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GUEST COLUMN: "Sarnia? Where the heck is Sarnia?"

Ellan Dickieson “When I graduate I want to work for the federal government, and that means I could end up moving anywhere in Canada.
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Glenn Ogilvie file photo

Ellan Dickieson

“When I graduate I want to work for the federal government, and that means I could end up moving anywhere in Canada.”

It was our first date; he a German immigrant studying to be a veterinarian, and me a down-to-earth girl from Prince Edward Island. For two years I kept my fingers crossed it wouldn’t be northern Alberta, and then, after much anticipation, a job offer came for Sarnia.

“Sarnia? Where the heck is Sarnia?”

We rolled into town with the windows down, “I don’t smell anything, do you?” To say the least, we had heard about the Chemical Valley. Stay on the north side we were told, and so we rented a house in The Point, as we came to know it.

We quickly learned that once you are from The Point, you are never from Sarnia. Our neighbours shook their heads when we purchased a house in Sarnia. “But we are committing to staying, and it’s only three kilometres away!”

Yes, we miss the rolling hills of PEI, but with no hills in sight we can bike anywhere in town in 15 minutes! When we read the population was 73,000 we imagined something much bigger (remember the total population of PEI is 135,000). We are still wondering where the 73,000 people are. To our surprise, we found quite a few at the Brigden Fair, but otherwise no traffic or line-ups.

Coming from an Island, we were comforted by the lake. A lake with three-eyed fish, so we were told. We approached with caution, but learned the water is cleaner than ever, and soon found ourselves jumping in every other night throughout the summer.

The sand doesn’t compare, and the noise pollution from the boats can be bothersome, but the fresh water means no jellyfish or sticky skin after. And, no need to go home and shower before heading to the chip truck under the bridge.

We were amazed, and baffled, to find this a selling feature on some real-estate listings. We had to see it for ourselves. It was our first meal in Sarnia, and we were so naive to think there was only one chip truck.

We have been blessed with friendly neighbours. The kind of neighbours that teach you how to do the Sombra beer run, take you to Sam’s Club and invite you to their weddings. People who genuinely care who you are and where you come from.

In PEI, the first three questions are always, “Where ya from, who’s your mother, who’s your father?” Here it’s, “You’re not from here, are you working at the plants?”

We believe we’ve found a little gem of a spot that suits our lifestyle. Affordable living, access to larger cities, international airports, cheap gas and limited Leafs fans.

If you can’t get it in Sarnia, it’s not far away. But most importantly, we’ve found a sense of community. And so for now, despite not working at the plants, Sarnia has become our home.

Ellan Dickieson holds an MSW, is passionate about community development and has worked with numerous community-based organizations at home and abroad. Sarnia is her latest adventure.

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