I’ve heard it said that you can’t go home again; returning as an adult to the world from which you came will never feel the same. For me, that world was a small town in Southwestern Ontario called Palmerston, which my sisters and I call Ptown. Palmerston is a former rail town which was once one of the main rail hubs of the region, where trains came for repairs. The proud train history of Palmerston is still visible everywhere, from the pedestrian walking bridge over the train yard to the Old 81 steam engine uptown. People once believed that Ptown would become a thriving city, and then diesel arrived and killed the steam engine. Palmerston did not become a thriving city. A long standing joke among residents is that the town has a most appropriate postal code, 'N0G 2P0': No one goes to Palmerston, Ontario.
Regardless, when I was a child, I loved growing up in Palmerston. Ptown in the 1980s and 90s afforded amazing freedom and independence for kids. By the age of seven, I’d ride my bike with my friends to the Norgan movie theater for the Saturday matinee. In the summer my sisters and I would ride our bikes to the public pool, then drop them in a pile, unlocked, along with the bikes of half the other kids in town.
For many years, the town was my playground, but when I hit puberty, things started to change. It wasn’t necessarily that the town itself changed, but that my perspective did. The beloved Old 81 had become derelict and abused. The Norgan theater closed as a result of asbestos, breaking our hearts. The lovely walking bridge fell into disrepair and was closed to the public. By the time I left for university, the town was in rough shape. It felt too small, it lacked opportunity, and it no longer felt like a place where I belonged.
(Photo credit: https://railwaypages.com/ontario-railway-station-museums)
In the following years, Palmerston underwent an amazing transformation. The town of Minto (the amalgamated town Palmerston is part of) bought the Norgan theater and gained a Trillium grant to fix the asbestos and upgrade the camera equipment. It is now the only municipally run theater in Canada, and is totally volunteer powered. The train station which had been boarded up and in disrepair throughout my entire childhood was gutted and renovated, and is now a rail museum. The Lions club, with volunteers, muncipal and provincial partners built an incredible park through the centre of town, repairing the bridge and building lovely walking paths, a playground and a pool. The old library was renovated and became another incredible community space. TG Minto came to town, creating job opportunities and investing back into the community, giving the town the economic lift it badly needed.
While I admired these things, I didn’t really appreciate Palmerston for all it had to offer until I unexpectedly found myself living here with my parents during the pandemic. The town that had once felt like my prison became my safe haven. My decision to come home was motivated almost entirely by my need to be with other people. I’m so very fortunate to have parents that I consider my friends and that they were happy to have me come home for an indeterminate amount of time. The only factor that Palmerston played in my decision was that it would certainly be a lot less crowded than the city.
Returning to Palmerston, the first thing I noticed was that nothing felt different than it usually did when I visited. Unlike Toronto, where everything was suddenly a ghost town, Palmerston was never packed and bustling to begin with. My first weekend back, I went for a walk around town, and took myself over the bridge. Even in the years I didn’t love Ptown, I never stopped loving the bridge. A week later, the bridge was closed, and it was another month and a half before it reopened. The day that it did, I happened to be walking by chatting with my friend on the phone, and was so overjoyed that I immediately had to walk over it once again.
That evening, I saw my town clearly in a different light. Where I had once been critical, I now could now see all the beauty of living here. Many things have changed in the years since I left. Some things haven’t changed at all. Kids can still leave their bikes on their lawns without worrying they’ll be stolen. Every person you pass when you’re out walking smiles and says hello. The small town sense of community is as strong as ever. But the things that have changed have changed for the better. There is community art all over town, in the form of tiny trains that have been painted. Banners hang off street lights with images that children in town have drawn. Last year, Palmerston hosted the first Minto Pride, and this year, I was pleased and amazed to see pride flags flying at Palmerston public school and adorning the lamp posts up town. The town has become significantly more diverse, and community leaders are making it clear that they value that diversity.
Every day, I go out walking and running on the wonderful nature trail that my sister helped me discover, thanks to the “No One Goes” page on facebook. To get to the trail, I run through downtown Palmerston. Sometimes, I take the bridge. Sometimes, I run by the Norgan and the library. I always pass the Old 81 before reaching the trail that I’ve now seen through three seasons. I’ve run through snow and rain, and watched spring slowly unfold into summer. I’ve seen deer and groundhogs and chipmunks, and the chorus of birds has become the soundtrack of my morning walk. The Palmerston Minto Trail has become a cornerstone of my life here in Ptown, and I am deeply grateful for it.
I don’t know how long I’ll be here in Ptown, and I still have a strange sensation that I’m floating outside of my life, suspended in a state of timelessness while living in my childhood home. But, when I decided to come back to Palmerston, I never imagined that it would change how I saw the town, and that I would come to appreciate it anew. It turns out, at least for me, that you can go home again, and sometimes, it’s even better than you remember.