Political process, education among local issues that interest NOTL natives
Rachel and Jared Goerz are here for the long game, as evidenced by their plans to speak up for a local high school. That was, after all, what bonded them originally.
Rachel (nee Slingerland) and Jared have settled back in town after time away for university studies, and are now starting to plan a family. They want their kids — and all the kids of Niagara-on-the-Lake — to have what they had: a good local secondary school. They speak passionately about the bonds built at “District.”
“It was always super-accepting: punk kids with rockers, jocks — we all hung out together,” says Jared of Niagara District Secondary School, which closed in 2010. “Bush parties would be all ages, no cliques. I run into people now I haven’t seen in years and it’s all good — we share the foundation.”
Petite, dark-haired Rachel has practical guidelines: “Build it to scale, to hold 450 students.”
In fact, according to Statistics Canada, in 2016 there were 795 kids between 15 and 19 years old in NOTL. There were no fewer than 780 kids between the ages of 10 and 14 years, and a whopping 2,080 kids aged 0 to 14, indicating there would be more than enough students to fill her high school and keep it full.
Square-jawed and baseball-capped Jared has further ideas for the imagined school: “Play to the strengths in the community, like the arts, agriculture,” he says. “We need a community base for the kids,” says Rachel. “I don’t see much conversation about this.”
If this local powerhouse of a couple were to set their minds to it, they likely could build a school.
After graduating from NDSS, Rachel went to Western University to study history, political science, and French. She soon switched to focus on a law degree, and is now a corporate lawyer. Her work history began picking fruit at the family business — Pillitteri Estates — and then she moved on to retail in the winery. “And now I’m the head of my department, a 31-year old female working in the construction industry,” she says as proud as she is amazed. This is her passion. “I’m an in-house council telling people how to run a business.” Rachel was recently part of a round-table discussion at radio station CKTB, regarding local politics and the notwithstanding clause, as a lawyer with a poli-sci background.
The dinner table conversation at the Goerz house is likely pretty interesting: Jared went to Brock University to study political economics and science and did post-graduate studies in international issues at Niagara College.
He was lured to work at the winery by Rachel’s brother, and now shares the responsibility for international sales with him: Richard sells to China, and Jared takes care of the rest of the world. “This year alone I’ve already been to Japan and Korea, Germany and Switzerland, and the U.S.” Typically he travels in two week shifts. “There are busy and quiet times,” he says. “I’m practising exactly what I studied and I’m able to do it in town, exactly what I’ve
A drummer, Jared has an alter-ego to balance his corporate life. He spent three years with Niagara hip-hop-pop band Theatre Crisp, “but I had to tell them I had a career,” he says, as his job became a conflict with tour schedules and gigs.
He still plays whenever he can. “I’m very lucky to play with Laurel Minnes, who is one of the most talented vocalists I’ve ever known,” he says, with some reverence. “When I’m playing with Taylor and Laurel I love backing them up, it’s all fun.” Of course those friendships were also forged at District. Taylor Hulley, winemaker at Coyote’s Run and also a musician, was a neighbour of Rachel’s, growing up on a farm.
“I love to play with Jesse Lamothe — we’ve been jamming since Grade 8,” says Jared. “We used to set up in my garage on Lorraine Street and roll up the door during the Virgil Stampede. We’d start playing when people walked by.” He laughs at the memory. Jared plays 90s rock with Lamothe in the bar band The Admiral Hardys.
Music was a strong influence on Jared as a youth, and he credits local life. “The music scene in NOTL was thriving at the time, with bands like Matinee Slim — there were so many talented people to look up to. I remember the Angel Inn when it was owned by Peter Ling,” he says fondly. “NDSS was an arts school; when we would all hang out at parties all of a sudden a jam would just break out — people would swap instruments and just play everything.”
Both Rachel and Jared appreciate their deep roots in town — Rachel perhaps slightly more due to their being physical roots, in the vineyards, and also to her passion for history. “The Slingerlands came to upstate New York in the 1500s — there is a town there called Slingerland,” she says with pride. “The Loyalists came to NOTL in 1776. I’m a history major so if you ask me about my family it’s going to be a long story.”
Jared’s parents are both teachers. “Intelligent conversation was expected at a young age,” he says, explaining his careful thought and direct engagement. His neighbours in Virgil included the Schriefer family, now owners of The Pie Plate bakery and restaurant — all shining examples of what NDSS has wrought.
From Jared’s viewpoint, looking forward is as good as looking back. “Every decade has its blessings,” he says. “I’m excited for the future; excited by what the town has to offer. I’m hopeful for the next generation.”
Relevantly, Rachel says, “I want our kids to grow up on a farm. Everything about a farm has clear results: you see the growth, the seeds, the evolution.”
She says her father’s personal garden has grown to “almost a commercial level. Friends come to get produce from my dad’s garden. He has a green thumb.”
Jared speaks about the future as well. “Moving forward, our economic strengths — farmers could thrive; the service industry is growing with breweries, distilleries, wineries, tourism and agriculture. Our friends who are tradespeople are all crazy-busy.” He refers to a new mindset: “It’s not us versus them, it’s a healthy economy, an ecosystem. When I see people moving into town and creating work and the economy, I see opportunity.”
He continues: “Another important aspect is the increase in remote offices. Log in, connect with your coworkers. In the future we’re going to see a lot of that. Tourism is also important — 30 per cent of our sales are at the winery — and tourism drives employment too, with the planting and maintaining of flowers and so on. It’s just very touching to see such a beautiful place succeed,” he says with feeling.
“It all works hand in hand. There are lots of opportunities for young people and entrepreneurs in town — just look at Tim Balasiuk with Paddle Niagara. And another small local startup like the Pie Plate,” (he gestures around the bustling restaurant). Rachel points out the success of her cousin Gary Friesen and his partner and wife Breanne Schultz with their successful chiropractic clinic. “It’s really cool; it makes us happy.”
“This is an oasis within the GTA,” he says. “It’s expanding, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing — but agricultural protection is essential.”
Rachel concurs, saying, “Farming values are important; a farming community humbles people.”
“I want the whole community to appreciate what agriculture has brought to them,” says Jared. “I don’t think it’s threatened; we just need to make sure they have an appropriate seat at the table. We don’t want to see any degradation of that.” “I feel it’s important to have someone from the farming community on council and being heard. We need to care about all the elements of the town,” says Rachel.
Speaking of politics, “Locally I think everyone generally wants the best for the town,” says Jared. “I considered being a politician; it’s a thankless task.” Rachel agrees: “With social media and the influx of technology, I just can’t imagine.”
Jared, animated and sincere, says, “What’s disappointing is when it comes to political divisiveness, adversarial politics. I hope we’ll see movement towards more productive discussions. It’s important both sides are respectful and empathetic with the other,” he says. “No one is 100 per cent right or wrong. It’s never completely black or completely white. It’s important that people stay with the political process, because as you become disenfranchised it leads to a knee-jerk reaction. We need engagement, discussions. People need to talk and listen.”