I just completed what seemed like a protracted move away from Canada’s National Capital Region to the area between Ottawa and Montreal. Home is now Grenville, Quebec, a village across the Ottawa River from the larger town of Hawkesbury, Ontario. The reason for the move was my career, which is properly called journalism, but is really what I like to call talking to people and sharing stories of the community with the community.
Let me get the comments about the misery of moving out of the way first. The logistics and heavy work became onerous. I visited five liquor stores in eastern Ontario and western Quebec, and one IGA supermarket twice in search of cardboard boxes. Anyone who saw me moving in must have thought I was an alcoholic who eats a lot of bananas. I booked a 20-foot U-Haul truck, sent many articles to the St-Vincent-de-Paul Society, sold a dehumidifier, and coordinated all the changes with the phone, internet, and power companies.
Packing up went well. Family help from away arrived. An Ottawa friend, who is busy enough with his career and young family, came over one evening to help, too. The next day, we made the first trip with a compact car and a pickup truck filled with booze boxes of books. The big job came the following day. International assistance arrived in the form of a gracious friend from northern New York who helped with the final packing and the infernal moving of large appliances and furniture into the truck. Our three-vehicle caravan then headed east to reverse the process. By the end of the following day, the place looked like a home.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a product of small towns. In a way, I feel like I’ve moved home. In a week of living here, I’ve discovered how closely connected people are. The camera shop in downtown Hawkesbury also operates an internet service. The owner was recently elected to town council. While I was in there getting the modem and paying the bill, the newly elected mayor entered the store and said hello. At a Remembrance Day event, a woman told me to say hello to her nephew who also works for the same publication as me. I’ve gone into restaurants and recognized other customers. At one establishment I visited twice, the server even recognized me and remembered my order from the previous visit. There’s no door-to-door mail delivery where I live. Whenever I go into the post office to collect the mail, the employees always wave and say hello.
In other ways, this new community is very different from my small-town past. On both the Ontario and Quebec sides, most people speak French first. Old French-Canadian cultural and religious traditions are more common here than in the cities, too. Split pea soup is the standard soup of the day on Fridays at most restaurants, and the Friday dinner special is almost always fish. In the run-up to Christmas, churches and other organizations are holding their annual guignolée, which is an exclusively French-Canadian term for a special collection of donations of money, food, or toys to help economically disadvantaged families. Men and women greet each other with kisses on each cheek, and that includes men and women who are in no way romantically attached to each other. It’s a scandalous sight to see for my English, protestant eyes.
Of course, it’s November, and that means unpredictable weather in this part of the world. The first big snow of the season happened this past week. There’s less for me to shovel here than at the previous place and the village cleans the sidewalk on my street. Living with snow is a small sacrifice to make though. There are people to talk to and stories to be shared.