Where in Canada: Places Like These

Lauren Carter takes us on a tour of the places she’s lived – from the turbulent north shore of Lake Huron, to the American Southwest, to remote Manitoba, and then just outside Winnipeg – and shares how they’ve inspired her writing, most recently her deeply human collection of short stories, Places Like These (Book*hug Press).


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Places I’ve Lived by Lauren Carter

Lauren Carter and her sister Carey on the North Shore of Lake Huron circa 1986.

I grew up on the north shore of Lake Huron, just outside the small town of Blind River. A beach called Fourth Sand was a quick bike ride from my childhood home and there, staring out at the limitless horizon, I would ponder all the places I hoped to travel to as Sarah does in my story “That Lift of Flight” from Places Like These: “In winter, the vast white platform of the huge lake became the Gobi Desert, horizon blurred by sand instead of snow…”

The waves rushing the shore of Fourth Sand Beach, Lake Huron.

Dreams became reality when I grew up. Through my late teens into my early 30s, I travelled: hitchhiked around Europe, drove up into the Andes in Chile, swam in the Dead Sea, lived in a 1972 Toyota Corolla as I roamed the U.S. southwest, hiked in the Amazon basin in Ecuador, among other adventures, tendrils of which have woven themselves into Places Like These. And yet, the more I wrote, the more I found myself eventually returning to the setting my original home, the first ground that held my roots.

In January 2013, my husband and I packed a U-Haul and moved our lives to somewhere completely different—the boreal plain and broad North Saskatchewan River of The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. There, during a frigid winter when the kitchen window thermometer often bottomed out, I began to write more deeply about home, specifically that small lakeside town, the fictional Hixon River.

At the time, I was in the last stages of my debut novel Swarm, which came out in the fall of 2013 and also features a lot of water through its fictionalized Manitoulin Island setting. To give myself breaks from the anxious process of reviewing copyedits and proofs, I dove into short story. The first to emerge was “Rhubarb,” about Mel, a young teacher who returns to her hometown for a job. There, she becomes reacquainted with her youth and her childhood friend, Josie, who had arrived in Grade Four from Saudi Arabia to become a trio with Mel and their other friend Lara.

“In the schoolyard, we watched as she wound her fingers through the chain-link and stared out at the lake, at the fishery’s squat white boat moving out and back in, seagulls accompanying them like kites. I wondered what it was like moving somewhere with so much water after a place with so much sand.”

After “Rhubarb”—which won the Prairie Fire Writing Contest and then appeared in Best Canadian Stories—came “Empty Nest.” Then “Stories.” Then “Triple Feature.” All in and around the same town. My next linked story turned into a deeper dive; it became This Has Nothing To Do With You, my second novel.

I ached for home in those early years in Manitoba: for the Canadian Shield, for the blue-green landscape of Georgian Bay, the blaze of autumn colours in the hardwoods, summer vacations on Manitoulin. Looking back, it makes sense that I would answer that longing through writing while also asking questions about place, about what it means to relocate, to navigate the hardships of the heart in foreign terrain, to search for roots in both physical surroundings and one’s own self. Ultimately, these questions became the foundation of Places Like These.

In “Empty Nest,” teenager Mel ponders the meaning of place, including those she’s never seen, while talking with Lara about the winter that Lara has spent in northern Saskatchewan while grieving the loss of her brother Pete.

“Pictures filled my brain. Of Pete, of course, but also the prairie she’d described, spotted with islands of trees and animals, veined with rivers. It made me think of the estuary my dad had taken us to the summer before, where the French River meets Georgian Bay and the Shield erupts out of the ground and it’s like the earth has shattered and your boat is moving through all this rubble. It couldn’t be anything like that, I knew, but was it?”

After moving 24 times in my adult life, I have finally settled. I live in the Prairies now, just outside Winnipeg, on Treaty 1 Territory and within the Metis homeland. The last story I wrote for Places Like These is “Grass Fire,” set in a tallgrass prairie pocket where the native plants—big bluestem, blazing star, wild bergamot—can thrust their roots up to 20 feet deep. But water is always close. Our 1.34 acre property (part of which we are restoring to endangered tallgrass prairie) is within walking distance to the Red River. We’re also a short drive from some of the most spectacular, practically secret white sand beaches in the country. There I can stare out at Lake Winnipeg’s limitless horizon and ponder all of the places I have been.

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Lauren Carter is the author of four books including the novels This Has Nothing To Do With You and Swarm and the poetry collections Following Sea and Lichen Bright. Her first novel, Swarm, was on CBC’s list of 40 novels that could change Canada. In 2014, her short story “Rhubarb” won top place in the Prairie Fire fiction prize and appeared in the annual Best Canadian Stories (edited by John Metcalf). Her work has also been nominated for the Journey Prize and longlisted multiple times for the CBC Literary Prizes in both poetry and fiction while also earning multiple grants, including the Manitoba Arts Council Major Arts Award, given to Manitoba artists whose creative work shows “exceptional quality and accomplishment.” She grew up in Blind River, ON, and has lived in the Greater Toronto Area and The Pas, MB. She currently resides in St. Andrews, MB.

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