Chris and Lesley Allison

September 2019

Chris and Lesley Allison arrived in Thunder Bay from Ireland in 1975 – their first glimpse of the city punctuated by mounds of snow and frigid January air.

Chris, a GP, has been working at the Port Arthur Health Centre for over 40 years.

“We lived in Belfast, but once the ‘Troubles’ began, we wanted to find a safer place to raise our family. It was getting very dangerous. There were bombs going off right in the city – both in the street and in restaurants. The bombs really pushed us to leave,” says Lesley.

The “Troubles” refer to a thirty year period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Catholic Irish Nationalists favoured joining the Republic of Ireland while the Loyalist Protestants supported continued British rule. More than 3600 people lost their lives between 1968 and 1998.

“Chris heard through some work peers about the potential to work in a place called Thunder Bay, but we had our second baby and had to wait until she was a little older to travel,” explains Lesley. “Chris arrived In the city first and he stayed in the Prince Arthur Hotel for about two weeks. Then I arrived with our kids, Stuart who was two and Claire who was five months old, one suitcase, and a tea chest full of kid’s toys.”

Chris and Lesley met in Northern Ireland as teenagers. They were bussed into the same grammar school (high school).

“We were just friends at first. I was a year behind Lesley at school,” Chris tells me. “One night we went to a dance, and it was so crowded that whoever you went in with you just stuck with.”
Last November the two celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They were married in Ireland in their early twenties.

When I ask what made them want to stay in Thunder Bay once they arrived, the first response they give is: “the people.” “The city was just so friendly. There was a lot of support for us when we arrived. It was a lot of fun.”

On his very first weekend in the city, some colleagues took Chris skiing at Candy Mountain. “I’d never been skiing before. In Ireland, the snow lasts for a day and then melts.”

The couple have lived in quite a few different neighbourhoods in the nearly 50 years since they arrived in the city. For a number of years they lived on Egan Place, a little dead-end street with about twenty houses on it, and it was here that they made a lot of lifelong friends.

“We met most of the friends that we have now on that street. It was a great experience living there. We always had a lot of fun,” says Chris.

They also have a camp on Ishkibibble Beach which they bought about 12 years ago. “We spend our summers there. We absolutely love it. We don’t like to go away in the summer,” Chris tells me.

“Before we bought the camp, we used to go to friends’ camps,” adds Chris. “It was great fun doing that too. We were always well-entertained.”

Lesley has long been involved in the arts and culture scene in the community. She sings in the Thunder Bay Symphony Chorus and was part of the Lakehead Choral Group in her earlier days in the city.

“At that time, the Choral Group put on musicals. So we would sing and act. We performed at the LU theatre most of the time. We did Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady,” says Lesley.
The couple are regular patrons at both the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra performances and at Magnus Theatre.

Lesley, a woman of many trades, is a trained x-ray technician and she worked at the Port Arthur Heath Centre for about six months when she and Chris arrived in the city. She also spent several years working with the Lakehead Music Festival in a coordinating role and for Jack Masters when he was an MP.

She later completed a travel and tourism course at Confederation College. She was a travel agent with Thunder Bay Travel from 1987 to 2005, when she retired.

They have no regrets at all in their decision to live and raise a family in Thunder Bay. They have six grandchildren between their son and daughter and their lives are very full. Their family from Ireland has spent many beautiful summers in Thunder Bay as well. “It’s a great city. It’s been good to us,” says Lesley.

Cassandra Blair has a Masters of Arts in English Literature and is a regular contributor to Bayview.

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