We're reading in all our local media these days about the tremendous influx of new people who are discovering the jewel that 90,000 of us call home. The housing (and economic) boom in the south end has those of us who remember the Highway 27 hill as being "out of town" shaking our heads in wonderment. With 5,000 new residents expected to call Barrie "home" during 1998, and a population projection 55,000 more people in the next 20 years, this community faces lots of challenges.

While the city is charged with providing physical amenities... streets, sewers, parks, police and fire protection, local industry and supporting businesses and Human Resources Canada will be challenged to provide employment. School boards will take on education of the young population and day care centres like Karen Eilersen's Discovery Child Care Centre are popping up in the south end to meet a very specific need.

Who's in charge of helping people not feel like "newcomers"?

It leads me to think about what it's like to be a newcomer. Everyone stepping into a new community faces this challenge, whether it's in Barrie, or a small village, or a cottage community. It's easier, of course, when you can join hands with other newcomers and walk into town together, but somewhere along the road is a line that you cross that makes you stop feeling "new".

I think back to my employment search when I arrived here from Kingston in 1971. It felt like employment doors were closed unless you knew someone, or were related to someone. It felt friendly, it felt possible, but it felt like everyone knew everyone else and I knew nobody.

I guess maybe that's a pretty realistic definition of "newcomer."

So, what causes the change? I think it's the planting of roots. It's walking your first child to his or her first day at school; it's getting a job in Barrie rather than making the drive south. It's doing some of your shopping in the city core, so you pick up the flavour of old Barrie. It's joining groups dedicated to making this community an even better place to be. It's getting to know not only your neighbours, but the heart of a community... attending open air concerts, walking around the bay, volunteering on one of the mayor's committees, and doing business in Barrie.

Probably the most important step for "newcomers", especially those driving south for work, is to be listening to Barrie radio stations on the commute, reading Barrie newspapers, watching cable stations for local items. Our media bring us closer to the heart of who we are more efficiently than anything else.

The dividing line between "newcomer" and "oldtimer" is fuzzy. It happens when you feel your feet stuck a little more firmly to the ground. It happens when you no longer say you're "going home" for the weekend, but you've decided to "stay home" for the weekend.

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