| May 22, 2019

It started out as a plan to build a self-sustaining community of environmentally sustainable homes made of used tires and other materials, called Talking Trees. It then expanded into an initiative called “One Small Town” that was based on the concept of contributionism, and the philosophy of Ubuntu, as espoused by Michael Tellinger, the South African founder of the Ubuntu liberation movement.

Members of the community could contribute their labour towards a variety of initiatives in return for some of the benefits of the project. A simple example was a proposed apiary. By taking on some of the labour, contributors would not only get as much honey as they required, they would also share in the profits when the excess honey was sold.

The project, which was championed by North Frontenac Mayor Ron Higgins, eventually included a renewable energy component using lake water, as well as the potential for a self-contained

North Frontenac Council expressed its, somewhat reluctant, support for the venture on a couple of occasions, making sure to stipulate that the township was making no financial commitment.

In November of 2017, a group came to a meeting of council to formally introduce the concept. A home in Plevna was purchased and the first project, an apiary, was to start up in the spring of 2018.

Meanwhile, Ron Higgins was talking up the project. He appeared in CBC interviews and other public forums on social media. He told the CBC that the project was going to progress quickly.

"In two or three years time, once this is all done, we will go into the bigger $20-million projects," he said in an interview on CBC Ottawa on January 28, 2018.

Later, it appeared that that David Craig, who had spearheaded the Talking Trees tire home building project, began working independently from the group that was based in Plevna.

The Talking Trees – North Frontenac website indicates that a property has been purchased for the project and that 144 lots have been marked out. Of those, 5 are marked sold, 2 1.5 acre lots at a listed price of $66,000, a one-acre lot at a listed price of $44,000, and 2 ½ acre lots at a listed price of $22,000.

The site says that the lots will be formally approved in 2020.

“​Once the Plan of Subdivision has been approved, lots will be available conventionally. (approval for Plan of Subdivision expected summer 2020)” it says on the site.

Late in 2018, Mayor Higgins said that a first nation from British Columbia was set to invest in the project.

There has been no further formal word until this week, when the agenda for the upcoming meeting of North Frontenac Council was released. The agenda includes an administrative report from Mayor Higgins under the heading “One Small Town”.

The very short report consists of the three council motions that have been passed regarding the project, and the following comment.

“Based on intensive research and analysis, since November 2017, of the proposed One Small Town program, I have concluded that the implementation of the proposed program was not going to be a viable option and have closed this proposed project.”

With that, it appears, the Mayor has, at the very least severed his involvement with “One Small Town” if he has not shut it down completely.

One North Frontenac Councillor, John Inglis, is not waiting until the council meeting next week before expressing his opinion about the demise of One Small Town.

“I am embarrassed for my township that we appear to have been so gullible. Even though Council backed away from the whole thing right at first introduction, and were questioned by the Mayor for being so negative, the public perception has always been that this was a township project. Unfortunately, this is the second promise of investment money from outside that has fallen through. The first was our Mayor’s promise that if we were able to keep wind turbines out of North Frontenac, investors were lined up to build hotel accommodation here. I actually believed that for a while. I’m sorry to say that I also believed there was a remote possibility that millions of dollars might come to this community as a result of the idealism of a group of urban visitors.” Inglis wrote on his personal blog on Tuesday afternoon (May 21).

The News called Ron Higgins late on Tuesday afternoon but he did not get back to us before our publication deadline at midnight on Tuesday night.

Higgins returned our call on Wednesday, but we did not speak until Thursday morning.

He said he had secured a contribution for the project but he found that the “organisation to get it kicked off just wasn’t going as planned. Conflicts were developing between different projects, and I could note get the kind of commonality I needed between the team leaders.”

By early March he said that he “had a nagging gut feeling that this isn’t right. We had a meeting with team members and I found out some things I had not known before. It was then that I pulled the plug.”

Higgins added that he is not connected with the Talking Trees project and does not know where it stands.

“I have maintained contact with the group behind the donation and I will be working on some individual projects that they may fund in the future, but I am no longer working on this as Mayor of North Frontenac, but as a private citizen.”

He added that the township never was asked to invest in the One Small Group project, but some staff time was spent developing a township position in relation to it.

(This article has been updated from the one that was included in the May 23 edition of the Frontenac News)

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