When I head out on a homecoming, you should pray
it’s not your home

Kenogami Protestant High School’s grade one and two class from the early 1950s

In this shot of Kenogami Protestant High School’s grade one and two class from the early 1950s, there is no prize for guessing which grumpy-looking little prick is the author.

They say you can’t go home anymore, but I’m calling bullshit on that myth.

Hell, if I’ve got a case of beer in the trunk and some smokes in the console, I can and will go to anyone’s home—you should hope not yours—with or without invitation or even a particularly good reason.

And that’s what’s happening this week as I return to my home town to spread mayhem and second-hand smoke throughout a storied land.

Maybe we should change the name of my birthplace to Rodney Dangerfield because we sure as hell don’t get much respect.

The prime minister travelled up home earlier this year to announce a new rail line and port improvements with the national media dutifully reporting this would bring new jobs to “the town of Saguenay,”


The 145,000 residents of the “town” will likely just shrug off this latest slight (particularly because we know it likely stemmed from a crappy translation of the term “ville” which can mean either town or city in French.)

But you can imagine the uproar in other cities like Charlottetown, Kenora, Fredericton, etc.—all smaller than Saguenay—if they were similarly downgraded.

We expatriates take this more seriously, going into yet another slow burn as emails flow in from friends and former classmates scattered all over the planet.

And we are far-flung, children of a great Missing 12th Tribe, mainly Anglophone, that largely disappeared from our birthplace in the 1970s running away to study, seek broader job opportunities, or in the case of our parents, retire.

Many tribes, actually, considering Saguenay city and its like-named region once consisted of many towns, cities and enclaves before wholesale urban amalgamation in Quebec.

These would be the tribes of Kenogami and Arvida and Riverbend and Bagotville and Dolbeau and many more proud names that we still defiantly announce at the U.S. border when an officer demands: “Where were you born?”

More than 40 years after the mass exodus, the children of the Saguenay are still linked by the bonds that held us when we were growing up.

Starting with the security and comforts of a hopelessly middle-class lifestyle, which our parents were relieved to find after years of depression and war and surprised to discover in an unlikely urban setting isolated inside a wall of mountains and trees that cut it off from the rest of Quebec, Canada and the world.

We spent the 1950s and 60s in a unique northern snow-bound, edgier version of the sitcom Father Knows Best (whose French translation we eventually got to follow as “Papa a Raison”—a little more rigid title that reverts back to English as “Dad IS Right.”)

That TV series slant is quite appropriate because my home town of Kenogami (now a neighbourhood absorbed by the metropolitan Saguenay monolith) was pretty well owned and run by the Price Brothers pulp and paper company that employed thousands in its mill and kept us happy and loyal through a benevolent paternalism that would be considered appalling today.

The company owned our house. It maintained huge parks and had its own greenhouse to provide flowers for a short growing season. Excess steam from the mill was piped in to heat our school and churches (how’s that for “thinking green” a half-century ago?)

Price Brothers was Big Brother with all the attendant rules that governed just about every aspect of our lives. Big deal. It sure worked for us kids raised in a regimen built around the mill whistle that told us when to get up, when to leave for school and when to get home to beat the curfew that kept our exploding teenage hormones off the streets.

A centrepiece of this grand mind-control scheme was a recreational centre built by the company in the 1950s to provide a focal point for positive activities that ranged from basketball, through bowling, to crafts and amateur theatre.

One of the programs that emerged within this Price Brothers Memorial Hall was a Saturday night constant called Teen Town where we Baby Boomers became the best dancers in Canada.

This weekend, a pissload of survivors of these unique circumstances in a unique place and unique time will assemble to celebrate Kenogami’s 100th birthday and those dance nights.

City Hall dumped our own Rodney Dangerfield on us earlier this summer by announcing we couldn’t use the recreational centre for our bash. Considering how far many of us live away from our original home, we could be forgiven for throwing in the towel. That is not the Kenogami way—

Instead, we threw city hall the bird and announced we were coming anyway to party, party, party.

With this gout thing, every beer I drink is going to go right to my big toe. Big deal. So I’ll buy flip-flops.

If beer and a throbbing digit is the price of respect, take me home.

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