Can we talk about the Quints?
April 5, 2017

There are things you remember when you are little. When I was in grade two, my family moved to North Bay, Ontario. My dad wanted us to live away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto. I wasn’t so sure.

You see, I could walk to school, our condo complex had a swimming pool. I could be with my friends while still being close to home.

I thought I had it made. Then, on March break, they took me to the new house in North Bay. New school, new neighbourhood, new town. Exciting on some fronts but scary on others.

It meant that I wouldn’t have to take my bike up the elevator to park on the balcony. It meant I could have my own room. It meant I could take the bus to school. All pretty exciting.

What I didn’t quite understand is that I was living in a community famous for many things. Winter, for one. The Dionne Quintuplets for another.

I’ve been following this delicate file as the now Heritage Commissioner in my own town. The year I left for university, the Dionne home was moved to a “strategic” location on the new bypass to increase its exposure.  A visitor centre was built and managed by the local Chamber of Commerce. Seems it worked for awhile but, of late, the whole thing took a negative turn.

I visited North Bay this past summer for a family reunion. I drove by so many times. Nothing to see here. An abandonned visitor centre and an empty Dionne house.

Wait, what, how could my home town turn its back on the thing that made it famous by proximity. The Quints weren’t actually born in North Bay but in a tiny French Canadian village nearby. That didn’t stop them from taking credit, I suppose. It appears it certainly didn’t keep them from taking responsibility for it either.

It was a miracle they survived. What followed what not so much miracle as opportunism.  The five girls were put on display for all to see. Opportunistic at best and, as it happens, devastating for the girls themselves. What you think brings pride can actually be terribly destructive to those who lived it.

All this BS about moving it to a heritage park upsets me. Move it back to where it should be: in the small village. Those who want to make the pilgrimage can. Those who don’t, won’t. I think about the quints. Only two of them left. Our approach to their impact on history pretty much ruined their lives. Don’t trust me. Ask them.

We commodified five little girls for our entertainment. And we should be ashamed of ourselves. Move the house back to its origins. Tell the real story of a poor family burdened with the birth of five identical children that the government, for lack of appropriate words, f’d up.

It’s a lesson. When I saw the stories (yes, more than one) in the New York Times, I was ashamed that a town that I was so proud of, a town that had shaped me as a young person, could screw up such an important issue, it made me question my origins. Have the Dionne’s been so comodified that we’ve forgotten they are people.

That’s on us. If I had a wish, it would be that the council of the day make a deal with the original property owners where the Qunits were born and return the home to its origin. Then, it’s a history, not a travesty. And we’d learn rather than earn.

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Summertime and the living is eas(ier)
August 4, 2016

This column first appeared in the August 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

As I write this, I have vacation on my mind. 
 
Of course, when you live in a place that is someone else’s vacation spot, there can be challenges. Other people’s vacation keep many of us locals a fair bit more busy. And that’s a good thing. But it’s summer. And we all deserve to enjoy it. 
 
We really are so fortunate. I have enjoyed visits to the gallery for the Trail Mix Exhibit (don’t miss it) and WOW (don’t miss that either) and I marvel at the work being done by Roots and Blues as they prepare for festival 24. Amazing team. Please go. 
 
I’ve enjoyed evenings at the Hive and my kids have had a great time on the lake. I’m more of a beach dweller, myself. I live for the late night campfires in my backyard.
 
But I’m trading it all in come Monday for three weeks in North Bay on Lake Nipissing, the town in which I grew up. Crazy right? Who would leave the Shuswap mid summer? Me, that’s who. And I’m beyond excited. 
 
The thing about summer is that it’s about nostalgia. And I’m headed that way. North Bay is much like Salmon Arm, a tourist town on a beautiful lake. It’s no wonder I ended up here. Like Canoe, I lived in an older neighbourhood very close to the lake. We would wander over to the beach at all hours for a quick swim as my kids do now at the dock. We were about 10 minutes from town as we are here. As kids, we would ride and skateboard around the neighbourhood till dark. When the porch lights turned on, it was time to come home. Same goes at our house now. 
 
But my homing beacon is calling me back big time. Some years ago, facing some difficulty in my business and helping my best friend move to the East Coast despite the prospect of missing her and her family terribly, I made a decision. I went to my high school reunion in North Bay. I didn’t have the money or the time but I knew I needed to go. So I did. And I reconnected with people who have known me since I was seven years old.
 
It was a watershed moment. In that three day weekend I remembered that I am who I have always been. A happy kid from a small town full of ideas and optimism. And it was a reminder that I sorely needed. I have been back since and I’ll go anytime I’m invited. There’s something about spending time with people who knew you before you were a grown up with expectations and responsibilities that does a soul good. I can honestly tell you that since that reunion, things have worked out for me both in terms of my business and my connection to this community. I’m proud to be a city councillor and small business owner. I’ve now lived in Salmon Arm longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. It’s my new home. And I Iove it. But nostalgia is a powerful force. 
 
This is the first time that my husband, my boys and my best friend will see where I grew up. I can’t wait to show them. I know they’ll say it reminds them of Salmon Arm.  We’ll see my parents, my brother, his wife and their kids, some cousins and some wonderful friends. I can’t wait. We’ll visit our neighbourhood, my old school, my hang outs and we’ll take quick dips in the lake at all hours. 
 
If you ever have to leave a place you love for a new place, please find a way to go back. It’ll help. Nostalgia is the best part of summer. I’ll miss Salmon Arm if only briefly but I’ll appreciate it more for going back to the place that made me fall in love with this town in the first place. 
 
Be safe. Be happy. Enjoy each other. That’s what summer is for. See you in September.