State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

On the road pt. 2, the near north

This is a very brief run down of some of our northern adventures and I include it because I believe that all sorts of art can start somewhere small. When the Group of Seven was painting Toronto was a small place. I know, I know it seems way cooler to be jet setting and getting shows in Berlin, but… people have an authenticity in the north you won’t find anywhere else because they have chosen something other than the urban realm. We rural types are happy to have space, air, forests, and less choice because it sheds much of the modern anxieties city folks deal with.

I still love the city; in fact I may love it more now that I don’t live there. I can really appreciate the way in which people must create all sorts of systems of activities in order to keep their life there healthy and interesting. And being urban seems inevitable which I why I see living rurally as an act of rebellion.

In Haliburton County where I live I often see city visitors exasperated with the locals because we don’t move fast enough, don’t have non-gluten cookies, don’t have a Costco and it can be kind of condescending. But people have to remember that places north of the big smoke do have their own thing going on. Sometimes the further you go north the better the ‘thing’ is. In fact towns like Cobalt, where we traveled to, were once way bigger than Toronto historically and also more internationally known. Mining and forestry, resource based industry made these areas important and inhabited.

Today resource industries are still a big part of areas around Cobalt, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie but with head offices in places like South America and India, the industry has traded global for local. People who now live there are working overtime trying to put the ‘local’ back into their culture. And it shows. Galleries, film and art festivals, zombie walks (in Sudbury, not kidding, a big zombie culture there), hip rock shows and possibly the best tavern in all of Ontario resides well north of the Great Lakes.

We left our log cabin in early July and drove straight to visit our pal Rochelle who owns the Miner’s Tavern in Cobalt. Situated right downtown near the train station, the Miner’s Tavern is a delicious relic from Ontario’s industrial past. Rochelle has the right hip sensibilities to have kept what is great about the place. It’s still dark and musty like a real bar with great decorations commemorating past mining glory. She only changed what needed to be changed such as carrying micro brewery beers, having homemade vegetarian bar snacks and the best hits of the last few decades loaded on itunes. In fact I made a right ass of myself one night doing karaoke. Apparently “The End” by the Doors isn’t a popular sing-a-long but how was I to know that having done karaoke only once over a decade ago.

A mixed media painting I did of the Miner’s Tavern several years ago for my exhibit Rockets and Gallows

We arrived in Sudbury after a rousing time with Rochelle to find the city greened up considerably since our last trip there six years ago. The tree planting done to hide the blackened rocks is working (we find this sad, but that is another blog). We attended a Pride event. Come to think of it most rural places have their Pride at different times throughout the summer, you could Pride hop across the province if you wanted to!

We also visited our friends Greg and Victor in Ironbridge who own the Red Top Motor Inn. Greg and Victor are theatre refugees from Toronto where they produced all sorts of things. The motel they now own is a retro festival-tent design that used to be the norm on the Trans Canada Highway but has been replaced by uninspired Travel Lodges. Victor is an amazing chef and we were treated to mussels, local fish and chicken, calamari, and the best breakfast for hundreds of miles in any direction. The conversation was also lively since they spend every winter cycling around India.

There are many more places and stories; pizza in the Soo, Haileybury where my grandmother was from, and Lake Superior Provincial Park but this is an arts blog not a travel blog! (I do travel blogs with Travel + Escape, check them out!)

Our trip was fruitful on many levels. We met people from Spain, New York, Detroit, Serbia and Toronto who, like us, likes to feel a bit ‘spread out’ and unfettered by the expectations of dense downtown living. But we want to make where we live thrive and that means finding our voice, niche, thang – zombies for crying out loud! Is there a rural Ontario renaissance happening? Over the next year I will be blogging about return trips to these places and you can be the judge.


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