A love letter to Thunder Bay

September 2018

by Jane Crossman

Dear Thunder Bay:

There is no easy way to tell you so I’d best dive right in: it is time for me to say goodbye, farewell, adieu. Our split doesn’t come without heartache. Please don’t think for one moment that my decision to leave you is your fault. On the contrary, my forty-year love affair with you makes our parting all the more difficult. But after hours of weighing options, I know this is the right decision at this juncture in my life’s journey. My partner should be near family; a family located across the ocean.

If you recall, we met in 1975 through a twist of fate rather than careful planning. I wasn’t supposed to study at your university, but my advisor decided to relocate to your shores and so I followed him. I am embarrassed to say that at the time, this southern Ontarian had to look on a map to find you. I had driven through you on a car trip across Canada with Mom and Dad when I was thirteen, or at least when you were once called: Port Arthur and Fort William. That was my only exposure to you before moving to the place where I would spend the majority of my adult life.

When I consider the things I will miss about you, at the top of the list, well above all others, are my friends: an eclectic troop of compatriots with whom I’ve shared countless meals, intimate secrets, laughs and sorrows. When faced with life’s inevitable challenges, my friends and I rallied for each other.

Having moved several times, some of my closest friends are former neighbours. The day I got stuck on ice going down Candy Mountain to work, neighbours came and got me on my way. When I set my front lawn on fire or was stung numerous times by hornets, they came rushing to my aid. If I couldn’t get home to walk the dog, my neighbours always did. If I needed something lifted that was too heavy or a new battery installed in the truck, they’d be there. I’ve shared tools, equipment and countless stories with them.

Some are writer friends who have been more than generous providing me with intelligent, thoughtful and insightful feedback. For years, they have challenged me to become better at the craft and to go beyond the bounds of convention in the words I choose to tell my stories. Their encouragement has been valued beyond measure. The books I will take with me will be books they have written and inscribed with heartfelt words about our friendship and our mutual love of writing.

Some friends are colleagues I have worked with during my thirty-four year tenure at your university. Although I’m now retired, we still meet over dinner, lunch or coffee. As the years progress, they keep me abreast of the happenings at the institution, though thankfully, in lesser amounts as time passes.

Some friends are from my faith community: like-minded who believe that we are free to follow our own path without subscribing to a doctrine. They have accepted me without judgment and allowed me the freedom to choose my own beliefs. For this I will be eternally grateful.

Other friends I exercise daily with or play golf with during the season. We support one another through having a common goal: to maintain a healthy lifestyle and be the best we can be.

Thunder Bay, you are truly the most caring, supportive and generous place I have ever lived. When someone is in need, a fundraiser is held, donations are made or a helping hand is provided. You should be proud of the way you go out of your way to honour citizens who have excelled in sports, entertainment and the arts.

You have given me the opportunity to share space with and learn from an eclectic mosaic of cultures such as the Indigenous, Finnish, Oriental, East Indian, Italian and Ukrainian. For this gift, I am more knowledgeable about their ancestry and sympathetic to the challenges they’ve faced.

One of many things I love about you is that I know people wherever I go. On Saturday mornings I visit the farmer’s market and greet friends as I move from stall to stall. I am convinced that I know at least a quarter of the audience at a Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra Masterworks concert. This familiarity as I move within your boundary provides me with an overwhelming sense of fellowship and belonging.

As I prepare for this new stage in my life, I realize how much the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra has nourished my soul over the past forty years.
No question that I will miss our home nestled on just over three acres. Out the back door is a golf course I’ve played many rounds on and walked our dog thousands of times around. I will miss the sunroom that looks out on the majestic Nor’wester Mountain Range. Our backyard has hosted a variety of wildlife such as squirrels that often deny birds the sunflower seeds I’ve left for them or deer that graze as they pass through. I won’t miss, however, the skunk who decided to give birth to her brood under our sunroom or the raccoon who moved in once the skunks had vacated.

I will miss our red maple tree in the front yard. We named her Annie because we bought her to celebrate one of our anniversaries. The deer weren’t nearly as celebratory, rubbing up against her, peeling the bark off. Our arborist told us that nothing could be done to save her. I wasn’t about to give up on Annie and had hopes that she would rise again. I cut her down four inches from the ground, put a fence around her and waited. Five years later with lots of careful pruning, she has risen to ten feet tall. We are still trying to figure out if she identifies as a tree or bush. Sadly, I won’t be around to see her as she continues to stretch toward the sky. Hopefully, her new owners will take as good care of her as I have done.
The magnificence of the out of doors in and around you has kept my spirit soaring when it didn’t want to and has calmed my mind when it was in turmoil. I’ve sought respite on hot summer days swimming in deep, clear Oliver Lake. In winter, I have snowshoed on and around Oliver Lake, stopping to admire the ancient pictographs on adjacent Pictured Lake.
The Slate River Valley has been a huge draw. I’ve hung around Belluz Farms for close to forty years and since retiring, have had the opportunity to drive the tractor during strawberry season – a hobby farmer’s dream job!

I’ve been proud to show visitors your primary tourist attractions. We’ve visited Fort William Historical Park, an authentic reconstruction of the Fort William fur trading post circa 1816. Many times we’ve watched water rush over Kakabeka Falls, the Niagara of the North. The revitalized marina is now a showpiece and an ideal place to take in the magnificence of Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant, one of the Seven Wonders of Canada and a cherished symbol of all you are.

We’ve matured together, stumbled at times and then picked ourselves up to see a better day. I am proud of all that you have become and even though I will not be physically present, I will follow your progress as we both age. I thank you for being all that you are and all that you’ve been to me during the time we’ve travelled together. My love to you always, Jane

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