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northern ontario

Musings & Life

Big City Girl, Little City Lights

little city lights

For most of my life I’ve been a big city dweller or lived within very close proximity to a major urban centre. Born in Calgary in Western Canada, I grew up in the suburban sprawl of the nations capital – Ottawa. At age 18 I moved across the Atlantic to the UK and spent the next ten years there hopping around London and the Southeast, always 10 minutes away from a city at most. And when I finally headed back to Canada, my destination was naturally Toronto.

I’d always assumed I would live in a really large city, yet here I am in a much smaller community in Northern Ontario. The closest city with a population over a million is 8 hours away, and the next biggest city with a population over 100K is just under 4 hours from here.

big city aerial viewSo what has it been like to move to a little city?

It’s been an adjustment getting used to living somewhere smaller. After the initial excitement about being somewhere new passed, I was struck by how much I missed certain aspects of city life that I’d taken for granted. Sure I expected to miss my friends, but I was surprised by how much I associated who I was, with where I lived.

How could I be me, if my identity was tied to the lifestyle I led in the city; a city in which I no longer lived?

As ridiculous as the above concern might seem, it bothered me. Was I defined by where in the world I was? It took a bit to work through but I eventually got there. Simply, I am who I am, no matter where I might rest my head. It’s strange how something so seemingly trivial can weigh on your mind, and what a relief it when you figure it out.

Small city, big city, suburb, whatever – my interests are the same, my core self the same. Sure I might not be able to go record shopping every weekend with a plethora of brunch spots or dive bars to choose from, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fundamentally different person.

Big City Girl in the Wild - The Move To A Small CityFinally recognizing this has helped me to relax a lot more. That energy previously spent questioning my identity in a small town can now be spent on simply enjoying the moment and my surroundings. After so many years of a pressure cooker existence, I don’t think I really knew what the hell to do in a calm environment. My hyper active mind just overthinking everything.

So why did we opt to move so far away from a major city in the first place?

Well, for as much as I love a lot about city living, we were getting really fed up and burnt out by all the negatives that go a long with it. The high cost of living and the overcrowded commutes of doom were especially adding to this sense of wanting “to get the hell out of dodge”.

One of the major reasons leading me to return to Canada was the opportunity to be able to afford my own home. Something I couldn’t even begin to dream about doing in London. Frustratingly the housing market in Toronto over the past few years has blown up, prices have surged and the likelihood of being able to afford a house in the city are now next to nil for us. It’s a challenge many are experiencing, so we started to look at several possible options:

  1. Stay in Toronto and resign ourselves to renting for the rest of our lives.
  2. Stay in Toronto and buy a condo.
  3. Buy a house in Hamilton, commute into Toronto.
  4. Look to relocate elsewhere in the country.

We quickly crossed #1 off our list, as owning a home for both of us has always been a dream. Going the condo route in Toronto, though still affordable, rising condo maintenance fees on top of a mortgage are a cause for concern. Commuting in from Hamilton seemed like a solid possibility. Then I started to remind myself of how much I hate commuting. Living in Hamilton would mean I’d be looking at 2.5 hours of travel time twice a day to and from work – and that’s on a good day without delays.  Also looking at commuter images on This Crazy Train had me cringing and raging at the same time. So…relocating?

Always open to new experiences, we decided why the hell not? If it didn’t work out we could always move back to Toronto, so when job opportunities in Northern Ontario presented themselves we decided to take a chance.

northern-aerial-viewNow I’m not advocating one place over the other, because everyone is different. Had I still been a single 20-something I might not have considered moving somewhere smaller. Given I’m married and my clubbing days are behind me (tacos & tequila at home with a few friends is much more my jam these days) a smaller city was more appealing.

If you’re thinking of moving away from the city, here are a few of my pro’s and con’s that might be relevant to you as well in your consideration:

CONS

  • It can feel isolating when you first move, as it can be harder to break into tight knit groups with a well established history.
  • Where my weirdos at? (I guess the interwebs…)
  • If you’re used to being incognito, ie: no one *really* looks at each other in the city, it’ll seem in comparison like everyone’s staring at you, even if you’re not in full weirdo mode. (interestingly often because they’re actually just trying to see if they recognize or know you to say hi).
  • Limited options for shopping, restaurants, bars, culture etc.
  • Additional travel costs & time as few direct flights.
  • Less job options, whereas it’s easier to jump around in the city.
  • Not as cosmopolitan, as there’s not the same variety of people you’d find in larger centres.

PROS

  • Very affordable housing.
  • So affordable you could own a detached house, and not just a small condo.
  • Incredibly clean.
  • Massive amounts of space in comparison to packed cities.
  • A real sense of community.
  • Little to no commuting time (for me it’s 5 minutes or a 20 minute walk!)
  • Overall a less stressed & hectic environment to live in.
  • Small businesses are supported, and smaller communities can foster an entrepreneurial spirit (with opportunities that could lead you to even open your own business!)
  • You’re closer to farms – fantastic fresh food that is locally produced and excellent farmer’s markets.
  • Nature! Wilderness! Green space!

flying to a small town over the lake
So while in all honesty I miss a lot about Toronto, I’m also loving where I’m living now. In my experience it generally takes two years for a new town to feel like home, and it’s a wonderful feeling when it does.

Musings & Life

Photo Post: Jan 1st – 10th

My love

1 : 365 Ringing in the New Year with my love. Eventually went to sleep and later in the day moved the bed into the living room and watched all the Shrek films on Netflix, so cozy. 2 : 365 A beautiful necklace by Raintower arrived, a lovely belated Hexmas present arrived in the mail from Sweden.

Views and Vinyl3 : 365 A Theatre that says BOO, I’d like to think it’s because everyday is Halloween and not that they haven’t changed their signage since before October 31st. 4 : 365 So bloody cold, just stayed inside and listened to records all day. 5 : 365 Eventually wandered out into the cold, a weird camera defect in this image makes it look like spirits of the forest are rising upwards.

Slippery Stairs6 : 365 Slippery stairs. A moments pause while shovelling never ending snow.

The Frozen North7 : 365 Frozen on the inside, temperatures drastically dip and with the windchill it feels like -41C outside. 8 : 365 Just in case you didn’t know, it’s under there somewhere.

MS Norgoma9 : 365 The MS Norgoma under a cold northern sun.

Sleeping Kitty10 : 365 How much do I love this little guy. I wonder what he dreams about.

Musings & Life

First Snow

snow covered tracks

First snow. Pathways and railways, snow covered tracks.

Northern Breweries after the first snowNorthern Breweries, long abandoned & empty. The building is for sale.

Northern Sun - Spirit Rising SculptureNorthern Sun glinting off of the Spirit Rising sculpture by the river.

Snow Covered BenchClear a seat.

Snow covered trees after the first snowSnow ladened trees.

Snowy Hub Trail by the St Mary's RiverPart of the Hub Trail by the St Mary’s River.

St Mary's River ViewOverlooking the riverbank and the St Mary’s River.

Musings & Life

Library Time

library books

Closer to home, this weeks break away from the computer was finally checking out the local library which is nestled in a beautiful downtown park by the river, chock full of sculptures, park benches and massive trees. The walk down there is so quiet and lovely this time of year, kicking through fallen leaves on the streets.

Leaf lined streets in AutumnI love libraries and can get lost in them easily for hours. Built in the 60’s our library is a large, vibrant structure with an excellent selection of books and media. I’m steaming my way through my October reading list, so didn’t feel too guilty picking up some additional books to start reading.

Often forgotten in these modern times, libraries are an oasis of calm and there’s something magic about being surrounded by so many books and so much knowledge. A feeling of nostalgia often hits immediately upon entering these buildings. From childhood story times to hanging out with friends in High School, to building a fortress of solitude whilst trying to finish a dissertation during University, so many happy different memories.

It’s a home coming of sorts, and though each library is different, the common threads that run throughout all of them make these universal spaces so welcoming, and familiar no matter where in the world you are.

Books & Coffee on the front steps
So after spending a good chunk of time exploring our local library, headed home and sat on my front steps with a coffee and read a book about shipwrecks. Crisp autumn weather and leaves all around, nestled in a bulky sweater. A simple and quite perfect Sunday afternoon.

Musings & Life

Woodlands & Waterfalls

waterfall pool

This weekend we decided to check out Crystal Falls in the Hiawatha Highlands Park. It’s a gorgeous cascading waterfall, with an old wooden boardwalk and stairs leading to the top, with viewing platforms along the way. The boardwalk’s in a bit of disrepair so we had to be careful climbing up.

Part of the Voyageur Trail, it’s connected to a long network of trails for hiking. I think next time we’ll plan for a longer hike, I was wearing my black converse and they’re admittedly not the best shoes to go hiking by a waterfall or climbing up rock faces in.

Northern Ontario WaterfallsUprooted Tree RootsWoodland Waterfalls

Travel

Northern Ontario Road Tripping

northern Ontario roadside

After years of not having a car and getting around in the city happily without one, we finally caved in and accepted the need for a vehicle in Northern Ontario.

With our newly acquired wheels, we decided to go road tripping and visit Jeff’s family in Bonfield, Ontario near North Bay. His Brother and Sister-in-law have land where they’re building an environmentally sustainable farm. Solar panels power and enable them to be totally off the grid, and they’re raising free range animals. It’s pretty inspiring and wonderful to see first hand how they’re xliving and producing their own food.

From there we headed off the next day to Sudbury for the Record Show, we didn’t pick anything up but it was nice to flip through some crates of vinyl. Have to admit to missing the ease and convenience of having a dozen record shops to hand when we were living in Toronto. It was a pretty relaxed computer free weekend overall, and the weather was beautiful to be driving through the countryside, music blasting. The car we have is second hand and only has a CD player so we resurrected our CD collection and I played DJ for the course of the trip.

Birch Trees in Northern OntarioRoadside attraction the Bonfield UFORoad Tripping through BonfieldNorthern Ontario fieldNorthern Ontario rock faceTrees in Northern OntarioNorthern Ontario road trippingHighway 71

Travel

Whitefish Island Reserve

Whitefish Island

Chunks of ice in the locks, the final remnants of a terribly long winter. What a year for us to move to Northern Ontario. Still though, no regrets whatsoever. I’ve been dying to get out and properly explore, and this past weekend we were finally able to in between scattered light rain showers.

We didn’t venture too far, but went trekking around the Batchewana First Nation Whitefish Island Reserve which is slowly coming to life again now that Spring is finally here.

Ice Ridden Soo Locks
Beaver Damsj-whitefish-island Continue Reading

Travel

Autumn Road Trip

autumn leaves

Without a doubt Fall is my favourite season. The weather is perfect, the air smells of bonfires and smoky woods, crisp autumn leaves, and the build up to Halloween.

I’ve weathered Autumns in Europe and the States, but nothing ever comes close to a proper Canadian Fall. The contrast to our ridiculously hot and humid summers is striking, and the vibrancy of the autumn leaves especially in the Gatineau’s near Ottawa is incredible. At times it looks like the hills are on fire what with the yellow, orange and red leaves.

This past Thanksgiving we headed out of the city for Northern Ontario, it was a quick road trip, but a gorgeous one none the less and great to get out into the countryside.

Fall FoliageFall Road tripNorthern Ontario Road in FallOctober Sky in Northern OntarioTrain Tracks during FallThis time of year always makes me nostalgic for past Autumns as well. I love that this season reminds me of good friends and new beginnings.

What do you love about Fall?