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The trials and tribulations of the journey

I began my writing career in Thunder Bay almost 40 years ago. It was sudden and inauspicious.

I began my writing career in Thunder Bay almost 40 years ago. It was sudden and inauspicious. It was my first real job after university and involved in the first instance working on contract for the federal government and being fired by the federal government a fairly short time later. My sudden availability for work in a strange land complete with a sleeping giant led to the Fort William Times Journal where I still hold in my possession a full-page feature on denturists. I was fired from there a short time later although I’m pleased to say not for bad writing.

My ups and downs in the early years come back to me with a smile when we hold our Northern Ontario Business Awards program each year. This year, the dinner was in Thunder Bay, not only where I started but where some years later we started the Northern Ontario Business Awards themselves some 24 years ago.

Adding to the annual grin, I was sitting with my old friend Cliff Friesen who with his brother Harvey just sold his business, Bearskin Airlines, to Exchange Income Corporation; and Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, who started his career down the hall from me at the old Port Arthur Post Office. Michael started his career working for Bob Andras, a revered federal cabinet minister of the day, also from Thunder Bay.

My favourite part of our two-day celebration of Northern business people is the Winner’s Dinner the day before the big gala event. Only our winners, our sponsor for the evening and our team attend. We focus on telling our stories. Each winner is asked to stand up and tell theirs. How did you get started, how did you survive, what were the major turning points for you, do you have regrets, and how does the future look?

I asked one fella in our group who left a high-paying secure job in his forties to start his own risky business, about how this affected his wife. Without missing a beat, he indicated she was no longer with him, no doubt easier to say with the passage of time than when the risk of failure was weighing on both their lives.

Owning your own business, takes its toll. Ahsanul Habib, who won our entrepreneur of the year award, makes his living restoring buildings in Thunder Bay and he does extraordinary work. In giving thanks for his award, Ahsanul gave a special thanks to the tradespeople on his last project who kept coming to work without being paid.

“I just ran out of money but it is going to be fine. We open next week.”

Only in the hinterland do you find this kind of guts and trust. Happily, his wife and daughter were in attendance and pleased as punch.

It was wonderful to see the town of Terrace Bay win the award for Entrepreneurial Community of they year. I owned the Terrace Bay Schreiber News for many years and remember that community very well. For more than two months one year, after my staff in town had decided on short notice to move on, I flew to Thunder Bay from Sudbury and drove to Terrace Bay each week to sell ads, write stories and lay out the paper at our Thunder Bay newspaper, Lakehead Living. That run down the Trans-Canada focused the mind long before anyone even thought of cellphones. I’ll never forget the chicken supreme at the Red Dog Inn. That and the rye and coke downstairs.

Another winner, Derek Debassige from Manitoulin Island, won theFirst Nations Business Award of

Excellence. He has launched the Manitoulin Physio Centre which is bringing professional and affordable health care to the island and beyond. He could not wait to return to his homeland. Manitoulin is where I went to run a friend’s newspaper (the Manitoulin Expositor), which was my last way station before coming to Sudbury to start my own business.

Listening to the stories of this year’s winners, many of them living and working in towns where I have a lot of history was great. It is probably one of the only places where my story of being fired to success makes any sense.

Our mission at Northern Ontario Business is to be community developers. Beyond NOBA and our newspaper, we have started the Influential Women of Northern Ontario Awards, the international Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal and the Northern Ontario Medical Journal.

All are in place to tell our stories to the world and to ourselves. Underlying this strategy is a fierce pride in who we are and what we can be.

Thank you for supporting our effort.