Editor’s note: In this Q&A, Rishia Burke of Community Living Brant has a conversation with Betty Johnston. Betty owns a bed and breakfast, a chocolate shop, and Arts Collective in Burford. She is one of the driving forces behind Burford Connects. In this interview Betty shares that communication is crucial for the Burford community to thrive. She shares her hopes for the Burford community and what she finds exciting about her work.

 

Who are you, Betty?

I wear many different hats. I was a full-time teacher for 37 years. I retired six years ago but have continued teaching part-time through Children’s Aid out of London and work one-on-one with foster children.

The Children’s Aid in London puts part of their grant funds toward hiring retired teachers to mentor and teach kids that are in their care. They found that the kids in their care often fall through the cracks in school and can benefit from extra help. They’ve been doing this for 11 years now and find that the kids with mentors have improved academically and are able to complete high school whereas before many of them would drop out. I’m involved in that program and I love every minute, it maintains my connection to teaching.

I also officially opened my bed and breakfast in September 2019 and started making and selling chocolate about a year later and started the Burford Collective in January 2021.

Communication is incredibly important. The biggest thing that Burford Connects is aiming at is bringing people together and communicating to people what’s going on. We hope to see more community engagement come out of that.

What is happening with Burford Connects that is making you feel excited?

During the pandemic the town was shut down, groups couldn’t gather, shops were closed. Everybody lost the feeling of connection. I felt anticipation through starting Buford Connects and I feel that it’s going to allow people to reconnect.

When my husband and I moved to Burford in 1985 he was the publisher of the paper here, and we noticed that Burford was absolutely thriving for a little community. Everybody was involved, there were many service clubs, and the downtown was thriving. We were amazed because we knew of larger places that didn’t have as much involvement. When our kids were growing up Burford was a very busy place with sports and clubs and various community gatherings happening.

What is Burford Connects?

We’re a group of people that are being led by another group of wonderful people. They have the resources required to spread the word: there are all kinds of possibilities for what we can achieve in Burford. We hope to discover what we can do to come together as a community again.

Communication is incredibly important. The biggest thing that Burford Connects is aiming at is bringing people together and communicating to people what’s going on. We hope to see more community engagement come out of that.

People are moving into Burford and many of them are coming from the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). For newcomers and for those that are already here if there isn’t a feeling of belonging, there is something missing. You can survive like that but it’s certainly not a great way to raise your kids if you’ve got children. If you want to be part of something, then there needs to be a community to be a part of.

What do you appreciate about the momentum of Burford Connects that you want to see more of?

I think it’s important to have regular times to get together and chat, whether it’s a public meeting, or our small group meeting. If we don’t have that regular scheduled time then life gets busy and it can end up on the backburner. During the summer, for example, we don’t have the opportunity as much because we’re not in a regular routine to stay connected as a group. We need to prioritize regular connection.

What’s bubbling up and what are you excited about?

We had talked about having a community hub and hopefully we would be able to have it in the core of Burford. Brant County has bought a property on the corner of King and Maple and I feel many possibilities have opened up — I am ecstatic! The hub of the area for Burford is going to make a huge difference.

Not long ago, I was visiting my sister and we went for a drive in an area that, as a municipality, is pushing to update their waterfront along the Grand River. They’re aiming to create more parkland, add benches, and lighting. The first thing I noticed was the gorgeous gazebo. As soon as you enter the parking area, you can see the water, benches, nice gardens, and the lighting, but the gazebo is the main feature. When this area has a parade or event the gazebo will be the focal point. I hope that the land we have in Burford will have the same draw.

We set up an economic development committee in the 90s when we realized that the tobacco industry was fading. The falling off of the tobacco industry had a negative impact on Burford and for the next 15 years it was pretty dead.

Economic development is crucial. Many downtown businesses are still feeling the repercussions from the pandemic. We need people who are optimistic and willing to put in the work to get people excited about engaging with their community.

What is the best thing that could happen as a result of the Burford Connects work?

I’m really hoping that this corner lot can become a hub. If people in the Burford area need to know something they can go to that hub corner and find out what they need. We can have a calendar that lists upcoming events. Everybody will be able to access information easily. That way we don’t have to depend on being online for information. We’ve got a lot of people in our area that are seniors and don’t use computers. When we lost the newspaper we lost a level of communication about what’s going on in town. I hope the hub will be able to fill those gaps.

What, if anything, would you like to add that you haven’t said already?

I’ve lived here now for almost 40 years. I grew up on a farm, another small town and now live here. I am so glad that I spent the majority of my life in Burford. It’s an excellent place. There’s enough here to keep busy and it’s an absolutely fantastic place to raise kids.

 

To learn more about Burford Connects, click here.

 

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