Living in a Bubble: The Inflated Economy of Port Elgin
Written by Tanara Dennison-Ellerton
Growing up, I had always lived in a small town. Port Elgin was a tight knit lakeside community where everyone knew each other and worked at the same place. About three hours from Toronto, the town of 7800 people was fueled by a nuclear power plant named Bruce power, supplying the area with a stable income contributing to the town’s generally high income status. Almost everyone in the town was employed by the plant with nuclear operating jobs, construction jobs, and planning jobs. Regardless of the job being worked, the company paaid high rates in an effort to compensate for potential radiation encountered on the job. For these reasons, the area was constantly developing and creating an upper middle-class neighbourhood with a variety of beautifully constructed homes. The entire town lives in an idealistic world where the economy is essentially unrealistically inflated due to the power plant. My family however, did not fit this perfect image. Since my parents were young and had no post-secondary education, and they had previously worked hard in retail jobs. My dad getting into the plant was a big deal and opened a lot of doors for our family, even though it would take a while to adjust to these changes.
In 2009 when I was beginning high school, my parents decided to build a new house in one of the neighbourhoods. Moving into the house felt amazing, as my dad had been working at the plant for a few years now and everything was changing. Our new house symbolized freedom, in that it was no longer time for my family to be on a strict budget, but it felt as though we had finally made it into the image of Port Elgin. I lived in this house all throughout high school. The basement began to hold all the stories of my friends and I when we would sit on the black leather couch with all the lights off and just talk for hours. The downstairs living room held a lot of family history. The living room was the place where movie nights and Christmas would take place, where my sister and I would argue about who sat in the comfy part of the sectional with the perfect view of the mounted TV. The kitchen was where I had learned to cook, with marble countertops which I still admire to this day, and the driveway was where I first began to panic behind the wheel of my parents’ old equinox.
During my first year of university I opted to stay in residence. Pulling into campus I felt so much excitement, everything seemed so different. The townhouse I was living in was dated and dirty, but it was a symbol of my independence, living on my own for the first time. When we walked into the house, there was an overwhelming stench coming from the fridge and an abundance of dust on the baseboards. My bedroom was much smaller than the one I had at home, yet I was overwhelmingly excited to decorate it. Living on campus was a captivating environment for me as it enabled me to witness diversity for the first time in my life
Characteristically, small towns are known for their limited cultural diversity as they are typically predominantly white. In Port Elgin, there was no sign anywhere of any ethnic restaurants, and most businesses aside from McDonalds and Subway were local. Unlike most small towns where the areas could not afford local businesses to thrive, the businesses in Port Elgin were typically owned by wives of men who worked at the plant and were ran as hobbies. In Mississauga. I could go anywhere and see ethnic restaurants, and I was surrounded on campus by people of various races and ethnicities. Mississauga was a stark difference from my experiences in Port Elgin, as there is a lack of local businesses, many in the process of being shut down, and an overwhelming abundance of chains.
The townhouse symbolized a lot for me. It was my first time being on my own, and it enabled me to see communities in a different light. It was drastic seeing the stark difference between Mississauga road and Fowler drive, an economic diversity that I was not accustomed to seeing, let alone living in. My roommates and I had grown up very differently, we spent hours on end discussing these differences, and the ways in which these differences had influenced our decisions.
Even though living on campus was a serious change from my previous suburban living experience, the stark contrast is what allowed me to grow up. Both houses meant for me that I could be independent in different ways, but it wasn’t until I was fully able to see the different ways that people live, that I began to internalize my surroundings and adapt to the ever-changing city lifestyle, and the transition to adulthood.
Tanara Dennison-Ellerton is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto specializing in Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies with a minor in Sociology. She’s interested in inequality pursuing a career within the legal profession with specific regard to serving those disproportionately impacted by the overall structure of the legal system.