I arrived in North Bay as a Nipissing student in 2011, and like any student, I had an relatively weak relationship with the city. As students, we occupy the space, but we often don’t consider the history of the area, and given the temporary nature of post-secondary education, few consider the future. But hey, some of us decide to stick around.
Living on campus my first year in North Bay, I really didn’t have to engage with the city at all, aside from cab rides downtown, shuttle bus rides to the grocery store, and the occasional movie. That year, I may has well have said that I lived at Nipissing rather than in North Bay. In my seven following years as a student, I may have engaged more with the city, now living off campus, by my connection to the city is still hasn’t grown particularly strong.
Like many residents, I have a tendency to shop at chain stores and restaurants that exist just about everywhere. Thats not to say I don’t have a few favourite local flavours, but overall, the way I live doesn’t make me feel like a resident of North Bay in particular, rather a resident of Anytown, Ontario.
That said, there’s a reason I’m still here. I love the area, I love the spectacular and ever-present natural atmosphere provided by the escarpment, forests, and lakes which surround our city. One of the greatest experiences in my entire life was biking on the Kate Pace Way, when a doe ran parallel with me alongside the trail, almost close enough that I could touch it. I was in awe that my path and natures had crossed so profoundly. These moments don’t just take place anywhere. Let’s face it, they can’t.
And the people of North Bay, for the most part, are lovely, hardworking people. There’s a gas station attendant at Esso that loves to compare his beloved Oakland A’s to my Blue Jays. There’s friendly Leafs/Habs banter with the owner at burger world (who is unfortunately a Habs fan). While random sports talk certainly isn’t unique to our city, these regular, unplanned social interactions create a feeling of home. Like the movies where the protagonist has their regular spots and interactions in his city, and you get the sense that the characters familiarity with their setting.
North Bay: Pretty, gritty, or both?
And yet, there’s certainly a grit to the city that can be a little off putting, and even (I’ll admit), a little embarrassing as a transplant. There are large areas marred with unkempt properities, there are parking lots you know not to pass through at night (looking at you Tim’s on Cassells). The cities reputation, both from the inside and outside perspective, is at a crossroads. The city is rich with history, but needs direction and a renewed sense of modernity as the 21st century marches on.
As an 8 year resident of the city, I’m more than willing to admit I have absolutely no clue what that direction should be. I studied here for 8 years and while I’ve learned a great deal about the world in these studies, I neglected the study of the place most integral to my own day to day life. While classes like African Geography provided me with enriched understandings of global contexts, the notion of ‘local’ seemed genuinely inconsequential as a student.
I’ve studied here, but I haven’t studied here.
As I’ve grown as a community member, I realize it is of the upmost importance to me to help better my community. I’ve attempted this through truly caring about students in my professional life, volunteering with after school groups, and freelance work with local leaders on educational initiatives. And yet I still feel disconnected from the city. I feel a desire to better understand my surroundings, to become more in touch with the setting in which my own life takes place.
I don’t think this scenario is particularly unique at all. Many people my age find themselves rather ignorant to local politics, local histories, and current events and issues of their community. People can now seek community online, forming bonds by interests regardless of their geographical location. A strong sense of local community and identity have been, at least in part, eroded by our modern world.
We are bombarded by media, and its sometimes easier to tune out than to pay attention. I’ve personally found apathy clouding my worldview recently, and something like the ongoing issues in a small city in Ontario seems pretty irrelevant when compared to major issues in world politics. Local issues receive less and less of our concern, until eventually, they’re of no concern at all.
As a way to understand North Bay better, I’ve made it my goal to learn about our city.
The Gateway is the manifestation of that goal. Together, we’ll explore the interesting history of North Bay, the current issues and events of the city, and future challenges and how best to face them.
We aim to stay positive, and solution oriented in this commentary so this doesn’t become a collection of rants about North Bay. At the heart of this is a goal to help people take pride in their community, and carefully consider the direction of the city moving forward. How can we make North Bay a better place to live? How can the city change in a way that enhances our happiness?
North Bay has a rich history to learn from, and a bright future to look forward to if we are deliberate about its growth and change. The time to consider that change is now. So whether you’re a newcomer to the city, a born and raised townie, or a student who stuck:
Welcome to The Gateway.
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