It was November of 2018 when I sent the official break-up text to my realtor in Toronto. After two full months of venturing half-heartedly to the big city for various apartment viewings, I had finally made the decision to stop looking for a place in Toronto entirely. 

Something was urging me to stay in downtown Kitchener. At the time, I wasn’t exactly sure what that was; I had no long-term friends here, a serving job that didn’t excite me, a very small, shitty apartment and a recent ex that lived down the street (fun!). 

The only thing I did have in Kitchener was the potential to grow in a city that was also growing.

I grew up in the suburbs of Mississauga and moved to Kitchener-Waterloo for school in 2013. I was absolutely thrilled to see streets without the same six cookie-cutter houses repeated, roads that didn’t all intersect at perfect 90-degree angles, and no SmartCentres in sight! To a kid that came from a boring suburban life, I was finally in a city that had character.  

That being said, I had always seen KW as a temporary stop, as most students do. Even the people I would meet that grew up in this city would constantly talk about planning their escape from it. It was only in the last year of my science degree when I actually decided to move out of Waterloo’s student bubble to downtown Kitchener. 

That’s when I graduated and decided not to pursue what I had studied for the last five years. Instead, I picked up a serving job and dusted off my art supplies in an attempt to revisit my creative side. 

It was around this time that I noticed a growing interest in the art I was creating from the people around me. I found myself giving away more and more of my serving shifts to spend time on commissioned art pieces and even large murals! 

It was also around this time that I started looking at places in Toronto because, “you have to move to the big city to make it as an artist” — right? A tech-dominated city like KW has no place for a creative — right? 

There’s a handful of reasons as to why I chose to stay in DTK. A very obvious reason is the cost of living, I was paying $625/month for a 250 square foot apartment in KW which would cost $1500+ in Toronto. 

I was quickly running out of room for my supplies and canvases. Sure, moving to a big city meant I could have 6 shawarma places within a 1 km radius of me, but I didn’t need that — I needed more space. 

I also needed support. I heard of so many people “escaping” Waterloo Region only to find themselves coming back in need of their support systems.  I liked seeing familiar faces wherever I went but was also a quick drive to several unfamiliar cities if I ever felt like being a stranger. 

I stayed in DTK for the community. I am fortunate to be able to work full-time as a painter/muralist and I am truly grateful for a community that believes in me — sometimes even more than I believe in myself. 

KW is going through some major change. I stayed because I wanted to witness that growth, and maybe even be apart of it.

Trisha Abe is a local artist and muralist.