Saturday 01 Oct 2016

W-to-W
David Simmonds

I've been intrigued by municipal welcome signs ever since I took to visiting my future wife's family, in Woodstock, Ontario. A series of three signs proclaimed "Welcome to Woodstock, the friendly city" ... "and dairy capital of Canada.".."with everything industry needs."

I spent large chunks of the next 30 years trying to figure that one out. How could Woodstock be the dairy capital of Canada and still have everything industry needed? If it had everything industry needed, where was the industry?

As it turned out, Woodstock had the last laugh. They put a Tim Horton's at every traffic light and attracted a Toyota plant. I dare say the sign had a large part to play in Woodstock's run of good fortune. I have a mental image of a busload of Toyota executives being driven around southern Ontario, glimpsing the Woodstock sign, and bursting out "stop the bus - this is it - we have met our destiny - they have everything we need, they're friendly, and they probably make good milkshakes."

Welcome signs are important. They create that famous first impression. So I don't envy the Wellington Business District Association (WBDA) its task in selecting a new sign - three new signs - to announce to visitors that they are arriving somewhere special.

The existing signs are, shall we say, quaint. Nothing that a chainsaw and miracle wood rot cure couldn't fix. There is really no preservation argument possible: they need replacing. The County bureaucracy was kind enough to inform the WBDA that it was not going to replace them on its own dime. Hence, the Christmas silent auction that raised about $1,800 towards the cost of replacing the signs, not quite half way there.

What should the signs say?

The current Welcome to Wellington (W to W) phrase - "The coolest spot when the weather's hot" - has found a place in my heart, and, I have to admit, in one of my songs ("Wellington, Wellington - a barrel of laughs and a heap of fun - you don't need what we ain't got - and it's the coolest spot when the weather's hot").

While I have a small proprietary and definite emotional interest in keeping the slogan, the more objective side of me is prepared to admit that the slogan has probably run its course. You don't have to look too far underneath it to scope out the counterpunch lines - ..".because the wind blows like the Dickens," or "but, like most of its residents, give it a pass when it's cold." There is also the problem that it is simple to make a minor defacement of the slogan and have people sniggering their way through town. I rest my case on the southbound Belleville Road sign.

On the other hand, you can easily go too contemporary, because it goes stale quickly. Who would want to visit a place that proclaimed "Welcome to groovy Oshawa"? It's best to avoid a Twittering, text messaging sign, which said "Wlcm 2 Wllngtn. We R 2 cool." It might look a little passé about six months from now.

You've also got to avoid a sign that screams "this slogan is so pathetic it had to have been thought up by a committee." "Ottawa - technically beautiful" is one that comes to mind. It didn't succeed in pulling in the crowds. In fact, it was laughed out of town.

Then you've got to avoid being parochial. I remember driving through a small village with a sign that said "Welcome to Compost - Home of Ed Pludnik." For the next six hours , I was tormented by the thought "who the heck is Ed Pludnik?." A rigorous day of internet research revealed he was assistant trainer of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first quarter of the 1959 season. No, Compost would have been better to capitalize on its fortuitous sitting and to announce "Welcome to Compost - gateway to Smiths Falls."

Instead, Wellington's sloganeers best use a broad brush. I'm not going to speak up for "W to W, home of the Dukes." While I love our hockey team dearly, I'm not sure it defines our community broadly enough.

What about, "W to W," the most patriotic community in Canada"? This one is not for me, on two counts. One, it's unnecessarily diminishing the patriotism of every other community in Canada. Two, what the h-e- double hockey sticks, to borrow an expression from a fellow columnist, does it mean to be patriotic. You'd have chairs and tables flying in the Wellington Grill within five minutes after starting to debate that one. To put the phrase on a sign is a non-starter.

Humour is also a weak prop. "W to W - a creek runs under it," though true, makes us sound derivative and inferior. If we said, "W to W - we like it," we might sound as though we know everyone else doesn't. "W to W - feel the excitement" is downright cynical. "W to W - Horton's free" would be a guarantee that we get one.

It seems to me we're at the point where it might be best if W the sign didn't try to represent anything about Wellington and let Wellington speak for itself. After all, just about wherever you happen to look or whoever you happen to meet you are encountering a formidable ambassador for our community. If I were visiting Wellington, I would want to express my gratitude to the locals for such holding up such a wonderful place. If I lived in Wellington -- hold on a second, I do, so I don't need to say this in the subjunctive - I would want to tell visitors we're glad to see them and acknowledge compliments graciously, in the spirit of civility that defines our village.

So my choice for the wording of the new sign: "Wellington. You're welcome."

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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