by Lindsay Kyte
Toronto can seem like a land of abundant opportunity for young Island artists. However, after moving to the Big Smoke with a fistful of dreams and finding themselves with empty pockets and broken hearts, some Islanders have realized there’s no place like home.
Savannah Belsher and Todd MacLean moved back to PEI three years ago. They say although Toronto had good points, the negative far outweighed the positive. “I was astounded by the feeling that I'm not that original at all,” says Belsher. “Being surrounded by so many people all of the time, you see so many similarities between yourself and everyone else that you lose your identity.”
“My first day in Toronto, I woke up, turned on the TV and saw the Twin Towers on fire,” says MacLean. “I wanted to drive home as fast as I could and hide out in the backwoods of PEI. Things got minimally better after this, but not really by a whole lot.”
Dennis Ellsworth recently moved back to focus on his musical projects: “Toronto started out good, but a series of bad luck incidents (laid off, broken ankle, band break ups, relationship destruction) saw me sliding down a hill that I am still slowly crawling my way back up. I wanted peace. I wanted a tighter-knit community of friendship. I felt my chances of raising a music profile were greater in a smaller city.”
Lisa Carmody moved back to mount a children’s theatre production last summer: “I missed the pace. I loved parts of Toronto, even the busy parts, but I’m the kind of person who needs ‘down time.’ You can be in a yoga class ‘ooming’ your head off and still feel the buzz of the city. After a few weeks back home, I realized everything I wanted to do, I could do on PEI.”
Belsher says she missed things that she took for granted: “Like easily being able to take a ten minute drive out into the middle of the country to relax in pure silence. Still being able to see the stars at night, even when you’re on your balcony in the centre of Charlottetown. Knowing the man who is dressed up as Santa in the Charlottetown Mall at Christmas time.”
Ellsworth says PEI was the right choice for him: “I moved home to gain focus with my music and I have done nothing but get that right since I did.”
Yet MacLean says with all its hardships, Toronto taught him some important lessons: “I would not have traded it for anything else. I needed it bad. I mean, c’mon. A mid-to upper-class white boy who grew up sheltered on a Meadow Bank farm and then went to UPEI without experiencing life anywhere else other than the Island? God. I needed it more than George W. Bush needs to be taught how to admit failure.”
However, not all have the same feelings about Toronto. “F**k you, Toronto,” says Ellsworth. “You still have a lot of my loved ones in your wicked possession. Don’t hurt them like you did to me. And if my plan goes accordingly, I will return one day to reclaim everything you took from me. Then I will ride out of town in one of those shitty movie sunsets.”
Some have not ruled out Toronto forever. “There’s truth in the old cliché, ‘The grass is always greener,’” Carmody says. “When I was in TO, I dreamed about being home. Now that I’m back here, I sometimes miss the hustle bustle of the Big Smoke. I feel like every time I run off somewhere, I turn around and my Self has followed me. And I’m like, ‘Oh. It’s you.’ You can be anywhere and decide to be content or discontent.”
All agree PEI fulfills like Toronto never did. “This place is a gift,” says MacLean. “It’s hard to see it when you’re immersed in it, but it’s especially hard to see it when you’ve never lived anywhere else. Only when you leave it do you know what you’ve left.”
This is the first of a two-parter about young Islanders who have gone to Toronto to find whatever. Next month: Islanders who are staying.