Many people suppose that culture thrives in cities, and the larger the city the superior the culture. I might have believed this myself having spent most of my first sixty-five years in major urban areas.
Five years ago I met my sweetheart and decided to join her in Sarnia, a place I knew nothing about. My friends wondered, and I did also, what Sarnia might offer me after decades spent in Pittsburgh, Ottawa, London, Hamilton, and Toronto with many visits to New York along the way.
What a delight it was to discover Sarnia. There’s a lively literary community here with After Hours Poets and Writers International Through Sarnia, as well as professional writers like Norma West Linder, Delia De Santis, Aboriginal historian David D. Plain of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, and Debbie Okun Hill.
The visual arts are strong, too, with many local painters and photographers as well as the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery. And when it comes to music there is the annual Jazz and Blues in the Village and the outstanding band Lit’l Chicago. On the stage we have five productions a year from Theatre Sarnia, now in its 89th season. All this adds up to plenty of cultural stimulation. A city boy, I had expected none of the riches.
Beyond the fine arts, as crucial as they are, is the setting. Sarnia not only boasts a lovely river, it also has one of the Great Lakes, and Huron truly is a great lake with the 200-acre Canatara Park at its southern tip as it narrows to enter the St. Clair River.
My two favourite places, however, are the Wawanosh Wetlands, where I can find wild turkeys, great blue herons, and turtles so large they look too mean to touch, and the Mandaumin Woods Nature Reserve, where I never meet other walkers.
In the big cities of my first sixty-five years, there were always other people about. When one has lived on Yonge Street in Toronto one quickly develops a hunger for occasional periods of solitude, the sort of peace and quiet not commonly associated with Canada’s Little Big Apple.
Given Sarnia’s compact size — the Alix Art Gallery and the Imperial Theatre are but a short drive from the Wawanosh Wetlands or the shore of Lake Huron — I would be hard pressed to think of a better place to live and work for a writer, a painter, a photographer, or a musician. The proof of this can be found in the vibrancy of our cultural scene. I hope we will be able keep this secret or thousands of people will suddenly move to Sarnia!
James Deahl is the author of two dozen books, mostly poetry.