Our own backyard

June 2020

Winter is long, and Thunder Bay residents are adept at making the most of our short, sweet summer. Whether it’s a European vacation to London/Paris/Rome, a weekend trip to Duluth/Minneapolis or a day trip to Grand Marais, the list of destinations beckons as we gear up for the holidays. But 2020 has trumped all plans for travel, whether international or otherwise, and now, folks are faced with the unpleasant fact that the travel bug might be itching for a bit longer than normal. Now, thoughts of ‘summer’ are turned inward, or backward, to our own backyard.
Staycation in the Great White North.
Thunder Bay is blessed with an abundance of options, and folks are getting creative with their time and energy. It’s not unusual now to see families in single file, biking down city roads, getting exercise and exploring neighbourhoods as if they were in Amsterdam. The same can be seen with families or couples walking, enjoying the incredible weather as if enjoying a stroll along the Thames. ‘Window Walks’ are also a lockdown trend, and folks young and old delight to see colourful artwork painted on the windows of homes and businesses alike, just like a jaunt through the Paris Louvre.

For those who prefer a little more of an adventure, hiking in one of our city greenspaces is no more than minutes from the front door. The river walk/bike path between Lakehead University and Confederation College is a hidden gem as it meanders along the McIntyre River. Centennial Park, with its deep dark green canopy beside rushing white waters, is a favourite that deserves revisiting, with or without a picnic lunch, as does perennial favourite Kakabeka Falls. The Pennock Creek Trail (or Tree Farm, as it’s commonly called) is a solid hike and a dog-lover’s paradise. Just 40 mins out of town, Mink Mountain boasts a number of hiking trails, and the view of Lake Superior from Picnic Point is breathtaking.

Of course, the water is always an alluring destination, and Northern Ontario is a canoeist/kayakers dream.

“We love Hazelwood Lake,” says paddle enthusiast, Susan Rogers. “They don’t allow motorboats, just electric motors. For us canoeists and kayakers, we like only to hear the sound of our paddles swishing in the water and the call of loons.”

But Thunder Bay itself is a city of rivers, and it’s a fascinating urban journey to take on one of the city’s winding rivers.

“The McIntyre River is actually a fun city paddle,” says Rogers. “Once a year, my husband and I take a side trip on the Neebing and stop at Dairy Queen. And once we landed on shore in the inter-city area and Brian crossed the road to get us lattes at Starbucks!”

For those less actively inclined, the backyard has experienced a resurgence, with ‘cleaning and greening’ ramping up to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re busier than ever,” says one employee of a local hardware/building centre (who wishes to remain anonymous). “The May long weekend was crazy, even with our limited hours, restricted entries and distancing protocols.” He attributed it to oft delayed maintenance and building projects that now have the time and inspiration to finish.

And it’s impossible to forget the call of the garden.

“Maybe I should give some of my flower space back to carrots and beets,” says gardening enthusiast, Kim Kilgour. “Do I need to decide between vegetables or flowers? While one feeds the belly, the other feeds the soul. The produce department has more empty bins than we’ve seen before, and we learn to plan meals around what’s available. Growing a few vegetables at home might be a good idea.” (See Kilgour’s article ‘The New Home Garden: Good for Body and Soul’ in this issue!)

Food during a pandemic staycation is an interesting obsession. During the early months of lockdown, it was not toilet paper that was scarce in Thunder Bay, but yeast, due to the sudden discovery of the fine, old art of baking. From bread to biscuits, cooks of all ages began experimenting with ages-old recipes like soda bread, rice bread, flat bread and even bannock.

“I’ve always been a cook,” says health care provider, Elise Frizado. “Being Portuguese, it kind of goes with the territory. But believe it or not, I’ve never baked bread before. Once this started, I figured I’m going to be at home, I need something to keep me busy. Bread is a good mix of practical and a skill I normally don’t have time to use.”

Will Frizado continue this new-found skill once life returns to normal?

“H*ll, yah. I find now that it’s very satisfying to take basic ingredients and get this end product that is often nicer than what I can get in the stores. I’m excited to be able to make something that I never thought I could before. Food is definitely how we Portuguese show we care, and bread is for many cultures, life. Everyone is happy to get a loaf of bread! People may have different tastes in dessert, pies, baking, etc, but no one is sad when you show up on their door with a loaf of fresh bread!”

Not only the culinary arts have experienced a shift – artists of all disciplines are getting creative online. From YouTube workshops to digital lessons to Zoom concerts, the arts are celebrating the beauty and endurance of the human spirit. One of these original projects is Come Play with Me, online readings of various theatrical works. Come Play with Me was created by local thespian, Thomas McDonald, and is put on by members of the regional theatre community.

“I love theatre,” says McDonald, “And several shows I was working on were put on hold indefinitely. I started to feel the loss, and so I put it out to others on Facebook and they were feeling the same. Now, over seventy local (and some more distant) performers have participated in seven readings to date, and we’ve even had a trivia night, with hundreds of live views and followers!”

Arts, culture, creation and recreation. Whether your warm weather journeys inspire you to hit the roads or bake a loaf, dip a paddle in a stream or enjoy a digital livestream, no matter how you look at it, Thunder Bay is a great place to be ‘stuck for the summer.’

For more information on Window Walks, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/194476835335024/

For more information on Come Play with Me, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thomas.russell.9/about?lst=581307055%3A77288569...

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

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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