Skip to content

Can Sarnia pivot to a new economy? TVO’s Crossroads documentary airs April 9

Editing a TVO documentary about Sarnia and its evolving economy changed Toronto executive producer Jo Virgo’s perception of our city.

“I saw a side of Sarnia I never knew about,” she said. “The beaches, the fishing, the water, the effort to clean up the environment…I have a new view of Sarnia now.”

TVO film crews were in Sarnia last summer for six days and took in the city’s Canada Day celebrations. They also conducted interviews with multiple residents including a retired pipefitter, the mayor, immigration officials, a Lambton College prof and new international citizens who have decided to make their home here.

The result is a 55-minute documentary that is part of TVO’s Crossroads series examining how Ontario communities are confronting change in their social, cultural and industrial fabric.

The segment about Sarnia airs Tuesday, April 9 at 9 p.m. A sneak peek of the episode is available here:

“Sarnia is a really interesting place,” said Virgo who oversaw post production.  “It has a reputation for being an industrial town reliant on fossil fuels, but we found the city is working very hard to bolster its population and pivot to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

“There’s a willingness to change, which isn’t always the case,” she said. “It’s really very surprising how unique Sarnia’s story is.”

In its second season, Crossroads: Beyond Boom & Bust is featuring Sarnia and five other communities including Fergus, Walkworth, Tyendinaga First Nation, Kapuskasing and Perth.

“We examine what made them successful and what is impeding their growth now, then what they’re doing for their future,” said Virgo. 

In the Sarnia segment, local historian Phil Egan is featured providing background about Sarnia’s roots in the oil industry.  Several professionals who work or worked in the petrochemical industry explain what it has meant to the prosperity of the community.

“The kids had a lot of good Christmases because of the refineries,” says one.

Mayor Mike Bradley describes how generations found work and prospered thanks to the plants. Then he explains the shock when layoffs began in the 80s and 90s.

“The fact is the status quo isn’t working in the long term,” he says. “Times are changing and we have to go with that change.

“Either we lead it or we’re going to be left behind,” Bradley adds. “I really think we can be a renaissance city.”

A segment of the program focuses on the number of international students who have come to Canada to attend Lambton College, then stayed to raise families and operate businesses.

“Pragya Patel runs the Pizza Depot with her husband Tom and told us her story of coming to study, getting married and deciding to stay,” said Virgo. “Many said they had never heard of Sarnia before and never intended to stay.”

But, like her, they were surprised with what the people and the community offers.

“The program is meant to educate our viewers and tell Sarnia’s story,” said Virgo. “And what comes across is that people really believe in their community and are passionate about change.”

HOW TO WATCH: Crossroads: Beyond Boom & Bust, a 55-minute documentary featuring Sarnia, airs April 9 at 9 p.m.

Join the Community: Receive Our Daily News Email for Free