OPINION: Sarnia slowly emerging from its poor reputation

George Mathewson

Sarnia has an image problem, as many of its residents are painfully aware.

But like the cities of Hamilton (steel) and Sudbury (nickel smelting) Sarnia is slowly shedding its negative image thanks to a dramatically cleaner environment, economic diversification and changes in attitude.

And others are taking note.

Take the travel story published last month in the KitchenerPost.ca under the headline: “4 fun things to do in Sarnia in a day.”

“Often and wrongly perceived by the uninitiated as merely a gritty petrochemical centre,” it began, “the city across the St. Clair River from Michigan is steeped in history, culture and an abundance of spectacular scenes of nature.”

Two weeks earlier, Toronto Sun travel writer Jim Byers listed Sarnia as one of “6 places you should visit for Canada’s 150th anniversary.”

Why? Sarnia has enjoyed an influx of creative talent and boasts a lovely downtown art gallery, great craft beer, good food and “cooler than you might expect shopping,” he wrote.

His other five travel recommendations: Newfoundland, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Fredericton and Fernie, B.C.

But you win some and you lose some.

U.K.-based comedian Katherine Ryan skewers her hometown in a new Netflix special, calling Sarnia a “terrible, horrible” place to grow up.

“I think some people won’t get it and they won’t like it but others will go, ‘oh hey, nobody else is talking about our town on Netflix,’” she recently told CBC News.

Brew-ha-ha

Keurig invented the single-serve coffee brewer in 1998. Today, just 19 years later, 60% of all Canadian homes own a single-serve coffee brewer.

So what’s next?

The company is working with Anheuser-Busch InBev on a dispenser capable of producing beer in your own home.

The product is not yet available but consumers when asked in an online poll if they’d buy a beer-making Keurig were enthusiastic.

Said one man: “I’ll put it right next to my La-Z-Boy on game day.”

The Chronicles of Sarnia

The number of people who call Sarnia home declined 1.1% between 2011 and 2016, from 72,366 residents to 71,594 residents, new census data shows.

However, the city’s namesake, the Saskatchewan prairie hamlet of Sarnia Beach underwent a veritable population explosion over the same five years, surging from five full-time residents to 15, an increase of 200%.

And each summer, the isolated cottage and boating community on Last Mountain Lake sees its population grow even more.

Bonus trivia question

Q: What do Walt Whitman, Henry Ford and Ulysses S. Grant have in common?

A: They all visited Sarnia at the height of their careers.