Several weeks ago, I was at a market selling my photographs. I was talking with a woman from another table, and we were happy to find out that we both hailed from Montreal. “We’re practically neighbours!” she exclaimed.
She told me she moved to Calgary to be with her children, who had been living here for several years. She’s only been here for two years, herself. And then she asked me, “Does it ever start to feel like home?”
In 1999, I was 15 years-old and living in Montreal, Quebec. I was born there and it was all I knew. We hadn’t traveled much when I was a kid; our summer vacations were spent in Ontario or at my godfather’s cabin in rural Quebec.
After years of hard work and reliability, my father was offered a promotion with his company. There was one little detail, though… The position was in Calgary. Personally, I wanted to go. I wasn’t fitting in at school and the idea of a fresh start was exciting and a relief. After some debate within the family, we were packing up the house and heading west.
When we got here, we were all really surprised by the short, stubby trees. The air felt so dry and for the first couple of weeks, walking up the stairs left us feeling lightheaded. We had lived at sea-level all our lives.
The city had it’s charms though. It was immaculately clean, people were friendly, and politics were incredibly tame. There were no marginalizing language laws, no garbage in the streets or against fences, and no dangerously crumbling infrastructure. It was easy to live here, even if we did miss the way Montreal felt.
As of this summer, I have now lived in Calgary longer than I have ever lived in Montreal.
“Where are you from?” seems like a simple question with an equally simple response, but it’s more complicated than that. When we identify a place as home, that place equally identifies us as a part of it, as a product of the mentalities, experiences, and climate of that place.
Though I’ve lived in Calgary for so long now, there are still so many things I don’t understand about this place. One example would be the obsession with the Calgary Stampede. I find no appeal in it and people look at me like I’m crazy. Where I have a distaste for country music, cowboy boots, and white stetson hats, these things are nostalgia-inducing for many native Calgarians. I don’t understand the value beyond the superficial of these things because I didn’t grow into or with them.
But where I used to steadfastly say, “Montreal” when people asked me where home was, I have to admit that now there’s a pause there, a hesitation as I think about the question before I decide “Montreal” is the correct answer.
At what point does the place we build our lives in become “home,” when we grew up somewhere else?