It’s been a pleasure, Fort Frances

By the time these words run through the press, I would only have one day left under the employment of the Fort Frances Times. I thought I’d gingerly walk out of the Times’ back door with my fingers crossed, hoping that nobody would notice. After all, doing this would perfectly align with my overly private and low-key personality. But a voice in my head tells me I can’t do it, not before making an on-the-record thank you for the phenomenal experience of living and working here.

I arrived in Fort Frances on May 12, 2020, without knowing what to expect. A promising job offer came my way just as I was wrapping up my final year as a journalism student at Carleton University. I took the ball, ran with it, packed two suitcases, and left Ottawa. I guess I took solace in the fact that I could leave if things went south. But to my relief, I quickly found myself very welcomed in a place I had only just heard about when I applied for the job.

I was greeted in Thunder Bay by my Fort Frances parents, John and Penny Pierce, and drove to what became my home for two years. The Pierces did not just give me a ride. They fully embraced the fresh off-the-plane graduate with wide arms and loving hearts and welcomed me to their home for many chats, meals, and celebrations. I’ll save the tales of how their kindness captured me for future generations. I would run out of space, and the Times would run out of ink if I were to list everything they have done.

It was the height of the pandemic, and after the recommended two-week quarantine, I left my apartment for a short walk. My Google searches of what Fort Frances looks like were not very fruitful, and I did not know how to navigate the town without a GPS. So I found my way to the waterfront – my favourite place in town. I can confidently say I put in hundreds of kilometres in steps just walking by the lake and admiring its beauty. As I was drowning in my thoughts, a gentleman said, “hello!” That was strange for someone who walked a lot in Ottawa but had never interacted with other pedestrians. It drew a big smile to my face as I instantly realised I was in for a pleasant experience. I said hello to the next person and continued the tradition.

They say to choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Only at the Times building did I realize how rewarding my trade is. I love stories, and I listened to them for over two years. I was welcomed in many homes, met many people, and was trusted to write about their lives. It has been a badge of honour.

A question I always asked my interviewees who are not from town was why they decided to stay and make it their home. Some were interested in the strategic location and the easy access to the United States, and others were outdoor enthusiasts and loved fishing and hunting. But by far, most said it’s the people and the community that kept them here, and now I can say I fully understand what they mean.

Fort Frances may be a small chapter in my life, but it’s a significant one. It marks my first full-time journalism job, my first work adventure after university, my first time fishing and my first time owning a vehicle. Here’s to life, future “firsts,” to more memories and learning—cheers to the *very* fine people of Fort Frances and the Rainy River District.

Until next time, Fort Frances.

Merna Emara