Why I Had to Leave the Small Canadian Town I Grew Up In
When you leave the place you’ve called home since you were nine years old for a country where the people live upside-down on the other side of the world, a few things are guaranteed to happen. These occurrences ring especially true when you grow up in a rural small town in the center of Canada.
Your adventurous friends send you off with a sentimental yet chaotic party in the hope of making one last fond memory of “the good ole’ days” (a genuine small-town tradition).
Your coworkers congratulate you on taking the “time off” and finally “pulling the chute” on the big adventure. They really outdid themselves by renting a full inflatable green-and-blue obstacle course.
“For the kids,” they say.
Ya. Right. That’s why we spent 30 minutes organising teams to shotgun beers and race like awkward antelope through the children’s playpen. For the kids…
Your parents host their own send-off of sorts – inviting other family to join in the taking of roughly 3000 photos, just in case they somehow forget what you look like.
If you’re from a REALLY small town, like me, the rumours will spread fast enough that you’ll be stopped abruptly on the street by everyone you’ve ever known to divulge the entire itinerary of your trip. They’ll just want the “hot gossip” of the day to impress the other locals. Of course, you’ll receive well wishes, best of lucks, and, “You’re going to have an amazing time!”
There’s always a catch, though. These platitudes come paired with a follow-up.
“Don’t have too much fun!” some will say, or, “But we’ll see you soon, right?” – insinuating that you probably just shouldn’t be leaving in the first place.
Others won’t beat around the bush at all, and goodbyes are put as plainly as, “You had better be back for the birth of my second child,” or, “My money is on you not even making it past six months”.
And, of course, there’s the all-too-common unspoken pressure from your parents, usually transferred via lingering eye contact after the long hug that says, “You had better come home.”
In my case, Dad surprised me with tears. Mom surprised me with a stone to keep me safe. But each and every farewell I received when I left the small village of Rosetown, Saskatchewan, was laced with a, “Don’t you dare think about leaving us forever… don’t you dare…”
I would never lie to someone I’m close to, especially not to the people I love. Nor would I want to set the wrong expectations for my return home. I thought maybe I could bend the truth, or answer vaguely like a lawyer in court to appease the inquisitions: a, “Haha, ya…” to every, “You’ll be back soon enough.”
Because there’s a good reason why I decided to book this one-way ticket in the first place.
Home, when it’s a small town, can smother and consume you, forbidding change. Sure, for some perhaps it’s for better, but in my case, it felt like it was for worse.
I don’t want to give the impression that I grew up in an isolated, rundown and closed-minded town in Canada. Right in the heart of the Prairies, Rosetown’s farming community is the livelihood for the surrounding area. The right-wing self-appointed Sask Party has governed Saskatchewan for nearly 20 years and it hasn’t been since the ’60s that a left-wing liberal government has run the province.
I have a ton of great memories from my youth, all of which are part of the reason that I am who I am today. But for someone who wants to live their life with an ambition for improvement, adaptability and new challenging experiences, Rosetown – 100 kilometers from the nearest big city and with a population of less than 3000 people – might as well have been located in the furthest northern Canadian Tundra.
Two years after an incomplete university degree, I had moved back to Rosetown to get a job and train as an electrician. I paid off a two-and-half-year student loan, meanwhile becoming fully certified across Canada to perform electrical work, and became an indispensable member of the electrical company I worked for.
But I had outgrown my small hometown and, for that reason, it would never feel the same to me again. What was once a source of pride when I was asked where I was from had irreversibly changed without warning, and it was beginning to weigh on my mental health.
I didn’t decide one day that I hated living there. It just started happening when I became more mindful of the patterns around me.
“What was the score of the hockey game? How much rain are we supposed to get next week? Are you going to Rowdy’s Tavern this weekend?”
The same conversations were set on repeat. Once I began to question my own actions and habits, and why I had adopted them, rather than just accepting them as who I was, I began to question everything.
Then naturally, I started to question everyone around me. Who were they? Why did they do the things they did? What do they want in life?
After months of questioning the actions of everyone around me, exhausted, I came to one final conclusion. The truth my subconscious knew, my body felt, and my heart yearned for. A truth so simple once it had finally made manifest in my mind. The reason it was so difficult to land on was because it felt so much safer to be distracted or convinced that no search was even necessary. Why look for something if it is not lost? Why change something if it isn’t broken? Why take the hard path when the easy one is right in front of you?
The truth is I didn’t belong where I’d grown up anymore and it was time for me to leave. Years of discontent and a sense of being an imposter in my own hometown had finally resulted in my inevitable departure. When I finally reached my seat on the plane, and reclined after takeoff, a euphoric smile overcame me – impossible to resist.
Photo by Kylo