I live a few doors from campus and havebeen asked many times by friends and co-workers why I continue to live in an area surrounded by student renters. There is no simple answer. My personal history, my sense of community, and my faith that good will triumph over bad all play a part in my decision to stay put in a place that truly feels like home.
In October 1972 I moved to Westdale as a newly married, working mother of a six-month-old baby. Back then, I felt very much an outsider in the neighbourhood. My neighbours were all older couples who tended to get together for cocktails at 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Eyebrows were raised when I left my child in the care of my husband while I worked 12-hour shifts at McMaster Medical Centre.
By the 80s I was a single mother juggling extracurricular activities for my two children, child care, and work. Banks required a co-signer so that I could get a mortgage. I worked hard to maintain my home in Westdale—a place where the schools were excellent, the community centre was close by, I could walk for my groceries, and peo- ple were willing to make sure my children made it to Cubs, Brownies, soccer, and all those character-building activities. Living in this community I was able to give up my car to conserve finances and so became “green” before it was cool.
Through the 90s I felt the change in Westdale. Family homes were becoming rentals. Neatly trimmed lawns and gardens were becoming unruly and strewn with garbage. My children were growing up and leaving home. Now I had time for me, my garden, and my ever-changing collection of abandoned animals. But my garden ornaments and hanging baskets were stolen, and multitudes of young men relieved themselves in my hedge. The annual pajama parade was truly out of control and scary. A good night’s sleep was hard to come by.
Why do I stay? Because I have faith in the new generation. Every September Westdale is inundated by a new wave of outsiders (as I once was). The air is ripe with beer and hormones. By night a very small percentage of students cause problems. By day, they respond to my “good morning” as I walk my dog. Many days ,as I work in my garden, students stop to tell me how good it makes them feel, as they have walked by year after year, to see the flowers that I have nurtured and loved.
Now I am semiretired and a grandmother. I could sell my house and my beloved garden for what I think of as a fortune. But will I? Not likely. But I will continue to implore my daughter to return to Westdale with my grandchild, as I believe the values that served me and my young family so many years ago are still intact. The community (including permanent residents and students) and the university need to continue to work together, and I believe they will.
Ruthann Stanhope, First published in the Autumn 2007 newsletter, p. 5