Finding a home (and helping others do the same)

March 2022

Richard Togman and Kendal Donahue met at Carleton University in Ottawa when they were both enrolled in a course called “The Politics of South and Southeast Asia.”

“It was a pretty dry class,” says Kendal, “and I thought Richard was the most interesting person there, so I started sitting next to him and we were friends for a couple years first.”

Ottawa, Canada’s capital, appealed to both Richard and Kendal as students pursuing Political Science as a field of study. Kendal, born and raised in Winnipeg, spent some time studying in Turkey and Scotland before making her way to Ottawa. Richard is from Toronto.

Their journey from friends to a romantic relationship was a bit of a winding road, they tell me.

“We were friends for a while in Ottawa, then I moved to Vancouver and Kendal moved to Toronto,” explains Richard. “We stayed in touch, and when I went back to Toronto to visit family we would meet up. One night, I guess Kendal decided her feelings had changed from just friendship, because she spontaneously kissed me when we were out one night.”

“For my part, Richard had been helping give me a crash course in economics via Skype for a course I was taking, and it was during that period that I realized that I liked him more than a friend, so it had been building for a while,” says Kendal.

The couple were in a long-distance relationship for a year before the strains of distance became too much and they broke up. A few years later, they reconnected when Kendal was living in Thunder Bay and working for the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy.

“I was visiting Toronto for an urban agriculture conference. Every time I was in Toronto I would think about Richard, and I decided to reach out during that trip,” says Kendal.

From there, the two began communicating via phone calls and texts until Richard decided to visit Kendal in Thunder Bay about a month after they reconnected.

“Things went pretty quickly after we reconnected as it didn’t feel like we were starting from scratch,” explains Richard.

During his first visit, Kendal took Richard on a backcountry canoe trip with some friends. He has always loved the outdoors, so the trip gave him a positive first impression of the city.

Richard was living in Vancouver during this time, and after they spent a few months visiting back and forth, Richard declared to Kendal that he would be moving to Thunder Bay unless she explicitly told him not to.

Richard has now been here for about six years, Kendal a few more than that.

“We are slowly relocating all of my family here,” says Kendal. “My mom is planning to move here this summer, and my brother is also thinking about moving here.”

Since Kendal works in the food sector, she knows a lot about the local food and restaurant scene. Both her and Richard are big fans of the food culture
in the city.

“It’s been fantastic to see the city grow from a few independent restaurants to the wide variety there is now,” says Kendal.

“I came from an academic background,” Richard says, “but I started Rent Panda within about a year of moving here, and the city has a really supportive entrepreneurial environment as well. The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre has been really helpful, and there has been great support both institutionally and from the community.”

Both Kendal and Richard felt it was important to get involved in happenings of the city – both sit on various committees and Boards.

“One of the things that is really nice about Thunder Bay is that it’s really easy to feel like you are making a difference and to get involved,” explains Kendal. “In bigger cities, there are so many levels of separation and it’s a lot more challenging and competitive to find a seat on different committees.”

“You really get to feel like you matter here,” adds Richard. “It’s accessible.We did not grow up here, but feel we’ve found roles within the community.”

So why did Richard, with no entrepreneurial background, decide to start his own business? It was largely due to the frustration he felt when trying to find a place to live when he arrived here.

“I am an accidental entrepreneur,” says Richard. “Kendal was renting a small one-bedroom apartment, and we needed to find something that could accommodate both of us and our dog. There was no professional service in place to help with the process, you had to rely on Kijiji or the classified ads. We found it really difficult to find a place that would suit our needs.”

“It’s not just a Thunder Bay thing either,” he says. “There was generally no system in place to help people find rentals, even in lots of bigger cities. Landlords and tenants alike were not happy with the lack of clear rental process.”

He arrived in the city with no clear outline for what he wanted to do for a career, so between timing and motivation, Richard had the tools he needed to work on launching a business.

Since then, Rent Panda has grown rapidly and expanded into new locations across the province.

“It was a lot of trial by fire and learning as you go. But I had a lot of support from the business community here, and that helped a lot,” says Richard.

Both Kendal and Richard seem to have found their niche within the city, and they plan to continue their recruitment efforts in getting more family and friends to move to Thunder Bay.

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

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