From Thunder Bay to Wellington

Conal Carswell

In 2000, I travelled across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver Island, mostly by Greyhound bus. I ended up stopping in Thunder Bay, which the 2021 census tells me is the 36th largest city in the country – so not an obvious destination. I stayed in a hostel about 16 km from the city centre, run by an elderly couple who had been missionaries. They were only there for one night, as they were going travelling – though I stayed there for two weeks.

In January 2002, I was traveling around New Zealand and stayed in a hostel in Wellington – The Terrace. I got to chatting to a Canadian guy in the kitchen. I started to tell him about some of the places I had been in Canada and a few stories about some ‘quirky’ folk I had met, and he cut me off, turned to his friend, and said, “Don’t your parents run a hostel near there?” It turned out his friend’s parents (or possibly adopted parents?) were the owners of the hostel I had stayed in Thunder Bay, which was where he had grown up.

So, when you add up all those probabilities – that I had been to Canada, that I stopped in this relatively small city, picked a particular hostel run by his parents, and that we would both be in New Zealand at the same time, chose the same hostel in Wellington, and that we would end up chatting… well, it made me smile.

On the same trip, also in Wellington, I would walk through the aisles of the main and impressive library, sometimes running my fingertips along the spines, stopping at random to pick one, and borrow it if the blurb and a few pages spoke to me. I did this perhaps over a three-month period.

I was random walking/stopping, as per normal, and picked a book, The Second Bridegroom by Rodney Hall. I flicked through a few pages and it caught my attention that it mentioned the Isle of Man, where I grew up. In fact, the main character was from the Isle of Man. More than that, the character was born about a 15-minute walk from where I grew up from about age 12 onwards.

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