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KEN MACDONALD: Community stalwart to be honoured

LeRoy Peach, left, and Jason Metcalfe at the opening of the computer lab in 1999.
LeRoy Peach, left, and Jason Metcalfe at the opening of the computer lab in 1999. - Contributed

LeRoy Peach was key to spreading the news in Port Morien

In the days before social media, there were few options to promote rural community activities. Handwritten notices would be posted at public buildings. Church bulletins and notices sent from school would help spread the word. Sometimes there would be a public service announcement on local radio stations or a news item in the Cape Breton Post.

With wider access to computers, production of a community newsletter became feasible and it could be a valuable promotional tool.

The December 1995 newsletter outlined the difficulties faced by the local legion.
The December 1995 newsletter outlined the difficulties faced by the local legion.

In the late 1980s, LeRoy Peach retired from a successful teaching career in Ontario and moved back to his home village of Port Morien with his wife Barbara. He and Barb immediately immersed themselves in community life.

In the early 1990s, the Port Morien branch 55 Royal Canadian Legion was in serious financial trouble. The legion served as a community centre and was a vital part of the village’s infrastructure. Fundraising and local support was essential to make the legion financially viable.

Peach, an active legion member, knew that publicity and public awareness were essential to generate community support.

In 1995, Peach produced a branch 55 newsletter to inform the public about the plight of the legion. Over the next three years he produced six more.

In December 1999, the name changed to the Veteran’s Memorial Computer Site Newsletter and included community news. Now called the Port Morien Community Newsletter, Peach has produced an edition every month for the last 20 years.

In the beginning, Peach personally financed the costs. He even hand-delivered some newsletters to homes. He also had them available at Hopper’s Store and the legion for residents to pick up.

To facilitate distribution, the Port Morien Development Association set up a program to collect recyclables at Hopper’s Store, and later at the legion to cover costs of photocopying and postage. That continues to be a success.

Peach now distributes it by email to some 60 people and many of them send it along to family and friends as well. For those living away, it is a monthly connection to home that is eagerly anticipated.

A quick perusal of each newsletter reveals a chapter in community history. The first dinner theatre in 1998, Morien Memories celebrations, the 2008 Community Spirit Award, the infrastructure improvements over the years, and the struggles to keep Gowrie School open are just examples.

There are special achievements of local residents, as well as meetings and activities of community organizations. There are get well wishes to local residents and offers of sympathy to the families of loved ones who have passed away. Peach also includes his own editorial comments. Some issues are contentious and he will tell you that everyone doesn’t agree and they are not too shy to let him know.

To further enhance the community, Peach acquired funding for a CAP computer site at the legion in 1999. The newsletter would be produced there. Community brochures, booklets, tickets and even some local history books were created there and made ready to be sent to the printer.

In August, Peach announced he was stepping down as volunteer editor. Approaching the age of 86, he wished to slow down a bit and reassess his involvement in numerous activities. However, after receiving offers of support and assistance to lighten the load, he has thankfully reconsidered.

In digital and print form, the newsletter has not only publicized events, but has helped bring the community together and connect with its past. The success of the many accomplishments in Port Morien in the last 20 years can be traced to the support generated by the information contained in the monthly newsletter.

On Nov. 23, the Port Morien Development Association and the Royal Canadian Legion are sponsoring a roast/tribute to LeRoy Peach.

Tickets for the dinner can be purchased at the legion for $15. It is a fitting recognition and an extension of appreciation to Peach. He personally has made a real difference in his beloved Port Morien by spending his entire retired life working towards the betterment of his home village.

Ken MacDonald is a retired school teacher and administrator, and a community volunteer. His family can be traced back seven generations in Port Morien, where he has lived almost all his life. He can be reached at morienbay@gmail.com.

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