Whenever I mention Rainy River, it’s usually followed by an inquiry of, ‘Where’s that?’ I would respond with, ‘Only at the end of the longest street in the world, Hwy 11 (Yonge Street). It starts in Toronto, Ontario and ends 18 hours later, in my hometown!’ My mom would always tease me that I used my travel counselor voice when I said this fact, probably a result of the four summers I spent working for Ontario Travel.
For those of you that don’t know, Rainy River is located in Northwestern Ontario on the shores of the Rainy River itself and near beautiful Lake of the Woods, the biggest lake in the area that borders not only Ontario, but also Manitoba and Minnesota.
Rainy River is a town of less than a thousand people, but it seems to get smaller each time we visit. I realize I’m one of the many who left, contributing to the reason the town gets smaller and businesses struggle to keep their doors open. But that wasn’t always the way. I remember the days when ‘Main Street’ was bustling with people and businesses seemingly stayed afloat. When you had to wait for a table at one of the restaurants; When the Canadian National Railway was at the hub of our town, employing many, people actually moved here and raised their family here. Rainy River was my world. Why would I ever want to be somewhere else?
My favorite store growing up definitely had to be Lettner’s at the top of Main Street. I remember Lettner’s being a one-stop shop for many of your household needs. My jaw would drop, and my eyes would twinkle, when I’d walk into the toy section of the store. I remember beautiful dolls lined up on the top shelf, wishing one would come home with me. Not sure why this memory resonates with me, but it does.
My parents have lived in Rainy River since they married 44 years ago. I often joke that they are ‘lifers’ because they have no interest or intention of leaving. They love it there, and rightfully so. Their home is beautiful, they have their group of friends, their routines and although groceries might be a tad on the expensive side (my opinion), houses are very reasonably priced.
The kids and I flew from Edmonton, AB to Winnipeg, MB, the closest airport to Rainy River, on Sunday, August 13th to visit my folks for the week. As excited as I was to come and visit, selfishly I didn’t want it to happen because that meant my summer holidays as a teacher were coming to an end. Ya ya, you don’t feel sorry for me, I hear it all the time.
Our visit so far has been great. Mom and Dad are always great hosts! We’ve visited both family and friends, went to the Oscar’s Bay Beach with my friend Darcy, our mom’s and and our kids, made a few crafts, drank some homemade wine, went for a boat ride with Papa, and to the annual Agricultural Fair in Emo with Nanny, and went shopping in Bemidji, MN for back to school clothes – Herberger’s, JC Penney and Target are a must! Needless to say, I need a holiday after this holiday!
Since leaving Rainy River in 1995, I’ve lived in Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, went back to Thunder Bay, England, Sherwood Park, Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Mitchell, and back to Spruce Grove, but no matter where I am, Rainy River will always be my home.