My first trip to Fort Frances

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As we steered past Highway 11’s winding road, Rainy Lake peaceful and melted along certain parts, I had the strangest feeling of déjà vu. I certainly never visited Fort Frances before. Yet in each pocket of town, I was flooded by memories that I couldn’t fully claim as my own.

I could name restaurants, their business owners and backstories. I predicted that the CN train, vandalized and heavy with cargo, would briefly pass through the town. Which it did—several times. I purchased snacks from a nearby grocery store and greeted the pharmacist by name.

At my desk at the Fort Frances Times, I even had a Polaroid picture of me smiling with the first issue I was published in, as if my ghost had been haunting that desk forever.

Upon arrival, the weather was strangely warm considering that Christmas was only a week away. I visited town to attend the annual Times’ Christmas Party. However, I left with so much more.

I had also attended the lights show hosted by Weechi-it-te-win Family Services, attended a press conference at Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong, conducted an in-person interview with the oldest practicing optometrist, got gas across the border, ate at the Le Hoa lunch buffet with my lovely friends and mentors, and even joined the 10 a.m. coffee group with Jim Cumming.

It was a 2-day trip in Fort Frances, so I wanted to make the most of it.

The next day, my coworker and I hit the road to return to Thunder Bay. On the drive back, I reflected on the past year and all the stories I’ve had the opportunity to write, and what an honor it was to meet the people behind them. Now, if I visited town again, it would be real memories attached to people and places, not just déjà vu.

Visiting Fort Frances also opened my eyes to the behind-the-scenes process of printing our paper, and it has opened my eyes to the process of growth, something that has been on my mind as this year comes to an end.

In our printing room, our newspaper is colour corrected multiple times before the final copy is ready to be in the hands of readers. This requires many adjustments because the colour is rarely perfect the first time around. Sometimes it’s faded, other times there’s too much of one color. Our staff pour ink and work with cranks on large machinery to get things right. Many trial prints are completed before the newspaper is up to standard.

The holidays and new year may come with pressure to get things right as well. We want loved ones to get along, or a strong start to the new year. As a young reporter, I also feel pressure to have everything figured out in life. And as someone who makes a living from telling other peoples’ stories, I often think about the story I want my own life to tell. The problem is, sometimes I forget that trial prints may be needed. A wise friend told me on this trip that it is normal to take detours and figure things out along the way.

When we were getting gas, the border officer at International Falls said he could tell I was a reporter. I still think about what he meant. Hopefully, it means that I am someone who embraces the brave work of making adjustments—in relationships, in work, in reporting. So that one day, I can look back on it and say “this is the story I wanted to tell.”