Monday 26 Sep 2016

Suspicious Reporting
David Simmonds

According to the Globe and Mail, reporter Steve Ladurantaye won a National Newspaper award for his "explanatory" journalism in 2006. Well, Mr. Ladurantaye, based on your most recent effort, I'd say your best explanatory journalism years are behind you.

Entitled "The Outsider's Inn," a 5 May article in the "T.O." section of the Globe and Mail purported to explain how a resistant-to-change County would make it a challenge for the risk-taking owner of the Drake Hotel in Toronto to make a go of his new $1.3 million-plus gamble in acquiring the Devonshire Inn. The problem is "suspicious locals."

Only thing is, the article is based only on one person’s quoted opinion and doesn’t hold analytical water. It tars the new owner, Jeff Stober, with a brush that he doesn't deserve, based on what he actually has to say. 

Most of Wellington's 1,700 residents, according to Ladurantaye, are "retirees who fled cities such as Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto for a quieter life" (hit buzzer, please); the Devonshire Inn has been a bed and breakfast for 100 years (buzzer); and we are located at the most dramatic part of Lake Ontario near Sandbanks National Park (buzzer). 

New businesses opening in the County, Ladurantaye asserts, have been "thwarted by suspicious locals resistant to change and the fickle whimsies of the weekend jet set." For residents of this village, it's a "pressing concern" that the community might actually turn into an economic success like Muskoka or Collingwood because they have come here for a "quieter life." At the same time, he quotes local real estate agent Jim Wait, who says that the ant-outsider mentality has "softened in recent years" and that folks who have moved here in the past couple of years think there are all kinds of changes going to come, but things never actually change that much because, well, locals are fickle.

Now I just can't see how Mr. Ladurantaye can have it both ways. Is Wellington be replete with retirees who just want the peace and quiet rather than successes or people who are impatient for the successes and get frustrated because they don't happen quickly enough? Who is fickle: the jet set or the locals; and if it’s the latter, is it older residents, recent residents, or both?

Mr. Ladurantaye does not quote the proprietors of the East and Main and Pomadoro Bistros, or the owners of the Tall Poppy Café, each of whom might be capable of offering some fact-based insight. In fact, to my untrained eye, they seem to be thriving, however many "suspicious locals" may be lurking in the weeds. Nor does he quote any local innkeepers, especially those who have opened up here in the last year or so. He cites the failure of the Harvest Restaurant in Picton to attempt to make his point. Then studiously he ignores the very diplomatic comment from Mayor Peter Mertens that, in the case of a business failure, “it generally hasn't been because of product offerings. In a lot of cases, it can be difficult on families and that usually doesn't have anything to do with business plans."

Despite Mr. Ladurantaye's attempt to cloak Mr. Stober with the mantle of caped avenger taking on a bunch of hillbillies, Mr. Stober's actual comments are quite gracious. "We will authenticate our commitment to the local community, and locals who are interested in dining, or hearing music or seeing art will feel most welcome and appreciated," he says. The new Drake Devonshire Inn will draw from the County's richest traditions and provide a cultural hotspot just as accessible to locals as to vacationers. "This isn't about building something for ourselves," says Mr. Stober. "This belongs to everyone." Mr. Ladurantaye adds that the innkeeper, Chris Loane, is a veteran of Toronto's indie music scene and will "draw upon his deep connection to attract musicians to play small, intimate sets."

My advice to Mr. Stober is to fire the Globe and Mail as his publicity agent. I assure him that we are not suspicious of him at all; we are just a tad curious. If it would help any, we would probably be prepared to sport tattoos, pink hair and body jewellery to show we are almost as hip as are his customers on Queen Street West. I further assure him it will not be necessary to sponsor monster truck pulls to authenticate his commitment to the local community or host Ray Price tribute bands to appeal to locals in small, intimate settings, although that might work if he wanted a large crowd in a non-intimate setting. We can dig that indie music, somehow.

Welcome to Wellington, Messrs. Stober and Loane, we already have a dining, music and art scene here, and we look forward to seeing how you can add to the mix. As for you Mr. Ladurantaye: go straight to the principal's office, and give Wellington a wide berth on the way.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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