The dark reminders of a hometown's past

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Early this week I came across a story on the wire indicating that my hometown was once again in the national eye.
Sadly, as I thought about it, the only times the rural Ontario town of Mount Forest seems to make the national spotlight is due to something bad.
The discovery of the body of missing child Tori Stafford on Sunday on a side road just outside Mount Forest, was the latest in sad tales to come out about the community where I grew up and went to elementary and high school.
Her body was found just off a sideroad not far from the highway I travelled every day for 14 years to get to school.
I think the last time this town was mentioned nationally was in the summer of 1988. Ironically, even though I was living there at the time, I remember reading about that incident in a newspaper because I was with my parents on vacation in Newfoundland at the time.
In that incident, another young girl, Erin Burkholder of Mount Forest, had gone missing. I didn't really know her - she was a few years younger and was in the separate school system, while I was in the public - but I had seen her a couple of times because I played hockey a few years earlier with her older brother.
Even at 13, the incident was still shocking to the system. Of course, the shock was heightened when, just like with the Stafford case, it ended with the discovery of a body, albeit much quicker than the current case.
Showing just how small that community, which, at the time, had a population of 3,500 was, my dad knew the father of the young man who was convicted in the girl's death.
It was another dark time and another instant when Mount Forest hit the national spotlight for the wrong reasons.
The other incident in my memory banks was seven years earlier, specifically on Mother's Day 1982.
Early that morning a Mount Forest police officer, Rick Hopkins, was responding to an incident in a neighbouring town when a fleeing man turned a shotgun on him and killed the officer.
The shooting of a police officer anywhere in Canada is always a big deal across the nation as this incident was in 1982.
I was in Grade 1 at the time. His one son was in kindergarten and the other was a couple of years away from starting school. As well, his widow would later be my Grade 3 teacher.
It's sad that these are the only instances when this little town with the motto of High, Healthy and Happy (the high is referring to the town's elevation of 1,400 feet, among the highest in Ontario, and not anything else) is in the news.
But that's the way we as a society are - small communities only seem to catch the eye of the public when there's something horrific because it goes against the norm and most people feel for the people involved more when there's a tragedy than anything else.

Jason Small can be reached at 691-1255.

Geographic location: Mount Forest, Ontario, Newfoundland Canada

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  • Trina reid
    January 14, 2013 - 16:20

    Jason, I was so pleased to see this was wrote by you. I also remember sll the details and the worry of what was going on when the helicopters came around and the police were inspecting our yards. I also remember how the community got together and searched for her. Finally they have the signs on the river for Rick Hopkins. It is too bad that we are only brought into the spotlight for such awful events. Mount Forest and other small towns really have some great events, people and memories to offer.