waterloo in 2018. (Election Act rules do not require candidates to live in the wards they wish to represent.)
She appears undaunted by her inaugural run at political office and the challenge ahead.
“As this council sorts through a lot of issues, a sense of perspective and objectivity is required. I really believe I can be the fresh voice that brings that to the table,” said Kenyon. She said that lessons on revitalization she observed in the Region of Waterloo can apply to Pelham as well.
Originally from British Columbia, Kenyon attended the University of Victoria as an undergrad, then went to China to study for two years (she is fluent in Mandarin) before returning to Canada for her teaching degree at UBC. She moved to Ontario many years ago, and was a teacher in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
These days, she puts her creative energy to work running a theatre project at the Meridian Community Centre (MCC) for youth and seniors, for which she received funding through the Niagara Community Foundation. Kenyon also spends time supporting Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada from war-torn situations in the Middle East.
Kenyon doesn’t have a problem with population growth in Pelham per se, but is worried about rifts forming between generations, and also between the established citizenry and the newly arrived in town.
“I really want to get out in front of that, to make sure people find a sense of belonging, to ensure that the welcome mat is out,” she said.
“Diversity [racial and cultural] is sadly lacking in Pelham,” said Kenyon. However, she doesn’t want to see new residents from foreign lands moving in that don’t engage with the community. That’s where she sees the “sanctuary city” concept playing a role, in which communities are committed to welcoming refugees and asylum seekers longing for a fresh start in a safe environment. Kenyon said that many refugees come from an agricultural background that would be a good fit for rural Pelham.
Another important piece of the population growth mix that she wants to encourage focuses on young people. While collecting her endorsements to run for office, Kenyon said she had many conversations with people who noted their grown children wouldn’t stay in Pelham because of the cost of housing and general affordability, lack of employment opportunities, and limited lifestyle.
No young adult wants to stay in a community that they feel is only serving an older generation
“No young adult wants to stay in a community that they feel is only serving an older generation,” she said.
A well-connected public transit system in Pelham is vital for young people without a personal vehicle, stressed Kenyon.
“We made a great step forward when we brought the bus link, which comes mornings and afternoons to the MCC. So now Niagara College and Brock students can conceivably live in Ward 2 and get to school…but they can’t live out in Ward 1 and do that,” she said.
Kenyon supports cannabis as an agricultural industry in Pelham, but said we need to listen to the voices of people whose standard of life has been adversely affected.
“I am an environmentalist to the core. We’re talking about the next generation…the Town needs to think carefully about the moves it makes and the implications.”
Asked about Airbnb restrictions, Kenyon felt she didn’t really see such accommodations as an area of commerce that was needed in Pelham, and stressed the need for affordable lodgings for students and others in the community.
Kenyon is a huge supporter of the MCC and its programs serving groups of all ages. She knows that some seniors were disappointed that a swimming pool was not incorporated into the design, but feels that perhaps a warm-water therapy pool could be added, which would be appreciated by those of an older generation.
Turning to a discussion of Pelham libraries, Kenyon said she has seen libraries transition from places where you have to be quiet and couldn’t eat or drink, to active social spaces with cafes and conversation tables.
“We cannot base the models of what we want our libraries of the future to look like on what they have been in the past,” she said. Kenyon is particularly supportive of libraries as an active community resource and gathering place for seniors.
“We have a huge seniors population, and we need to serve them well.”
Asked by the Voice about her take on the current town council, Kenyon said she sees herself as a consensus builder and mediator.
“I think you really cannot comment unless you’re in the room…things can go haywire in all kinds of ways. But council unity needs to be re-established,” she said.
Volunteer committees in Pelham have done some excellent work in Kenyon’s estimation, and she feels that both the Youth Advisory Council and the Seniors Advisory Committee must have input in discussions about future directions with development.
Representing the interests of local producers, vendors, and services is a priority for Kenyon. And she’s not talking just about agriculture, but also local small businesses that she feels need greater promotion and awareness. She thinks Pelham can also do more to host events which would bring people to the town.
Kenyon said she gets agitated in grocery stores by “false advertising” of Canadian grown or locally grown products (noting that the fine print often notes it was packaged in Canada but was sourced in the USA or some other country).
“I can’t even imagine how the local producers feel about that…seeing cherries available during cherry season that are being brought in from somewhere else. I would want to see a huge promotion of interest and knowledge about local crops.”
Kenyon’s son is creating a promotional website highlighting her run for office (www.colforcouncil.com) and is also serving as her campaign manager. She already has a team of canvassers, including a group of ladies with whom she plays ice hockey at the MCC.
“To get my 25 endorsements [to run for office], I hopped on my bike, and rode around for four hours. I didn’t knock on doors, I talked to people when they were out front of their property,” said Kenyon.
“That was a very informative process, and accordingly, as part of my campaign, I’m going to have weekly conversations with people about the issues that are top-of-mind in Pelham.”