Jack Knox: What’s all the noise about a couple of kids?

First, let’s acknowledge that anonymous sniping is wienerish, whether it’s posted online, sent by mail or, these days, slipped under the windshield wiper of a car with out-of-province plates.

Also, who takes pot shots at kids? Has the Island become so bereft of children that we find their presence jarring?

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Which is what came to mind when reading a July 31 story in the Parksville Qualicum Beach News. The article was about a pair of anonymous letters, both headed “re: your noisy children” and mailed to area residents Jaret and Samantha Jones, the parents of seven- and 10-year-old boys.

One letter complained that the children were “obnoxiously loud, so much that we can’t sit out in our back garden as all we hear is a constant screaming match.”

“You have no doubt realized you have moved into a neighbourhood of retired people,” it continued.

“Do you hear any noise from anyone else? I didn’t think so.”

The Joneses were knocked on their heels. “It was shocking and frustrating,” Jaret Jones said Thursday, reached by phone as he headed out for a bike ride with his boys.

He doesn’t figure his sons are any noisier than other kids. Maybe COVID has kept them at home more this year — the boys spent much of last summer at camp or with family in Alberta — but that’s true of any family. It might not sound like a prayer vigil when their boys and the neighbour kids (theirs is not, in fact, a retirement community) jump on the trampoline, but it’s not like the Joneses are throwing drunken 3 a.m. ragers, either.

Happily, the response to the story has been affirming, Jaret says. Sympathy has come from other neighbours, including many of the retirees for whom the letter writer purported to speak. That’s good, as Jaret is anxious that this fuss not be portrayed as an old-versus-young thing.

No, but it could still reflect the shifting demographics on Vancouver Island, which over the last generation or so has seen its proportion of children drop dramatically. We simply aren’t used to them being around.

In Victoria itself, many young people find it simply too expensive to have a family, or at least one whose size matches the kind of housing they can afford.

That’s one reason Greater Victoria has fewer children than any other city in Canada, with just 13 per cent of the population being under age 15. The Greater Victoria School District once had an enrolment of 32,000; in recent years, even with numbers padded out by 1,000 foreign students, it has hovered around 19,000.

Up-Island, enrolment in many smaller communities plunged when the mills closed, the fisheries collapsed and the families pulled out, replaced — if at all — by retirees and empty nesters from the cities. It became a struggle just to keep the schools open, which was a big deal, because once a school is gone, the remaining families tend to leave, too.

Yet close they did, in communities like Youbou, Echo Bay, Quatsino, Coal Harbour, Holberg and Woss. Back in 2006, when word came down that the Union Bay school was about to close, it was the older residents who were most worried about the impact. “Who wants to live in a place that doesn’t have the sound of children playing?” is the way one retired man put it.

That’s worth noting, because in contrast to those gated communities that use the lack of children as a selling feature (not to mention the Chemainus strata council that voted to ban kids from playing in the street in 2018) most people — including those of us who are old and cranky and aspire to become even older and crankier — like having them around. (Four years ago, across the strait on the Sunshine Coast, where the student population fell by one-fifth between 2007 and 2014, the local visitors’ guide joked that “New residents are welcomed with open arms and new residents with school-age children rarely have to pay their own bar tabs.”)

This all comes as we’re constantly lectured about the need for kids to play outside, lest they become so pale and pasty while glued to video games in the basement that they burst into flames when exposed to sunlight.

Think back to March, when all over the Island playground equipment was declared off-limits. Then think of that day in May when the tape was peeled off and the kids came back — raucous, rambunctious, joyful.

After so much silence, the sound was glorious, like the first birdsong of spring.

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