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magazine / apr10

April 2010 issue

Feature: Wallaceburg, Ontario

My home town
When the recession hit last year, a Canadian photographer living overseas decided to document how friends and family in an industrial corner of Ontario were coping. He found that people in Wallaceburg were simply doing what they’d done for generations: bearing down and getting by.
Photography by Brent Foster with essay by Ray Robertson

Click map to enlarge
It’s the fields — still rich and alive and giving. Corn, beans, squash, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, potatoes: every spring planted and every summer harvested and always on local dinner tables all year long regardless of what the television or the newspapers insist is this season’s big business boom or bust. Bank loans and broken tractors and bad weather, but still the land, always the land. And sundown of an August evening — the hot, humid air finally cooling, the shadows of the tall cornstalks stretching, the exhausting day’s work almost over. The peace of the land too: the sunburnt earth’s long, soft exhale.

It’s the town. Battered, yes — economic winds blowing in from who knows where or why knocking down factories and boarding up storefronts and pushing people out of their homes — but not broken. The barber where your father got his hair cut too. The grocery store where it’s always been. The school that seemed so big when you were young but seems so small now that you’re not. The bar where everyone buys that first beer. The church where you learned to believe. The tattoo parlour you were warned to stay away from. The post office and the laundromat and the library. The legion hall, the bingo, the ice cream parlour. The water tower with the town’s — your town’s — name written across it. The grain mill that’s sat silent for years now. The cemetery where the town buries its dead. The hockey arena and the baseball fields and the parks. The hospital where your mother passed away; where your daughter had her tonsils removed. The houses that are the homes that are the neighbourhoods that are the families that make a town a town, any town. And the river that runs through all of it, for as long as there’s been a town, the river.


Photo Club: an exclusive interview with Brent Foster
Read this month’s Field Report interview with Brent Foster to go behind the scenes of the Wallaceburg shoot.
It’s the people. The teacher who taught you how to read. The dentist who helped make your teeth grow straight. The coach who made you try harder. The old man who gave you your first job, cutting his lawn for five whole dollars. The woman whose kids you babysat. The doctor who made you feel better. The old lady next door whose driveway you shovelled. Your first best friend. Your first ever kiss. Your first broken heart. First lies, last goodbyes, endless summer holidays. The cats and dogs and birds and fish you named and loved and lost but never forgot. The brothers and sisters and the aunts and uncles and the cousins and the grandparents whose faces and even names you sometimes forget but who will always have your eyes, just as you’ll always have their cheekbones. Your Mum and your Dad. No matter whatever else, your Mum and your Dad.

Whether you stay and raise a family and die here, whether you grow up and leave and never come back, whether you call it home or say it’s just where you were born or don’t say anything at all, not even to yourself — it doesn’t really matter. It’s where you’re from. It’s your hometown. It’s you.

Born and raised in Wallaceburg, Ont., photographer Brent Foster works mostly in Asia and Africa, making pictures for publications such as Time and The New York Times. Ray Robertson is the author of six novels, most recently David, as well as a collection of essays. He has lived in Toronto for the last 25 years but is from Chatham, Ont., just down Highway 40 from Wallaceburg.


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