Thunder Bay, You Say?

November 2016

The Big Apple. The City that Never Sleeps. The Empire State Building and Central Park. Night life and high fashion. Where Harry Met Sally and the Devil Wore Prada. When I think about New York, these are some of the images that come to mind but I had a delightful surprise when I met Lorna Shaffer, formerly of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester County, now of Waverley Towers, Thunder Bay.

“I didn’t think of it as a big city,” she says in her subtle but distinctive New York accent. “It was just where I grew up, where I lived. I didn’t see the difference from any other city until I moved here.”
I had coffee with Lorna in her Waverley Park condo and was immediately whisked away to another era. Fresh flowers and lush colour, family antiques and a remarkable view of the lake, all provided a fitting backdrop for the artwork on the walls. As an artist myself, I felt like I could sit and admire the vignettes and share stories all day, but I had a mission – not only to find out what drew a debutante like Lorna up to this neck of the woods, but more importantly, what was it about our city that kept her here?

“It was a fast romance,” she says with a broad smile. “I met my husband at a party in upstate New York. He was a dentist from this place called Fort William. I looked it up in an atlas and saw that it was on Lake Superior, but we didn’t know anything about Canada back then. ‘It snows all the time. They wear mukluk boots. They deal with wheat.’ Fort William was just a hole in the wall.”

Soon Lorna agreed to test those wintery waters with a quick trip to the Lakehead one particularly warm September.

“It was beautiful,” she says. “I thought Fort William was a party city like Westchester. Everything was still green and sunny and I met many nice people. I didn’t think I’d be missing anything.”

She smiles again. “I was very young.” It surprised her, however, when early on in her marriage, she realized she didn’t miss big city life.

“I suppose it was natural that I missed friends and family,” she says wistfully. “After all, I had been to theatres since

I was 5 years old. But I didn’t miss the rushing. When you live in a big city, you walk fast. You rush. Here, I didn’t have to rush. I’d go out to meet my friends for coffee and it didn’t take 2 hours to get to the coffee shop. Here, I felt safe leaving the front door open.”

Being a young mother of three children, Lorna decided to try to embrace living an active Northern life outdoors. She took up downhill skiing – something only the elite do in Westchester County.

“I loved the winters,” she says. “I actually prayed for snow each year! But I wasn’t such a wonderful athlete. When I hurt my knee, I knew I had to find something else.”
That took shape in the completion of a Masters of Fine Arts degree, a program she had started back in Columbia University, and her talent is evident the moment you walk in the door. Large paintings adorn the walls and I was immediately taken with the mix of impressionistic and expressionist styles. Colour happily dances across the canvases, appearing random at first but giving the impression of subtle floral shapes.

“I call it impressionism,” Lorna says. “But I’ve been short-sighted my whole life. Sometimes I think that maybe I never saw any of the fine detail!”
Whatever you call it, I love her style.

She finished art school in 1983, and took the big step of becoming a Canadian citizen in 1984. Soon afterwards, her husband passed but by then, her children had grown and her nephew Paul Shaffer was making a name for himself in New York City. I asked her if she’d considered moving back at that time.

“I really didn’t think that,” she says. “I had friends here, great supportive friends which to me is really important. We have a great community here in the building. We have a lot of parties. When I was in New York, you just went out. You went to nightclubs. You went to the theater. Here, we had house parties. Magnus Theatre wasn’t here when I came, and there were only small symphony performances at churches. Of course, there was no Community Auditorium. Now, it’s so much better. There are more things to do, nice new restaurants and wonderful boutiques like JB Evans and Swartz Fine Fashions.” She grins this time and her eyes sparkle with mischief. “But I still like the house parties.” Lorna has grandchildren who are currently on adventures all over the world but she admits she’s never had the inclination to be a snowbird. She does travel a little however, sometimes to the theatre in Toronto, sometimes to visit her nephew in New York. But Manhattan no longer feels like home.

“I only go back for pleasure,” she says.

“It depends what the occasion is. But it’s different. Certain places feel the same, places where I grew up, but I haven’t explored all the changes. It would be too much for me.”
Looking at the amazing, colour-filled life that this former New Yorker has fashioned for herself, I’m not sure any place would be ‘too much’ for her. But it looks like the big little city of Thunder Bay is just right.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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