Rural communities are at a critical turning point in Canada. They have witnessed decades of dramatic changes: the dismantling of rural and northern institutions, the out-migration of young people and skilled labour, economic restructuring, and an uneven investment in infrastructure focused on moving resources out of rural regions. The recent economic recession, and the accompanying period of austerity measures, have also limited the ability of governments to sustain and revitalize communities. Local development actors, processes, and agencies have been shifted or are still shifting in response to these new realities. However, policy decisions at both the federal and the provincial government levels over the past 10-15 years have reiterated the dependence of local development initiatives on government funding. When funding is available there is no problem. In times of austerity, however, and during changing political priorities this dependency becomes a liability. These shifts have created the need to reflect on the new reality of rural development.

Despite these challenges, rural communities have been and remain significant sites of wealth. These areas have long been sites of natural resource industries fuelling the Canadian staples economy, through sectors such as timber, fisheries, mining, and agriculture. Canada’s economic history is largely defined by the extraction and exploitation of these resources. The size and importance of the economies of rural communities are so important that Hayter, Barnes, and Bradshaw (2003) suggest the global economy cannot afford to ignore the economies and wealth of the Canadian periphery.

Given these challenges and the importance of rural communities, new policies and strategies are required to facilitate rural vibrancy and sustainability. We need to ask what does it mean to be rural in the twenty-first century? What do rural communities and regions need to do to be sustainable? How can individuals, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and all levels of government support rural communities and regions be vibrant? Rural actors across North America and Europe are working on initiatives to answer these questions to sustain and revitalize their regions. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for communities, researchers, and policy makers to share stories on what has worked, what has not, and key lessons learned. This proposal, which includes a conference and outreach activities, will bring together these voices to co-create valuable information resources, promote lessons learned to diverse local and global audiences, and to support the training and mentorship of young scholars. More specifically, this proposal supports a three-day conference and a series of five outreach activities to fill this gap. The events will gather together leading scholars, practitioners, and policy makers from Canada, the USA, and Europe to discuss rural vibrancy.

The overall goal of Building Vibrant Rural Futures is to create opportunities for community leaders, nonprofit organizations, all levels of government, researchers, students, and industry to discuss how to build vibrant communities in the 21st century.



Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada