Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, April 30, 2021

Making Portage Home Again, Part 4 of 4

Colin Doyle
Last week, I introduced you to Portage boy Colin Doyle. Here is the rest of his amazing story, most of it in his own words.

“In 2013, I met Cheryl whom I would marry in 2015. Cheryl had two children, Ethan and Ariana. In 2014, Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38. She was pregnant with my third child, Kennedy. All of the chemo and radiation, surgeries and stress made for an awful battle. My mom would come and stay with us from Portage to help. Dad had passed away in the spring of 2013, so Mom liked being around us. Kennedy was born healthy in September 2014. Mom was constantly back and forth from Portage to Winnipeg as our household got that much busier. In April 2015, Cheryl was considered cancer free.

“We were ready for a fresh start in a new home and new town. I pitched her the idea of moving to Portage. She had become best friends with my mom the year she was sick and the thought of being closer to her and the rest of my family was important to us both. The schools were good, the people were friendly and purchasing a home was more affordable.

“As it turned out, this was the right move. Just over a year later, in August 2016, Cheryl’s cancer returned in her brain and she was given a year to live. Being back in Portage was very comforting. Family was close and our support network was amazing. At word of her diagnosis, this town rallied around my family. Ethan played for the Trojans hockey team at the time. The parents from the team organized a schedule to have meals delivered to us daily. Kennedy’s daycare stopped charging us for their services. Neighbors, strangers, and friends all made sure our driveway was shoveled and garbage bins brought in. My employer, Irwin Flooring, gave me time off and told me my job would always be there whenever I wanted to return.

“Everyone in Portage stepped up in a big way. My sister organized a fundraiser. The people in this amazing town bought up those tickets within days. The night of the fundraiser, I saw people I hadn’t seen in years. People whom I’d never met introduced themselves and offered their time and resources for anything we may need. People opened their hearts and wallets for one reason, to support one of their own. Local businesses donated all the prizes, food, and beverages. There are too many businesses to list but if it was locally owned, chances are they donated to the cause. It was an amazing night.

“Sadly, in August 2017, Cheryl passed away. The people of Portage once again stepped up to see my family through that time. I am forever grateful to this town and its people for how they responded to a family in crisis.”

Colin’s life came full circle in March of 2019 when he ran into a neighbour from his growing-up years, Colley-Ann Bachalo. They started talking and their relationship took off. They planned a big wedding but ended up getting married in September 2020 in a very small ceremony, thanks to Covid-19.

“That’s right... I got the girl next door!”

Colin says he hears people give the same reasons he had for leaving Portage or saying they’ll never return. To them, he says, “Never say never. If you’re looking to live in a safe, friendly community, then Portage is the place to be. I would especially encourage young families to move here. More people equal more opportunity.”

Based on Galatians 6:2, I believe Portage la Prairie made God pleased and proud with the outpouring of community support and generosity for Colin and his family. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Friday, April 23, 2021

Making Portage Home Again, Part 3 of 4

MITCH MOAR grew up in Portage la Prairie, attending North Memorial, LaVerendrye, Westpark, and PCI schools. He says he enjoyed his childhood. “My main memories are of skateboarding at The Platform and playing baseball every summer. Tobogganing at the dump hill was always fun in the winter.”

In 2004, at 22, Mitch moved to Calgary. “I was making poor life choices as a young adult and thought a change of scenery would do me good. My best friend was living in Calgary, so I moved there to live with him. There was more opportunity for employment, and I enjoy snowboarding, so being by the mountains was awesome. But I missed my family, and I missed the lakes. I missed the humid summers Manitoba enjoys. I missed the quiet life that living in a small town can provide.”

Mitch recently returned to Portage with his wife and young children. I asked him why.

“Alberta’s economy isn’t what it used to be. I always wanted to move back but couldn’t justify giving up my career there. Also, with Covid, my priorities have changed. I now feel like being close to loved ones is much more important than making money.”

Mitch admits to feeling anxiety over this major transition for his family. “I used to always talk about how bad Portage was and how I would never want to live here again, but I have had a change of heart. I still think it can be very tough to be a young adult in Portage, but it can be tough to be a young adult anywhere. This city is all about what you choose to make it.

“People say, ‘the crime is too bad. There is nothing to do. It’s way too cold in Manitoba. The mosquitoes are the size of small birds...’

“Crime is bad in most places around the world. It’s up to us to help that improve. And if you can’t find something to do here, you’re not trying hard enough. Minus 15 and minus 25 both feel cold. The summers here make the colder winters worth it.”

As for the mosquitoes, Mitch agrees, “they do suck.”

I asked Mitch what he’d say to someone who’s thinking of moving to Portage.

“Portage is what you make of it. It will seem like a hole if you don’t give it a chance, but it can be a very nice place if you embrace it for what it is. I have only been back here for a month, it is extremely cold out and everything is shut down because of Covid, but I’m excited that I am home again, that my kids get to experience many of the things I got to as a child. Big city life is great for some, but I love small town living and Portage is definitely just that.” 

COLIN DOYLE was born in Portage in 1983. He attended Crescentview School and Arthur Meighen High School. He enjoys fond memories of growing up in Portage, siting the Strawberry Festival, the Portage Ex, and the big grandstand. He loved hanging out at THE place to be: the mall—listing Long John Silver’s arcade and Top40 Records as his favourites.

“I also spent a lot of my time as a teenager hanging out at The Platform,” he says. “I moved away on June 30, 2002. It was my 19th birthday.”

Colin admits he also took the attitude that Portage was too small, with too few opportunities and nothing to do. “Little did I realize Winnipeg wasn’t much different. It was much of the same but on a larger scale and wherever you wanted to go took you five times longer to get there. As you get older and you find yourself sitting in traffic for an hour trying to get home from work, or finding yourself in the wrong neighbourhood at night, you wonder why you left Portage in the first place... maybe it wasn’t as bad as you thought when you were 19.”

Colin’s first child was born in 2009 and his second, only two minutes later. Beautiful identical baby girls, Lily and Kathryn. “Talk about being thrown into the fire. My apartment wasn’t going to cut it, so it was time to buy a house. Again, you start to realize Portage definitely has its advantages, especially when it comes to the prices of homes in Winnipeg.”

Colin returned to Portage on his 32nd birthday after being gone exactly 13 years. What happened next is amazing, heartbreaking, and beautiful. Check back next week!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Making Portage Home Again, Part 2 of 4

Like a migrating butterfly, Linda Kirton has returned to Portage la Prairie more than once. She first moved here in 1959 and attended North Ward School. She also attended LaVerendrye School, Prince Charles and PCI, which she describes as “wonderful schools, at which I later worked as an Educational Assistant.” She first moved away to Alberta at 18 to join a boyfriend and marry young. She returned in 1973. “In between, we lived in Saskatchewan, too, and decided to move back to Manitoba in 2020 just when the pandemic hit as I missed my hometown and my friends. I lost both my siblings and still have a mother who resides at the Lions Manor. Even at my age, I missed my Mom as I am all she has now.”

Although she met some wonderful people on her journeys, Linda says it’s nice to be home again where people still remember who you are. “There is no place like home, I always tell people.”

Dennis McMillan’s story is similar. His memories of growing up in Portage involve sports and community clubs. After graduating from Pharmacy in 1970, he returned to Portage for nine years, then moved his family to Carberry where he ran his own pharmacy for 28 years. In 2015, he and his wife chose to return to Portage because their three children had moved away from Carberry. “We were happy to come back to Portage because my wife, Marilyn, had two sisters and some good friends here, and we had a cottage at Delta Beach.”

Dennis noted that Portage has grown quite a bit since he first moved away. “There is lots of choice for any kind of store you would want. A major employer is Simplot and now the pea processing plant. People might read the weekly paper and see lots of people being picked up for drugs and having weapons. If you check in any town, you will probably see the same thing. Guns and drugs are everywhere. Portage has done a great job with Stride Place, a great golf course, and Crescent Lake.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Kaitlyn Coates (McDermid) who left Portage in 2007 to attend the University of Winnipeg. She returned when she attained a teaching position at Agassiz Youth Center in 2012. “I also wanted to buy a house and quickly realized it would not be an option for me in Winnipeg for many years,” Kaitlyn says. “I was happy to be close to family and excited for my new job, but the people I’d kept in touch with had moved away, so I was a little nervous about coming back and figuring out a social life.”

I love Kaitlyn’s comment about complainers.

“Portage isn’t shiny and new, but it has so much heart. The best way to see the good in this town is to get involved. Kathy Thurston recruited me to get involved in the United Way shortly after I moved back, and it was such a great thing for me. It allowed me to meet people I normally wouldn’t meet. It also showed me how incredibly generous this town can be and how many services we have available. My first response to people who complain about Portage is to ask them, ‘What board do you sit on? What team do you coach? What’s your favorite local business? Where do you volunteer?’ If you’re not trying to better Portage, than you can’t complain.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

More stories next week.



Friday, April 9, 2021

Making Portage Home Again, Part 1 of 4


Have you heard it? “I can’t wait to get out of this town and never come back.”

Most often, the sentiment is voiced by teenagers and most often, they are referring to the only town they’ve ever lived in. Still, they somehow know that anywhere would be better than where they are. They almost always manage to leave. I don’t know what the stats reveal for those who truly never return, but occasionally, adults who left their hometown in their late teens or early twenties drift back. On purpose.

I thought it might be fun to interview a few people who have intentionally returned to make Portage la Prairie home again. I put out an invitation on social media and received replies from a surprising number of people who grew up here, left as young adults, and then returned to live. I’m happy to share seven stories with you over the next four weeks from Aldene Moroz,
Sharryl Loewen-MacDonald, Dennis McMillan, Linda Kirton, Mitch Moar, Kaitlyn Coates (McDermid), and Colin Doyle. I hope you’ll join us as we recognize what a terrific home we’ve actually got here.

Born and raised in Portage, Aldene Moroz left for the brighter lights and better opportunities of Winnipeg at the age of 18. “Portage gets a bad rap!” she says, recalling wonderful memories of her childhood here, including picnics at Island Park, Lions Pool, and Delta Beach. When she and her husband were ready to retire in 2010, they chose Portage because Aldene’s mother lived here and needed her help. Aldene felt excited and looked forward to reconnecting. She became involved in volunteering and was surprised to land a part time job with Sunset Palliative Care. “I’ve made the nicest friends through swimming and through Weight Watchers. People are very welcoming,” she says.

When people ask why she chose Portage over a city with more cultural opportunities, Aldene tells them, “It’s affordable. Our property taxes are less than half what they were in Winnipeg for the same size home. You can do stuff with that money!”

She also appreciates the community atmosphere. “When I lived in Winnipeg, I would go to city hall and not know a soul. Here, if I stop in at city hall, I probably know five people. I can honestly say I would never move back to Winnipeg. Portage is a gem of a city with lots to offer.”

Aldene says the key to feeling at home is volunteering. “There are lots of opportunities for people to get involved, to help out. You don’t have to stay in your own clique. I’d like to see Portage grow more, see tax incentives for businesses to come here, more variety of restaurants. I hate when people drive to Winnipeg because groceries are cheaper. What about the travel cost? Support local!”

Sharryl Loewen/MacDonald is another recent “returnee” to Portage. Born here, she grew up at Peony Farm and attended Dale Prospect, Yellowquill, and PCI schools where she made many lifelong friends. At 18, she moved to Winnipeg to study nursing at St. Boniface Hospital. In May of 2020, at 63, Sharryl returned to Portage. “Our only daughter had moved here and we wanted to be close to our four grandkids, enjoy them, watch their growth and development on a day-to-day basis.”

Sharryl admits she felt a little uncertain and reluctant at first because her husband is not from Portage. But he wanted to be closer to their daughter and her family, too. “Being born and raised here, I felt comfortable as I had kept up long time friendships, so I came back to my roots.”

She has, of course, seen changes. “We never had a rec center
like Stride Place which is a big bonus for the community. Coming back to Portage in my sixties, I feel I have a better appreciation for my roots.”

More stories next week.