We Are Here

Growing up in Northwestern Ontario, in a small town far from urban centres, I never realized just how isolated my childhood was until I was about twelve or thirteen. It never struck me as odd that we only had one movie theatre with a single screen, and because it took so long to send the reels of film to us we didn’t get to see the movies until sometimes months had passed since their release. It never dawned on me that we had to drive over an hour in any direction just to reach another town. I never clued in to the fact our men were sequestered into jobs in forestry, mining, and trucking because that was all we had to offer. That and prime fishing and hunting real-estate. I never questioned that the only name worth something in our community was an NHL hockey player who after several years seemed to forget where he came from.

But as I grew older I started to hear the same thing from the people around me, “I want to get out. I will not get stuck here.” And so that became my mantra as well. I promised myself I would go away to school, somewhere far enough that I could leave the North behind, but close enough that I could return for holidays. And for six years I went on a journey of self-discovery. During those years I found creativity and passion, I found new friends who saw the world in different ways. My eyes were opened to all of the possibilities I knew must have been out there, I just couldn’t see them for the trees and lakes and the promise of home. But now that I was looking an entire world was waiting at my feet.

The more I learned about the world, the more I understood that something terribly wrong was happening to my home. Every time I had to explain where I was from, I realized just how much people didn’t know about us. If I had a nickel for each time someone tried to tell me Northern Ontario was Parry Sound, Barrie, or Sudbury, well I could’ve probably walked away from school debt free. While I was learning about this beautiful and destructive world, I learned something frightening. People didn’t know we existed. People thought the world stopped just a few hours north of the Greater Toronto Area. People from the West skipped over us. A rest-stop on the way to greater things. People from the East didn’t even think there was anything there.

It was devastating to realize that my home and the people in it had been forgotten, had been overlooked. It was even more devastating that I didn’t originally care. I was still concerned with getting out.

I knew I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer when I was doing a reading contest with a category for choosing an author from or a book set in your hometown. Well, I would never expect to find writers from Northwestern Ontario on the best-seller list, and I would never expect someone to choose my “dying town” as a setting. But it was the fact that I wouldn’t expect that, it was the fact that I was right, that got me. There are so many voices in the North, so many stories that go untold.

We are a people that live through some of the harshest winters in Canada. We search to find a balance with nature and animals so that we may live in peaceful co-existence. We struggle to maintain our infrastructure when the province often forgets that we need safer roads. Our highways are a deathtrap, our forests are kindling waiting to go up in flame at the first sign of lightning, our health care is reliant on a cycle of doctors, most not willing to stay out the storm.

But do not take this for weakness. We are strong. We are a proud people and we will weather the cold. Each year we continue to survive, and we persevere until once again we can thrive. We are families, artists, athletes, brains, hands, and hearts. We will not sit idly by and let our stories go untold. We are the North. And we are here.

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25 thoughts on “We Are Here

  1. Well done. As another person who left Dryden and has experienced what you summarized, I congratulate you for summarizing some of the hot buttons so well. The words sing back to me and I look forward to reading more. All the best.

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  2. Reading this gave me goosebumps as I can relate to all of it. Being in Dryden most of my life, them moving to the GTA 5 years ago.
    Especially when you talk about people saying the north is Sudbury. They have no idea how far north we are.
    Thanks for that article, loved it.

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  3. I always felt proud to be from Dryden. Part of the pride came from being of that part of the province that was isolated from the rest. Part of that pride came from the tales of 5 hour bus rides to play Fort in Basketball games. That pride came before the fall, however, when I boasted about being from the north to a new friend from Mayo Yukon

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  4. most of Ontario folks, have never seen the other side of an Ontario map, where the best of Ontario lives, they miss the best part of Canada that way, wonderful article, and very true, congrats

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  5. Well written. People don’t realize that it is just as far of a drive from Kenora/Dryden to GTA as it is from Kenora/Dryden to Florida.

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  6. In Fort Frances, we consider our selves, Northerners. but on the map of Canada, everything west of us is North of us and almost evrrything east is south. We are the turning point for the country!

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  7. Lovely… so true! Although the Hwy lead me West…. Dryden is the home of my heart. I am a NW Ontarian at heart…. Prairie Fields and puddles they call lakes are no match for the allure of the Canadian Sheild and it’s gorgeous lakes.

    Nice read…. now I am homesick again

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  8. Awesome story and very true, look for to reading more, I may have been gone from there for almost 40 years but I still consider Dryden my home

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  9. Thank you to all for your kind words and encouragement. I am astounded by the number of people who have seen this post. From all over the Northwest people have been reaching out and connecting over our shared identity. My goal has always been to promote the voices of the people in our community and I will continue to use this platform to do so. To everyone who has read, liked, shared, or commented on this piece, I thank you.

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  10. I am from Hornepayne and now live just outside of Fredericton in a rural community. It surprises me when people ask where I am from and then tell me that they know where it is. Usually railway people or truckdrivers. I started a fb group and there are probably as many people in the group who have moved away than still reside in the community, but all are “Hornepayners”…people of the north. What a great article, made my day. Thanks!

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  11. Nice Story! I grew up in Kapuskasing, so I also can relate to being from Northern Ontario. Just recently visited my home town to visit family.

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  12. This is an awesome read.so much truth here.when I travel east or west and people ask where are you from I say Kenora on. Then you get that look that says where. To explain where Kenora is I usually say just 2 1/2 hours east of Winnipeg then they say okay.

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  13. I emigrated to this beautiful country 37 years ago. I have travelled through most of it and it amazes me that a lot of Canadians don’t make the effort to know their Country, they can’t wait until their next vacation to go to Cuba or Mexico!
    My son-in-law is from Northern Ontario, a beautiful place called Marathon.When I tell friends where he is from, their blank faces just gets me and I will go on,explaining about the geography and life outside the Greater Toronto.
    Its sad, but I will continue to encourage my fellow Canadians to appreciate and be proud to tell others of this beautiful land and people.😊

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  14. Dryden to me is a major center. Try growing up in red lake. Zero options unless you want to be a miner. I had no interest in mining, so me and lots of people like me got stuck in low paying jobs in a town that priced everything based on a miners wage. It was a fantastic place to grow up with tons of community support. “You need a community to raise a child” was the way it was in red lake. Until your done highschool, then it was the mine or minimum wage. I have left and returned 3 times in my life. Regardless of the struggles it will always be home.

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  15. I Immigrated from Denmark in1958. We are
    In Pass Lake, 50km from Thunder Bay. One time in London on. I was asked, do you ski all year ?

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