Surviving and Thriving in Brockville

Woman standing in from of sign saying 1000 Islands Brockville
Carolyn Bennett standing in front of a Downtown Brockville map. Photo by Dan Nostbakken

Surviving and Thriving

One year later, Carolyn Bennett reflects on making the move from Toronto to Brockville, Ontario

By Carolyn Bennett | July 6, 2023

It’s been almost two years.

My partner and I relocated to Brockville from Toronto in 2021. I wrote an article about the experience for Ontario Culture Days in 2022. It’s now 2023.

I’m not going to lie – I’ve felt grief.

Hundreds of artists have left cities across Canada, by choice or by necessity. I was renovicted from my apartment of 24 years when a new landlord began demolishing the ground floor while I still lived on the second. I felt every pound of the sledgehammer as he ripped apart the walls. I contacted the city to see if he had a permit to do the work. He did not. By that point though, I felt pushed out of the neighbourhood I had called home for over two decades. My partner talked me into buying a house, something I had never considered . Purchasing a house meant leaving Toronto.

If leaving the city that I loved was traumatic, at least there was a trade-off. Rents and housing are more affordable in smaller centres. There’s not as much traffic. The pace of life is slower. But truthfully, I’ve felt culture shock. It’s real. For instance, when I first arrived, I was a guest on a local podcast. I gave myself an hour to get to the producer’s office. I was there 55 minutes early!

I hit the ground running when I arrived, vibrating with Toronto energy, an electricity that comes from living in a 24/7 environment. I saw Brockville as tabula rasa, and I would fill it with endless creativity.

I’m learning that I can’t replicate what I had in Toronto. There’s no urban hustle. Brockville is a small town in a rural setting – no amount of electro house will change that. I had to change.

I’ve had to slow down – not an easy thing to do after a lifetime of city living. I’ve had to leave my competitive mindset behind. I’m coming to terms with my new reality. I’m happy to say the grief lessens with each passing day.

What’s helped me adapt and enjoy life in Brockville? Here are my tips on how urban artists can embrace life in small town Ontario:

Being home
The Toronto I knew is gone. The Brockville I know is here. If the urban landscape with its vibrancy and energy was grist for my mill, Brockville’s proximity to nature invites me to experience its calming effects and loosen the grip on who I think I am. An artist today needs to be flexible.

I still have my network in Toronto and the reading series I run at Hirut Cafe on the Danforth. There’s still my circle of friends only a three-and-a-half-hour train ride from Brockville. The 24/7 of major cities is close by. The only difference is that they are there, and I am here.

And here, I’m realizing, is a good place to be.

Writer/Comic Carolyn Bennett’s latest short story Moral Support Desk, can be found in Canadian Notes and Queries issue 112.