Annie Pasquariello is a 31-year-old journalism student at Niagara College. She was born and raised in Fort Erie and, although it took her a long time to realize her full potential, she is headed in the right direction of journalism. She realizes her days of living in her hometown are numbered and is once again that small-town girl with big dreams.
ANNIE PASQUARIELLO/Special to Bullet News
Fort Erie may be Billy Joel’s next Allentown.
As I patiently wait for Joel to pop into this border town and get some inspiration for his next big hit, I can’t help but question my own fate.
Our small community of about 30,000 has turned into a clichéd song for blue-collar workers. I wondered if he would focus on one industry or all of them that we have lost, or all of the people who are losing jobs with very slim options. It makes for a great song, but not a great livelihood.
Growing up in a small town I actually had everything I needed and never thought I would want to be anywhere else. I always felt safe in Fort Erie and always knew that there was someone I could rely on, even if it was the couple who owned the convenience store by my house.
Being a good citizen actually meant something to people.
As a teenager, my Saturday nights were spent at Meteor’s games or if we were lucky enough one of our parents would drive us to Niagara Falls. Going to Lakeshore Catholic High School was another great experience for me and even the 30-minute bus ride to and from school was surprisingly fun. Without a care in the world, I worked a part-time job at a local butcher shop and couldn’t wait to “grow up” and be an adult. The future looked optimistic.
As I got older and boredom set in, I decided that I wanted to leave Fort Erie and live in a big city. I tried Ottawa and Toronto for school but eventually found my way back to Fort Erie. At Carleton University, I studied communications but it didn’t last long because as hard as it was then – I can admit it now – I was a little homesick. Toronto was fun but I couldn’t fathom living there – paying Toronto prices and ending up with a job in retail after studying fashion at George Brown College.
That was the reality of it all and I realized being an adult wasn’t what I had envisioned and Fort Erie seemed like the logical answer.
I was in a rush to get out of Fort Erie — again — but with no plans. I was working at a spa at a hotel in Niagara Falls but the business depended on tourists, so during the slow season our hours got cut. I knew I wanted to get back into writing but wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest the money into school again.
In a conversation with a friend she said, “What does any big city have that Fort Erie doesn’t? You have everything you need here.” Well, friend, Fort Erie doesn’t have jobs.
Within the past couple of years we have seen the slots at the racetrack close with the uncertainty of the racetrack staying open. Also all closing are DMI Industries, Jarvis St. Pharma, the Welcome Centre and most recently, Vertis Communications.
We barely even have a hospital, which causes even more concern about building a future in this town many of us refer to as Fort Dreary. Seeing family (including my brother) and friends losing jobs is frightening and depressing. To witness firsthand how people feel when they lose a job is devastating. Everyone is anxious just thinking about what will (if anything) come next, and how they will support a family.
When my brother lost his job at the slots I think my mother was more stressed than anyone. A parent only hopes for the best for their children and wants them to have better opportunities than they had. Unemployment isn’t anything new to our family as my father had his own construction business. Winters were slow and some years were better than others. My parents would never want that same financial uncertainty for us. Even if times were tough, we never knew how bad it really was because my parents still provided everything and more that we ever needed.
What I loved about Fort Erie was feeling safe and there was a comfort I always felt here. Those feelings have naturally subsided as I know I will have to move to find more work opportunities. Being done school in April is exciting and scary because I have no idea where I should even start looking for journalism jobs. Newspapers are also downsizing.
Even when I think about personal aspects of my future – if I decide to have children – would I really want to raise them here anymore?
For many young people, moving isn’t going to be an option but a necessity until solutions and new ideas are made to create a flourishing economy. Fort Erie is a beautiful border town with potential, but just like me, potential can only get us to a certain point.
I hope to come back again, but in my golden years and live by the water and hope that Fort Erie hasn’t become a town that people just sing about.