- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

I was watching this little video of Kelda Mikalson dancing with her wee ones at Music Together and it struck me that she has been part of our community for more than ten years now.

Why do people come here? It is a familiar question in social media and coffee shop chatter in Owen Sound. Why do they stay? Is there any life here for young people?

kelda5For each person the story is different, and tells us something about ourselves and our community. Here is Kelda's story.

When Kelda's parents made it clear that they expected her to go to university after her trans-Canada Katimavik adventure, she chose to study the thing she loves most – music.
After she graduated from the University of Lethbridge with her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, she travelled to Toronto to visit her grandmother, and I invited her to Owen Sound to visit me and see my brand new Around the Sound Local Food Market. I had a bit of an ulterior motive, since I knew nothing about running such a store, and she at least had worked in one. She took to the place, and returned weeks later with all of her possessions.

Any success of Around the Sound, I owe to Kelda, and we expanded the next year to a larger location. Kelda put together a true community vaudeville show to raise money to build and equip a full community kitchen which we launched with a fabulous cooking class of local food. A few weeks later, the store was destroyed in a fire, never to be rebuilt.

Stay or go? Kelda had to make the choice. She went to work as a server at the Bean Cellar and The Dhaba, and then went to Georgian College to become a Personal Support Worker (PSW).

On her time off, she travelled – to Toronto to visit her grandmother, to rehearsals and concerts with the A Capella choir in Port Elgin and the Lighthouse Swing Band in Kincardine, and to get her credentials in Music Together. Here at home she produced and sang a series of concerts of wartime songs, played Mother Superior in the OSLT's Sound of Music, danced with the Fiddlefern contra dancers, planted a patch in a community garden and spent as much time as possible swimming in the bay.

One day Kelda's mother was visiting from Calgary and the two were walking by a small house for sale and picked up a real estate sheet. I think Kelda's mother thought there was a zero missing in the price – which was more like the credit limit on a Calgary credit card. I don't think Kelda had really intended to buy a house, but she had saved money living with a series of roommates here in Owen Sound, and had enough for the down payment.

Since she's been a homeowner in Owen Sound, Kelda has had housemates from India and Mexico – a Georgian College power engineering student and a Queen's graduate student doing his thesis project at M'Wikwedong. Currently, two young women share the house with her – a student and a new MNRF employee who is deciding herself whether to buy a house in Owen Sound.

Kelda now works at Country Lane Long-term Care in Chatsworth as an activation assistant – kind of like a cruise director, running everything from trivia contests to petting zoos to birthday celebrations. We share the Hubmobile because, as you all know, there is no inter-community public transportation. And she has to dash back and forth because she also teaches vocal music at Long and McQuade two evenings a week and does Music Together with pre-schoolers and their caregivers one morning.

She sings and dances, shops at the Farmers' Market and rides her bike. Supports local crafters, charities, artists and musicians. Bakes bread, goes to short-story club and adds to her house from the Re-Store.

But there are still days when Kelda asks herself why am I here? She has very transferable and marketable skills, a house that has appreciated in value and her own needs are modest.

People arrive in places by design or serendipity. It may be a job, or love, or a dart on a map. They stay for reasons they themselves can't always articulate.

We want to put some colour and texture into the portrait of our community, and we welcome your stories or stories of people you think we should interview. How did they come, why did they stay, where did they go and how did they take Owen Sound with them? Why did they come back?

Communities are built out of people like Kelda. And people as different from her as can be. And that's just the way I like it.

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