By Lawrence Belanger
Local Journalism Initiative
The Town of Cookshire-Eaton held its second of three 2023 Neighborhood Meetings last week, on March 15. Claude Leclair, director of communications and community life for the town, described the meeting as “a good outing,” stating that people were proud of their community and hopeful of the future. Speaking the following day over the phone, he described how community members brought up their ideas and “preoccupations.”
The final meeting in the series will be held on the main floor of the Sawyerville Community Building at 4 Randboro Road on Wednesday, March 22 at 7:00 p.m.
All Cookshire-Eaton residents are invited to attend and share their thoughts about the municipality.
According to Leclaire, who spoke on behalf of elected officials, questions asked during the first two meetings were about issues such as road maintenance, housing development and municipal infrastructure improvements. “I think they were expressing constructive criticism,” says Leclair. Of chief concern for many residents was the cost of living. “Other towns and cities have brought forth substantial tax increases,” explains Leclair, due to the high costs of building materials, infrastructure work, and contractor rates.
Although rates haven’t risen compared to the 14-20 per cent that Leclair says other municipalities have experienced, he says citizens were nonetheless concerned about it in Cookshire too.
“We know with COVID, there were dramatic price hikes,” says Leclair. While not expecting a return to pre-pandemic prices, “we hope for a decrease in time,” he adds.
At each of the meetings, citizens had the chance to meet with Mario Gendron, Mayor of Cookshire-Eaton, as well as Josée Pérusse and Mr. Roger Thibault, two Cookshire district councillors, according to a press release sent after the first meeting, held on the 9th.
At each meeting, town officials presented a summary of the 2022 achievements and 2023 perspectives of the Town and different neighbourhoods. Among the improvements to the town’s facilities discussed at the meetings and supported by Pérusse and Thibault is the installation of a pump track. “[The] first one done [was] in waterloo,” explains Leclair, who says it’s quite popular.
Officials detailed how they would like to make Cookshire-Eaton a viable alternative to living in Sherbrooke. According to Leclair, the MRC Haut Saint Francois is asking its municipalities to densify their land use, favouring duplexes and multi-dwelling buildings like apartments.
“Now that we have the 410 hitting the 108 a few meters past Bishop’s, it reduces transit times to get to Sherbrooke from these three neighbourhoods,” explains Leclair. Town officials want to leverage the three urban cores by densifying them and making them more liveable.
“One of the challenges for us is to have proximity businesses established in Johnville and Sawyerville,” explains Leclair. This way, people would not have to drive to Cookshire or even Sherbrooke for basic goods and services.
“From what we gathered, there’s no opposition to these efforts,” says Leclair. Having more taxpayers helps the development of the town, he adds. Besides expanding residential options, “we’re stressing the development for industrial purposes around the Aeroport de Sherbrooke, which is in Cookshire’s limits,” explains Leclair. “We’re not looking for industries with chimneys,” Leclair adds, careful to not communicate the wrong idea.
“We’re looking at high tech, innovative solutions, high value.”
Town officials also explained to citizens how the proximity to the airport would be beneficial for businesses to ship in and out. “We have 200 acres around the airport available for industrial development,” says Leclair.
Leclair says the reception has been good to the plans for 2023, and that the population has understood the challenges facing the municipality this year. For example, last year, 3.7 million was spent on road work improvements, such as Hodgeman Road and Main Street.
“3 million of that came from the QC government,” explains Leclair. This year, the town has been told by the provincial government not to expect the same kind of support for road work this year, as it prioritizes education and health spending. Unfortunately, “we have an extensive road network,” explains Leclair. With many dirt roads, it needs further upgrading, but fewer grants for public works means the municipal budget is impeded. “We have to find ways to carry out these projects without impacting taxpayers since in the end, the municipal, provincial, and federal taxpayer is the same person.”
The organization of the meetings is meant to bring together the three urban cores of the town culturally and economically. “We want to carry out an integration, beyond the ‘02 administrative changes,” explains Leclair.
(In 2002, the Quebec government merged several municipalities together into larger administrative units.)
Each meeting has been held in one of the three neighbourhoods for the same reason. By holding more community, civic, and cultural events in Johnville and Sawyerville, which currently happen mostly in Cookshire, officials hope to build a “sentiment de partenance” between the three neighbourhoods.
The first meeting was held at Guy-Veilleux Hall in Cookshire, while the second meeting was held in the main hall of the Johnville Community Centre. The final meeting in the series will be held on the main floor of the Sawyerville Community Building at 4 Randboro Road on Wednesday, March 22 at 7:00 p.m. According to Leclair, it’s been the first time since 2018 that these sorts of Town Hall meetings have been held. “The pandemic impeded a lot of things,” he laments. According to him, Mayor Gendron wants to try to have these each year moving forward.
Leclair expects “more of the same” at the final meeting. No matter the neighbourhood, “people want good services,” explains Leclair. “We’ll be presenting what we did city-wide and at the neighbourhood scale last year,” as well as upcoming plans, such as the construction of three rinks for each of the neighbourhood’s use for next winter.
“We’re hoping for as positive a reaction as we’ve had so far,” says Leclair. As with the previous two, the entire population of the Town of Cookshire-Eaton is invited to the final meeting.