What we leave behind: On growing up in Lindsay

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Queen Victoria P.S. today. Photo: Erin Smith.

They call it ‘relative poverty.’ Growing up in Lindsay in the east end in the 1970s and early 80s, we didn’t have much money. Mom ensured we didn’t miss any meals and she always did her very best, but I know there were some field trips my younger brother and I missed out on, and our clothing wasn’t always the latest and greatest.

Atari became a thing in my generation, but it was something I would experience only at a friend’s house. Most of the time for fun we did other things, like watch mile-long freight trains inch across Queen Street, hoping they flattened our pennies into new possibilities.

Publisher Roderick Benns.

Life back then for me was about the here and now, not the future. When I left home at 17 the only thing I had in my back pocket was the experiences I had gathered at home and the guidance of key teachers – not any kind of monetary boost from family.

I began thinking about the inherent advantages of starting out with such a boost after reading a fascinating study recently by Stan Boutin out of the University of Alberta, on red squirrels.

Turns out that those red squirrels that inherit food reserves from their elders grow up to be much more successful than their peers. They’ve got a little something to get started with in life and it positively impacts not only these specific rodents but the larger red squirrel communities.

The parallels to human society are obvious. It’s the whole ‘equality of opportunity’ versus ‘equality of outcome’ argument. Equality of opportunity people say everyone has an equal chance in life, while conveniently ignoring the fact we’re all starting from different points and that our life experiences create both advantages and disadvantages. A youth whose life was constantly disrupted by homelessness hardly has the same opportunity in life as someone who was born into wealth and familial stability.

Roderick Benns, circa 1979 or 1980, at Queen Victoria P.S.

Equality of outcome people believe that the general economic conditions of our lives should be fairer, at least to get started. (Certainly there will be some people who will inevitably do more with their opportunities than others.)

My years at Queen Victoria Public School seem long ago now, but also like yesterday. Some of the people I used to know from those early days went on to interesting careers and fulfilling lives. Still many others didn’t.

What keeps me going is knowing we have a chance to advocate for policies that create more fairness and more chances for success for all of us. We can build our community together and improve the shape of our lives and for those lives yet to come.


  1. Mina Coons says:

    This is a great story. Through your determination things have sure come together for you and the family.
    The Lindsay Advocate has been a total success.
    True things could have been much easier with more money available but apparently it wasn’t impossible to do. Keep up the good work.

  2. I enjoyed your story and the message it conveys. Your story also reminded me of my days growing up in Lindsay and of heading off to college only needing my summer earnings to cover my costs. It is so much tougher now , to pay for college . A great big disadvantage to be sure. thanks, for sharing your story.

  3. Michelle Cameron says:

    Lost are the days where single mothers can feed their children 3 meals a day. Poverty has become the governments dirty secret. Instead of helping our own, they are doing as always, pushing ideas and supporting the middle and upper class…all the while doing everything to make those of us on ODSP and other government programs like the dirt that is being swept under the carpet…made invisable, yet again.
    I was one of the middle income tax payer with a retirement plan I made sure to put as much money in as I was allowed. I had my take home amount many times to be less than the amount I paid into taxes…yet every year at tax time zi always owed. Even with getting an extra 10 to 20 % of taxes taken off on top.of what the government required.
    Then I became disabled to no fault of my own. When I used up all of my unemployment sick leave I was told to apply for welfare. Nice slap to my face. Any pride I still had the day I went in….was taken away by the time zi left.
    I had money that I put away for my retirement. I had locked my money into RRSP’S, And Mutual Funds. I was working hard so that I would be able retire comfortably.
    Well untill I cashed in every last cent, and used those to live on…only then as long as I brought in the proof that I no longer had a cent to my name…only then was I to come back and only then would the government help me.
    Yup they put me on welfare. So I was now getting just over 500 a month to live on. However my medications were covered.
    Trying to live on that amount of money, is pretty much impossible. And I had to make a choice. I could only find rooms that were mostly drug houses. So I would never be safe..or enter the world of homless shelters. And that is terrifying enough. I used to own a house. A car…I donated to places like this.
    The shelter I ended up in…somehow gave me back alot of myself that I just kept looseing.
    Without them I would prob never have gotten on ODSP. I had been rejected once alteady. But thanks to their knowledge, I now was going to be liveing on just around 1000 dollars a month
    Its still not enough to actually live. There are 2 portions to our checks.
    Our payment is broken down into 2 portions. Rent and well the rest is for everything else we can afford with it.
    The rent…the top amount that every person on ODSP recieves….479. Now please you tell me what 479 dollars will get you for a home? We are allowed to use money from the rest of our check to top up our rent. Even rooming houses where you share bathrooms and kitchens…ones that are not noce at all run a min of 6 to 700 a month. Forget about ever really haveing a home. The rest of our money goes to phones. As much food as we can afford. Better make plans to hit foodbanks because we are lucky if we can afford to eat 1 meal a day. I never considered a piece of toast as a meal….now its normal.
    As women we need products for that time of the month. That right there can take 2 to 5 meals away for the month.
    So many people believe those of us on ODSP are liveing off of their taxes. That we don’t want to work…or are just too lazy to. We spend all of our money drinking and doing drugs. I cannot afford to eat 1 meal a day..as which has at times been a piece of toast.
    Yup party. We cannot afford to go out for a coffee at Tim Hortons with our friends. But its not like we have many friends.
    Sitting alone at home. No money to do anything….big luck out if you found a place that includes cable tv or the internet!!! Stareing at walls will only break your mind.
    So. Our lives sound amazing, dosen’t it? Every person in Ontario is one slip and fall away, one accident away…then when the reality hits them how judgemental and cruel they were. But too late.
    Mental illness grows like mold. And when you try everything to live a life again…to show how bad you just want to show you are nothing like the general public believes you are from false stories and others that with no idea talk us down…
    Yet…no one has mentioned the suicide rate among those that are disabled and on ODSP, Canada pension plan. CCP. Oh and the overdoses. Howmany of those were on purpose? We will never know.
    We all get put into the same category…lazy…stupid…why work when we can live on the government …(starve)
    Sorry long I know.
    But out of all that no one gives a crap about….why do we not start keeping track of the suicide rate for those on ODSP…And all overdoses investigated. 2 people I knew personally were put as a suicide right off the bat. But neither had any history of drug use. Or had nothing but an exact amount of a medication in their system. That anyone could research

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