The Delburne Waterhole

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on February 3, 2014 - 11:18am

Every place has its watering holes.  The place where people congregate around to talk about life, local issues and the game last night.  In Delburne, the main watering hole is the local café at the town restaurant/hotel.  I learned that there are two coffee crowds that come through: one at 8am and the other at 10am. Today I had the great fortune to spend my morning in the coffee shop getting to know these coffee crowds and their thoughts on community.

I started my day by joining a group of eight men and one woman sitting around a coffee urn.  Apparently they were playing a game called "Bush."  Though skeptical at first, they soon welcomed me into the group. To play "Bush," I quickly learned, everyone gets to hold up to three coins in their hand and then each person guesses how many coins are being held in total.  For example, if there are 10 people playing, there is the potential for up to 30 coins to be held.  After everyone guesses we all reveal our hands. The person who guesses right is now out and we start again. The final two people left are responsible for paying for everyone’s coffee.

As we played, I learned that most people had spent their whole lives in Delburne.  Over those years they had seen a lot change.  Businesses came and went; people came and went.  They reminisced about some of their favorite stores that no longer existed.

They talked about how there used to be more of a strong sense of community, of people coming together to build things collectively, like the curling rink, a place they described with great pride (in turns out a couple of them are part of the local curling club).  More people now are working closer to Red Deer or in the oil and mining fields up north.  As people become more mobile, they are feeling less grounded in the community, they spend more time and money in the larger cities.  This has a ripple effect on the community, a weaker sense of identity and ownership.  The biggest effect though has been on the local businesses who now find themselves in direct competition with companies in Red Deer.  Why would I buy my groceries, or building supplies in Delburne when I can grab them on my way home from work in Red Deer for half the price with more variety to chose from?, many locals ask themselves. 

This creates a vicious cycle as businesses in Delburne are force to shrink their inventory and hike their prices just to survive, which in turn causes more people to want to shop elsewhere.

This was a group who clearly work with their hands (farming, construction and manufacturing), not to mention a keen interest in cars.  They wanted shops within Delburne that would supply them with the parts and tools they were looking for in a timely fashion.  They didn’t want to have to leave the community to find work.

After playing several rounds of "Bush," eventually losing in round three and having to buy lottery tickets for the group, I moved over to another table with a group of older women.  I was quickly drawn into a conversation about health. These women were now retired and worried about having to leave the community they grew up in as they get older and require more support.  Delburne is a small community and does not have many support services for the fairly large population of seniors. There is a deep desire to stay close to friends and family; to be able to keep connecting with their group of friends at the local restaurant every morning.  This is a challenge that many small communities wrestle with.

Often times, coffee shops serve as a place to rant about the state of the world.  I was amazed that despite the cynicism that definitely existed, people had a deep pride and sense of ownership of their community.  They believe that Delburne can be more and have a hope that it will happen.

Despite a universal desire to see a better place to gather in town, this watering hole continues to play a key role in the community of Delburne.  50+ rotate through it over the course of a couple hours every morning.  Through this, they feel grounded and renewed.  Social bonds are strengthened.  Community is built and strengthened.  As a person who studies best practices in community, I see this place as a real gem.  And I think it can serve as the genesis from which Delburne can reach towards creating a new future.