A few years ago our family returned to Sarnia after more than 40 years of living in Toronto.
Some things required an adjustment. The habit of Sarnians to offer directions using landmarks that no longer exist, for example.
“You know, down near the old Zehrs.”
From my puzzled look I’d invariably get the same directions again, only louder.
American novelist Thomas Wolfe once observed that “You can’t go home again,” but that’s not entirely true. There’s still a Cosmo’s and an Enzo’s, though the restaurants they operated are no longer on the Mitton Street of my youth.
But returning to Sarnia after such a long absence has opened my eyes anew to the human ability to simultaneously believe two incompatible ideas.
In this city there is a common, not universal, but common belief that if someone or something has come from Sarnia then it can’t really be any good.
“How could it be? From Sarnia?”
True, people acknowledge the greatness of Chris Hadfield and Pauline McGibbon and, goodness knows, Alexander Mackenzie.
But many Sarnians point to such prominent examples as exceptions that prove the rule.
Like the Sarnia Imperials winning two Grey Cups in the 1930s. Notable, yes, but exceptions.
Yet almost in the very same breath many of our citizens also describe Sarnia as a great place to live.
“Not the best in the world — there’s Hawaii. But a great place.“
“Hope things never change.”
“Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
“We’ve got Canatara and the St. Clair River and pristine beaches, and unlike Toronto, you can afford a house with closets.”
Here is what I say.
The south-end block of my Sarnia childhood produced people the world would consider pretty important, including DM, now a theatre professor at the University of Alberta; and JP, a Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University.
That’s just my block.
Sarnia is a model community for the number of volunteers it has making major contributions — a city that’s alive with heart and talent and everyday successes.
It’s not perfect. There are problems, not the least of which is our many homeless neighbours in desperate need of a roof.
But the important thing is that, despite the pandemic, individuals and agencies are working with local government on solutions, with new housing planned for at least five neighbourhoods.
Take the transitional housing for young people aged 16-24 that opened in November, for example, a project spearheaded by a Sarnia woman who was herself homeless once.
It’s in the ABC daycare on London Road. Between downtown and the Zehrs plaza.
You can’t miss it.
Bob Boulton is a Sarnia writer and the creator of a blog for new and renewing writers, bobswritefromthestart.blogspot.com