Community Facebook page a virtual meeting place for Kingsville residents

KINGSVILLE — The largest community Facebook page in Kingsville, known simply as Kingsville Ontario, has seen membership increase during the pandemic as local residents seek new ways to connect with their community.

Some site visitors are new to town and looking for a doctor, a plumber, a hairdresser or a walking group for outdoor exercise.

Others want to find a good restaurant, a breakfast place, hamburger joint or a pizza. And there are those who want say thanks to someone they witnessed doing a kind act, like picking up litter along the McCain Sideroad or finding a blind dog which was lost.

Most importantly for some, the site allows visitors a chance to see things they might not otherwise see — to feel less alone and isolated. Pictures of sunrises and sunsets over the lake, a hiker walking along a frozen Cedar Creek on a cold day in February, a new puppy frolicking in the backyard, children playing, a bald eagle swooping down on its prey — they can all be seen on the Kingsville Ontario page.

One of the things the site does is remind Kingsville residents they are surrounded by good, kind people who are willing to help, share information about the town and its history and provide sympathy and compassion in time of need.

“It has definitely been encouraging to see how kind and helpful people truly are during a time when there are so many negative comments online,” said Amy McMillan, who founded the site in September 2019. “It is very refreshing to see … it tips the balance and reminds me there are still more good people out there.”

McMillan didn’t want to administer the site alone and approached friend Kellee McIntyre to help monitor content. McIntyre was enthused about the idea — she was also looking for daycare for her children.

“I personally had some questions regarding daycares in the area and really I had nowhere to ask,” McIntyre said.

Both McMillan and McIntyre have two young children and jobs that allow them to work at home. McIntyre also drives a school bus.

Since its creation the site has seen its membership grow to almost 5,000, including U.S. citizens with cottages in the Kingsville area who can’t visit because of border restrictions and want to remain up-to-date with local news. Members include Europeans with relatives in the area.

McMillan said it’s gratifying to see the site evolve and become more than a help centre for people looking for a recommendation for a particular service.

“The group has become more than I had hoped when we started it. I absolutely love that people can feel supported by it. We work hard to keep it a safe space for all,” she said.

Donny Moore, the photographer who took the photo of the eagle, said he knows he’s providing a service for people who can’t leave their homes, are isolated and want to see of bit of the natural world. He also wants Kingsville residents who can’t get out of their homes to witness some of the natural beauty in the area.

“Whenever I post on the local pages, it resonates with people right away,” Moore said. “These things are right on your doorstep.”

Maybe because they’re free and can go anywhere they want, birds big and small are popular subjects for posts.

“A lot of comments I receive are people who say, we can’t get out much so we appreciate seeing things on the local scene,” said hobby photographer Rick Klassen. “That’s all I’m trying to do really.”

The platforms can be what you make of them. They can be vehicles for hate, vehicles for people to join forces who shouldn’t be joining forces, but they can also be these wonderful community meeting points, especially when we’re isolated and we don’t have a lot of other options.

University of Windsor psychology professor Dana Menard said online community pages often act like an office “water cooler” where people gather and discuss the latest news.

“It does look like these sites are filling multiple purposes and have become more important since the pandemic began because all the other outlets are gone,” she said.

Kingsville resident Marian Reffle lost her father last month and posted a death notice on Facebook, which was then shared on the Kingsville Ontario community page. There was an immediate outpouring of sympathy from friends and family. Many posted remembrances of Reffle’s father John Kosciuw expressing sentiments that would have been made during a funeral home visitation, but can’t be made now because of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings.

“It was nice to know people cared,” Reffle said.

McIntyre remembers the death notice. “There’s a balance that needs to be maintained… we don’t want people’s privacy to be intruded on but (that post) was a good way to have a social media remembrance versus an after-funeral luncheon where normally those comments would be made,” she said.

The internet can be a dark place, where some social forums promote division, discord and conspiracy theories. The well-monitored and administered Kingsville Ontario Facebook page is not one of those places.

“The platforms can be what you make of them,” said Menard. “They can be vehicles for hate, vehicles for people to join forces who shouldn’t be joining forces, but they can also be these wonderful community meeting points, especially when we’re isolated and we don’t have a lot of other options.”

McIntyre said she’s noticed membership requests jump when there is a hot-button issue in the news — like the Black Lives Matter protest in Kingsville last summer.

“It could go from zero requests to over 100 in an hour,” she said. “When that happens, usually Amy and I will fine-tooth comb the requests and make sure they’re not coming to just create havoc …”

McMillan added: “Some of the comments were shocking. It was a full-time job that weekend, In a way it proved why people were protesting.”

McIntyre said they have to be vigilant monitoring the site because if comments become too intemperate, Facebook will shut the site down.

An Age-Well poll conducted by Environics Research in July 2020 showed Canadian seniors increasing their use of smartphones, video-conferencing and social media since the start of the pandemic. The poll, which surveyed 2,000 Canadians over the age of 50, also showed 37 per cent of those polled using social media to communicate with friends and family.

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