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2020, Year in Review—is there a Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door,

Oh Hard Times, come again no more.” (Stephen Foster)

2020 has been rough, a difficult year—there is no way to sugar-coat it. COVID-19 escaped from Wuhan, China last December, but it wasn't until mid-March that it really grabbed our attention. The subsequent “lockdown” altered human behaviour in many ways—not always for the better.

As we move into 2021, immersed in yet another lockdown, those early days seem innocent by comparison—like fretting over long line-ups at the hardware, liquor and grocery stores. Overnight, toilet paper became a precious commodity and hoarding a new pass-time. Masks were mandated and became ubiquitous. Retailers greeted shoppers with squirts of hand sanitizer and taped directional arrows on their floors.

With schools and businesses closed, people learned to socialize differently. Some took to baking bread on social media and for a time flour became scarce. Offices were set up in homes and home-schooling became a necessity. Neighbours met at the end of driveways and shared beers. Home deliveries became the norm as on-line shopping accelerated.

Residents of seniors' homes and long-term care facilities were the most ill-served by this plague. Deadly outbreaks in these places were all too common, and in some cases the institutions served as an incubator for the virus. The homes were locked down tight, and most relatives could only visit by waving and shouting to their elders from the sidewalk.

The corollary effects of the pandemic restrictions aren't pretty either. These include increased substance abuse, alcohol consumption, addiction, depression, domestic violence and opiate overdoses, just to name a few. On the other hand, the pandemic has created new opportunities for communication and community. Further, the transition to working from home, long over-looked by many employers, has become a reality in many cases, and most likely has strengthened family bonds.

Adapting to COVID-19 has been tough on Acton businesses, but they are a feisty bunch and many have continued to evolve. Perhaps among the biggest casualties of the pandemic is the New Tanner newspaper, which published its last issue on March 19, 2020, after 22 years of serving the Acton community and surroundings as the medium of record.

But what seems significant over the past year, are the things that didn't happen. The Acton Citizens' Band is in hiatus and cancelled all its performances and parades, almost unthinkable for an organization that has been a part of the community since the 19th Century. Similarly, the absence of the Acton Fall Fair left a big hole in the fabric of town life.

But 2020 was not all doom and gloom. A Black Lives Matter march was held on June in Georgetown and attracted 500 participants as well as the mayor, himself. Georgetown got its first LGBTQ rainbow crosswalk and Acton is also getting one in the new year.

The new BIA coordinator, Alex Hilson, working with a revitalized board, had many successes in this stressful year. Although the BIA's Leathertown Festival was cancelled as a live event, a three-hour musical event was presented on-line and live-streamed, featuring a number of local entertainers.

Acton’s Farmers Market has found a home on Willow Street North and in 2020 hosted more vendors and attendees than previous years. Despite the pandemic restrictions, townsfolk looked forward to Thursday afternoons where they could walk around and buy some fresh fruits and vegetables, and interact with the artists and crafters displaying their wares.

The Legion on Wright Avenue has been closed most of the year, but that did not detract from the well-staged Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph. The Lorne Scots and Branch 197 provided colour guards wearing masks, Jane Cartwright from the Georgetown Pipe Band did the piping, and Alec McBurney from the Acton Citizens' Band played the bugle during the Last Post. The viewing audience was smaller, but the event was as profound as any previous year, as well as being live-streamed by Acton UP.

Another highlight was the abridged Santa Claus parade drive-through produced by the Acton Fire Fighters Association at Acton High School. The event captured the spirit of the season, although nothing beats the annual parade down Mill Street with marching bands.

With the promise of vaccines and better therapeutics on the horizon, perhaps we will have the virus on the run in a few months. No doubt, January will be a rough month, as the lockdown continues. But as we make the jump to 2021, there is a sense that Acton will survive and come out the other side of this pandemic firing on all cylinders. Hopefully, we will all emerge from this scenario with a new sense of the importance of family and community relationships. Hard Times come again no more!

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