Archive for February, 2021

There will be plenty of voices out there these days, and every single one will have a different opinion about what’s been happening to the university that most Sudburians have known for all of our lives. Now, there are some professors who have come and gone, just stopping by on their way through town, but there are also some who’ve decided to plant themselves and fashion lives here. For those of us who were born here…well…the university is the quiet heart of the community that we’ve maybe sometimes taken for granted. It’s an obvious landmark on the shore of Ramsey Lake. It’s been here since 1968, but not in the way we know or recognize now. I was born on November 29, 1970. Laurentian is two years older than me. Ancient, but not. Still young. Still evolving and changing….especially now.

I often spend mornings walking the boardwalk, and I love watching the sunrise…but I always look towards the silhouette of Laurentian…because…for me…it’s a poem and a painting.

If you’re a Sudburian, if you’re ‘basin born’ as I say in my hospital window poem, it’s likely you might have attended Laurentian University. A lot of Sudburians, and plenty of Northern Ontario folks–people who are proud members of the Laurentian University Alumni Association–have kids and grandkids who are now students there. The building itself has been part of my family’s landscape for decades. Two of my uncles, Peter Ennis and Jeno Tihanyi, were instrumental in bringing accolades and helping to build Laurentian’s reputation. I miss them terribly, and I’m proud of both of them in equal measure. I am proud to be their niece. I remember how much of their lives they gave up to their students, their programs, and to fighting passionately for whatever they thought would make Laurentian a better place in the earlier days. They didn’t think of it as a “just now” place to work, but they loved it fiercely. It was my uncle, Peter, who coined the term “Pride and Tradition.” I don’t know if it’s still painted on the wall of the gym in the Ben Avery Building, but it was when I spent a lot of time there, in my under-10s, teens, and 20s, watching his basketball games on Saturday nights from the bleachers.

So. I am going to tell you about my love story with Laurentian, and why I know we need to fight for it here in Sudbury and in the North. There are enough people taking the past and current administration to task, and there are definitely certain people who should be held accountable, but none of it seems very clear to me right now. That will come out as they investigate it all, I’m sure. I’ve read the media coverage carefully. I have. But, mostly, I’ve been grieving the news of what’s been happening, because it makes me angry. Someone on Twitter started speaking poorly of Sudbury and of Northern Ontario, blaming LU’s insolvency on how horrible it must be to live in this part of the world, which I find ridiculously ignorant. When I was Poet Laureate, I found myself constantly trying to tell people–while I was in other places at literary events and book launches around the country–that Sudbury was no longer the Sudbury of the moon landing story (which is so stale and overdone now, anyway, really). We have evolved. Thank goodness we haven’t stayed the same. We’ve grown…and that’s been difficult, too. It always is…isn’t it?

For just a bit here…I want to tell you why I love Laurentian University…and why I know we need to fight for it.

I grew up at Laurentian. I spent a lot of time watching my cousins at swim meets, and being transfixed by how worked up my uncle, Jeno, could get on the pool deck when he was coaching. I mostly was an overweight, bookish girl, so I always sat up in the gallery with a book…but I looked up to see what was going on. I never liked the smell of chlorine, and I didn’t like being in a bathing suit because I was always bullied as a kid for being overweight. Girls, in particular, can be really cruel to girls who are overweight. I know this from personal experience. Still, I did learn to swim there. How could I not? My uncle ran the pool. I did my various levels of swimming, so some of you will be old enough to remember the badges we got with each level. (Who really knows where you were supposed to ‘sew them on’? I’m still trying to figure out that one!) It’s the pool where I learned to dog paddle, flutter kick, and do a shitty front crawl. It is also where I was terrified when they made us go up to the first step on the diving tower. I have always been terrified of heights. I still am. (I freeze on castle battlements…and sometimes I freak out while on escalators if someone is too close to me…but that’s a whole other blog). That the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool has been closed for a lot of this year is more than frustrating, too. Again, I can imagine what my uncle would have had to say about that. He knew that physical activity was key to a good and rewarding life. It was part of balancing mind with body. Trust me when I tell you that he would not have minced his words. He was a feisty Hungarian-Canadian. (Still…he could tell the most fascinating stories of having to leave Hungary as a young man, and how he made his way here afterwards…and he had the best laugh…and was the consummate gentleman went it came to putting women’s coats on after family parties…and helping us up the Tihanyi driveway onto Ramsey Lake Road. I recall a number of times when he would say, when I was driving my first car in my 20s, “Kim…you want to go back a bit, and then get up some speed, and keep it steady…to get over that icy patch and then up the hill.” Most often, he would have to take my place in the car and I would trundle up the driveway…after he navigated the winter mess. That hill…was a winter nightmare.)

My uncle, Jeno, with Sasa (Alex) Baumann, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

It was so amazing to see the pool named after Jeno. Here’s my aunt, Cathy Tihanyi (my mum’s sister) and Sasa Baumann.

The fondest memories I have of the Ben Avery, though, is of hanging out with my sister, Stacy, and my cousins, Liam and Kelly, and Miklos, Sacha, and Andrey at basketball games. Liam and I were the oldest…but the crew of us just tumbled around the Ben Avery like real tumbleweeds on Saturday nights when we were younger. I remember games of hide and seek, and of running races up and down the hallways outside my uncles’ office doors. We razzed our respective parents for change, so that we could stock up on chips, chocolate, and pop from the vending machines in the basement at halftime. In our teens and 20s, we were all much better behaved, thank God. (We were likely just trying to look cooler…but were still wild inside…and some of us had weird asymmetrical haircuts.)

I remember watching Peter’s basketball games more carefully then. Mostly…I can remember the love and passion that Peter brought to every game. I was so proud to have him as my uncle. (This was the same guy who used to steal pickles and black olives from Gram’s dinner table and then shush me because he didn’t want Gram Ennis catching him snacking.) Saturday nights were fast suppers at home, and Mum and Dad would bundle us into the van. I remember Gram Ennis being at the games and she was–I think–one of her son’s biggest fans. If you sat next to her in the bleachers, you could watch her eyes anxiously follow the girls up and down the court. She would yell out with the rest of us. My great aunts would sometimes come, too, especially when it got to playoffs. See…we all loved Peter a lot…and we loved seeing the Lady Vees do well. We all sat together. We all shouted “DEFENCE! DEFENCE!” and clapped and cheered at the right parts of the game. We were a big Irish family. We weren’t quiet…then. I miss those days…for all of those people who were there then, and who aren’t now.

When Peter got sick with cancer, he kept coaching. He took Team Canada to the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. He did that when he was very, very ill. He chose to live right until the end of his life, and he was the person who taught me the most about how to live life fully. Funny how you wish you could tell someone that, but then they’ve gone and you can’t. But he did that for me. And I miss him a lot. More than I can say, actually…but that’s a whole other blog, too…where I could just tell you why I loved Pete so much. So many reasons. He was the kindest, funniest, most compassionate, and warmest of uncles. (This is not to disparage my other uncles…it’s just that Peter was a bit of magic…and if you knew him, you know exactly what I mean…and there’s sometimes no way to explain why a person is just so special. You just know they’re magic, right? He was that kind of a lighthouse. You can see it here…in the joy he had when he won a game. He was happy for his players, for his coaches, for his family, and for Laurentian University. This photograph, to me, is the epitome of what passion…and joy…is about. I’m still so proud of him….)

Both of my uncles gave their lives to Laurentian. Both worked there up until they were very ill with cancer. They were passionate, in different ways, and they lived their sports. When I heard the news about Laurentian, I cried. I did. You see, these two men gave so much of themselves to help build it. And they are just two of hundreds of professors and coaches who built it up from a tiny Northern university to a world respected institution. So many people…so many Northerners…have given their lives to this university.

Now. For me…I have much to thank Laurentian for…so where to begin:

It was where I met my first boyfriend. I was a late bloomer. I lost some weight in first year and then I started to feel better about myself. I met that boy at the Art Gallery of Sudbury in third year. He was in the French section of an Art History class, and I was in the English section. Dr. Henry Best taught both of them. They were separate classes, held on different days and at different times. We met on a field trip to the Art Gallery. I was sneaky. I thought he was funny and cute…and so, after he left, I went back a few days later to see if I could find his name in the guest book. I found it. I had a bit of a crush. Then, there was a field trip to Toronto, to see the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Gardiner Museum, and–on the way home, the place I would come to love for life–the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg. That first boyfriend…well…we spent a lot of time together on that Toronto trip…talking and laughing. By the time we got home to Sudbury a few days later, I was smitten. That relationship didn’t last, but it was Laurentian that brought me my first love. For a poet, that’s a big deal. A really big deal.

There were a couple of others I fancied, over my time there as an undergrad, but I won’t mention them here…because I’m sure they still live in Sudbury. The one who ended up knowing me best was a varsity swimmer on my uncle’s swim team, whom I met when I had a Celtic music show at CKLU in my late 20s. That’s a whole other blog…that one…but suffice it to say that you need to mind young men who are tall, handsome, athletic, and who come from Nova Scotia. They’re…a lot…for a poet in her 20s. Falling in love with men who don’t mind taking spontaneous road trips with me to other cities (and provinces!)…is a problem I’ve had my whole life. If they’re willing to let me drive wherever I want to go…at the drop of a hat…in the dead of night…well…Jesus…Laurentian has afforded me those magical memories, too. Some of them are poems in books…

What I am most grateful for, though, is the English Department. I want to thank a few of those English professors, including Laurie Steven, Marilyn Orr, Tom Gerry, and Shannon Hengen, who were the most formative people for me, as a blossoming young poet. It was in Laurie’s 3rd year Modern Poetry class that I started to fall for the modern poets. What? I had studied very little poetry in high school, which is something I try to remedy in my work as a high school English teacher now. I came to love Shakespeare most deeply at Laurentian. That’s also where I met William Butler Yeats in an intense way, along with Seamus Heaney. I would end up writing my undergrad thesis on Yeats’s faery poems, and the Irish Renaissance. Then, I’d move along to Carleton University in Ottawa to do my Master’s thesis on the bog poems of Seamus Heaney, in relation to The Troubles. I threw a bit of art into that MA thesis, too, so I figure I’ve always been a bit ekphrastic. I can thank Laurentian for that, too…because when I was back in Dr. Best’s class, I volunteered at the Laurentian University Museum and Art Centre (LUMAC). It would become The Art Gallery of Sudbury (AGS) later, when I worked there for a while back in 1997. So, you see…I can thank Laurentian for my love of English, of poetry, of art, and of late Friday night poetry readings in what was the ‘new’ student centre in the 1990s. I still remember the night we all gathered in that new lounge to watch the Quebec Referendum results roll in. I mean…that was historic…for the time.

People will be casting stones now about what’s happened…but I think it’s important to remember why a place like Laurentian University is important to you, if you’re a graduate. Ask yourself what it’s given to you, and what you’ve given back to it. For me, it’s been an anchor through a life that’s been challenging, to say the least. It gave me the words I hold so dear. Those words have carried me through depression…and a lot of loss. Those words…that grounding in literature…came from Laurentian. I’m never really lonely because I have my words…and the gift of writing was honed at Laurentian. It is, for me, the dearest place…

My undergrad degree gave me the grounding in English to go on and publish my first little chapbook, You Must Imagine The Cold Here, with Laurie Steven’s Your Scrivener Press, back in March 1997. We had that book launch at the Art Gallery, and we had an Irish band and a bit of ceili dancing. Mrs. Bell’s ghost was pleased, I think. When I was at Carleton University, in 1994-95, I met John Flood, who taught a course in how to research properly at the graduate level. He also was the publisher of Penumbra Press, which published my next two books, braille on water (2001) and The Narcoleptic Madonna (2012). I would end up publishing Some Other Sky (Black Moss Press, 2017), after I became Poet Laureate and met Marty Gervais in Windsor while reading at Poetry at the Manor. He knew I had a manuscript ready and asked to see it. All of this publishing stuff swirled through my life, and I’m sure that–from a distance–from the outside looking in, it looked as if I hadn’t worked very hard at all. But…my writing has always been my passion. I love words. I’m 50 now, and I’ve not stopped writing–in a really serious, focused way–since my early 20s. Guess where I was when that started? Sitting in those old lecture halls at Laurentian and lugging around a massive 4th year textbook of Literary Criticism essays…and sitting cross-legged between the stacks where the Irish lit books live…and soaking up Frankenstein, and To The Lighthouse, and The Mill on the Floss in a new way.

Too, my ability to work on strengthening my writing meant that I got to work with Timothy Findley through the Humber School for Writers in the late 1990s, as an emerging writer. He was, for me, the first person who encouraged me to consider myself as a writer–of prose, and not just poetry. Lawrence Hill, too, deserves much gratitude for telling me, at Sage Hill Writing Experience in the summer of 2014, over a conversation in the lounge at St. Michael’s over a cup of coffee, that I was maybe needing to think of myself as more of a writer than “just a poet.” I had told him I had an idea for a novel, but was “just a poet.” He shook his head. That conversation changed me again. He told me that I should write the novel I had in my head and heart..and so I did. I wouldn’t have met either of these amazing mentors if I hadn’t had that LU undergrad English experience. Beyond that, I’ve worked with brilliant writers as mentors: John Glenday, Jen Hadfield, Ken Babstock, Susan Rich, and Marnie Woodrow are just a few who have taught me important things about my work as a thinker and writer. Plus, I had an encounter with Margaret Atwood at a writing retreat in May 2016 that was formative for me, in terms of how I view myself as a writer, and as a Northern writer in particular. We learn lessons…all the time. Some are more difficult than others…but all of them teach us new things about ourselves…and we grow.

In the 1990s, I sat on the Alumni Association Board, and I met some friends there. Some of them have drifted, as old friends will, but all of them are doing well, and contributing to this community in really tangible and vibrant ways. We grew up there, at Laurentian. We found our feet there, and we found our voices there, too. We were so young…then…

The thing I think we sometimes forget, if we’ve lived in Sudbury all of our lives, is that this university of ours was hard fought for, and it is something to be proud of, despite this recent mess. That a small group of people have done this makes me furious inside. Laurentian is all about what my uncle termed ‘Pride and Tradition.’ It still is. We need to remind ourselves of what good it’s brought this town, this region, this northern part of the province. So much of the beauty we’ve enjoyed during the pandemic, on the hiking trails, is about the re-greening programs that started through LU in the 1970s. Think of the work done by the scientists and researchers who work at the university, and of the significance of the Living with Lakes Centre to environmental reclamation and protection of plants, animals, and insects. Think of the fact that Laurentian has a literary journal to be proud of, in Sulphur. Think of the medical school and the school of architecture. Think of the importance of how those programs have grown. Think of how much Laurentian has grown since the 90s, and of how Sudbury itself has blossomed because Laurentian blossomed first. Sudbury just wouldn’t be what it is today without Laurentian.

This doesn’t solve anything right now. I know that. It doesn’t make it less stressful for anyone who works at Laurentian right now, whether they are librarians, or professors, or security guards. That is the hardest part of this thing–the human part. Sometimes things fall apart…and there is great sadness in that. The city is grieving what’s been happening since the news came out a few weeks ago. I think sometimes towers fall…so that things can evolve. Maybe I’m an eternal optimist, as a poet…but I do think that there are always beginnings to be found in endings. It may not feel like it when everything is crumbling all around you, but things remake themselves (just as people do throughout their lives) in sometimes interesting ways. I’m hopeful that that will be the case with Laurentian. I believe it will be. Nothing is meant to say the same, and I don’t think it could have gone on the way it was going really, when research grants were being funnelled into operating costs. That’s just wrong, and I am sure there are many professors who feel deep betrayal about that. How could they not? They’re only human. They work hard and their work is valuable. To be so sideswiped, in such a strange fashion, is horrific. There is no doubt about it. Still, there’s a quote I love that is attributed to Buddha. “Everything changes. Nothing remains without change.” That quote, to be honest, in my life…which has been full of great loss…gives me a place to be still, to find an anchor. I return to it often…in good times and in bad ones…and always in times of personal transformation and growth.

The question is…what will the change bring us here in Sudbury? And how will we adapt to it? We don’t have to like it…because who likes things that make them uncomfortable? No one. Let’s be honest. But…we grow the most, maybe, when things change. We learn new things about ourselves, and about what’s important. We strip down to our necessities, to what is most important. I know what’s important about Laurentian–it’s the people, not the fancy buildings, and it’s the passion for asking questions and going out to search for answers, and it’s the excitement about curiosity, learning, and the exploration of ideas. And…it’s about being a lighthouse for Sudbury and for the Northeast.

I am very sad about what’s happening. I’m very angry, too. But I also want to say that I love Laurentian, and that it’s part of who I am today. This 50 year old poet woman would be a very different person if she hadn’t met that first boyfriend through that art history class. She might not have started writing plays if she hadn’t seen a number of really great plays at Thorneloe in her early 30s. She might not be hefting kettlebells and swimming in northern lakes if she hadn’t grown up running races down the hallways of the Ben Avery. I don’t know. I only know that I want us to try to remember why Laurentian is important to us, how it’s formed us as people, as Sudburians….and just as humans. And I want us to be thinking of the people who are so caught up in all of this right now, and how betrayed and angry they must be feeling. But they still love Laurentian…as we all do. We can be angry at a group of people who did this. We should be. That they mishandled the affairs of a place we hold dear, as Sudburians, is inexcusable really. You can’t apologize for that…neglect of care and duty. You can’t.

There is a pride and tradition that we can carry on with here, though, despite the darkness that’s around it all right now. We can offer Laurentian that, at the very least…and perhaps…by telling our stories, by writing our love letters to a university that raised us and holds us still in its heart, we’ll remind ourselves of why we need to fight for it.

Things might fall apart…and change…but we can still have pride and move forward. What other choice is there? We survive. We’re Northerners. And…I know my uncles wouldn’t give up on Laurentian…if they were still here. They’d likely be pissed off and very vocal…but they would fight for it, too. Because it’s worth it. Always has been…always will be.

peace, friends.


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