6 Reasons North Bay is Attracting All the Artists

From an old theatre that hosted The von Trapp Family to an award-winning film program, North Bay is enticing people to move to town like never before.

There is something in the water in North Bay. The creative water, that is. The former hometown of NORAD is evolving – adding to its diverse economy (that includes mining supplies, manufacturing, innovation, and tourism), with a blossoming creative sector. The list of artistic and cultural businesses and organizations is growing, with places like The Culture Club (that sells artisanal bread from a takeout window), the Fashion Art Retail MarketSuper Fun Time Trivia (billed as the world’s only live comedy trivia and podcast), and Aanmitaagzi (an Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist-run company). New folks are moving to the Gateway to the North from Toronto, the U.S., and other provinces to be part of the action. Let’s find out why.

1. An Organization That’s All About Creativity

Jaymie Lathem wearing a black toque and glasses in front of a pink painted wall
Jaymie Lathem, We Heart North Bay // Photo credit Jaymie Lathem

Creative Industries is credited with bringing many new faces to the city. The not-for-profit organization, founded in 2001 and relaunched in 2017, is dedicated to supporting, connecting, and promoting the creative sector in North Bay. According to Executive Director (and accomplished artist) Jaymie Lathem, “North Bay has always been very creative. We’ve always had lots of artisans, artists, galleries, organizations, ad hoc groups, collectives, theatre, all of those things. But the last ten years, there’s been a really big push in terms of pushing the broader community, the municipality to really see the depth of talent that we have here.” 

Jennifer Allison smiling with hand on hip, standing in front of a grey wall covered in black and white, framed photographs
Jennifer Allison, Art and Sole Academy // Photo credit Jennifer Allison

In 2014, Jennifer Allison established Art and Sole Academy in Toronto as the only full-time shoemaking school in Canada. In March 2020, she moved back to her hometown to re-establish her business – one that she considers a lost art. “I wanted to start offering workshops that eventually turn into retreats up north, so not only have clients come travel to learn in the studio and do our programming, but also embrace Northern Ontario.” For Allison, being supported in her industry made all the difference. “Creative Industries was an organization that I noticed all the work they had done promoting all the talent within North Bay. And it gave me the confidence to move here knowing that there were a lot of young professionals who had been opening up shops.” Future plans include sewing workshops in addition to instruction in shoemaking, handbags, and leather goods.

2. North Bay’s renowned Digital Cinematography Program

The Digital Cinematography program at Canadore College is legendary. Since 2012, the program has produced numerous winners of the Canadian Media Educators National Student Awards. Student Spencer Hetherington recently won the Short Drama Award for “The Day The Embers Burned Cold.” According to Lathem, “In the last several years, they have really upped the ante in terms of their infrastructure and their facilities, so that’s been a great draw to North Bay-Nipissing…to get students to study film and cinematography right here. So, we see a lot of folks come here for school and end up staying.” In 2018, a state-of-the-art post-production facility opened that is unique in North America.

3. Fine Arts At Nipissing University

A painting in black and white by Preston Tapscott, featuring a black, triangular, mountainesque figure with closed eyes. In front is a human figure crawling across a ladder with large, open eyes below, with a black door in the background. Preston Tapscott wearing a black shirt in front of a dark grey background "The Work", painting by Preston Tapscott. A handlike shape in orange and grey tones pointing toward a blue and grey background and a beige artist's easel.
"Nonpermanent Being", 2021 (left), and "The Work", 2021 (right), by artist Preston Tapscott out of the Nipissing University Fine Arts program. // Credit for both works to Preston Tapscott

Nipissing University’s Fine Arts program is a mainstay of North Bay’s arts scene. Along with local students, the program receives numerous international students – some who stay in town when the course ends. 23-year-old Preston Tapscott began the Fine Arts program in 2018, shortly after finishing high school. “I come from Kokomo, Indiana, which is either slightly smaller or slightly bigger than North Bay, so coming here, I get to know everyone…there is not like a disconnection between me and my professors.” Now, in his final year, Tapscott is completing his thesis, which includes eight Surrealist paintings. “The series is an exploration of memory, identity, and anxieties surrounding my experiences as an immigrant looking to pursue artistic growth, love, and purpose.” When he finishes the program, Tapscott plans to stay in North Bay and obtain citizenship.

4. A Red Hot Film Industry

There isn’t a soul in North Bay who doesn’t know about the growing film scene. Actors, sound technicians, directors, and the like move here for several reasons: the cost of living is less, the Northern Ontario financial incentives, the natural surroundings are diverse and inspiring, and it’s a family-focused town.

Zefred Ansaldo in a film studio, wearing black pants and shirt and with a large film camera on his shoulder
 North Bay holds a lot of draw for bigger-city creatives. // Photo credit Zefred Ansaldo

In March 2020, Zefred Ansaldo, who lives in Toronto, purchased a secondary residence in North Bay, where he works as a camera operator and director of photography. “There is not a lot of places in Canada where there is a film industry…and I shot there two to three years ago, and I thought it was a nice, little place, and they had productions going on.” Recent projects for Ansaldo in North Bay include When Hope CallsFlee the Light, and Amazon’s The Lake. “I like the town because it’s a nice small town. I like the lake. I like the nature all around. The people are friendly. It’s quiet, so if you want to create, you’re not distracted every two seconds by some things of city life. In many other places, you have like one project here and there, and they come in to just shoot a few scenes, and they leave, but here they shoot the whole thing. So, from June to December, there is at least one project shooting.”

5. North Bay’s Home For Arts And Entertainment: Capitol Centre

black and white image of Capitol Centre in North Bay headshot of Dan Misturada, smiling in front of a dark background The interior of Capitol Centre in North Bay; a stately old theatre with elegant molded celestial motifs on the walls, and golden spotlights. The rows of seating are filled with audience members and there is an orchestra on stage.
Dan Misturada serves as the Director of Programming and Events at the famous Capitol Centre. // Photo credits Capitol Centre, Dan Misturada, and City of North Bay.

The Capitol Centre is known for hundreds of miles around. Opening in 1929, this downtown landmark has featured a plethora of legendary acts – everyone from The von Trapp Family to the Barenaked Ladies. (Interestingly enough, it was the birthplace of CFCH Radio in 1931). In 2019, Dan Misturada relocated from Georgetown to start a position as the Director of Programming and Events. “There was a real great art scene and creative vibe that was going on up here, so that was a real selling feature for me to come up here.” For Misturada, the Capitol Centre is more than a venue for musicians, performers, and dancers. “We’re also a hub for the community…we have a ton of local arts’ organizations that utilize our facility and depend on our facility…places like the Dream Coat Fantasy Theatre and Toros, so this is the first place that these youngsters get to engage in the arts.”

6. Nature Inspires

Penny Heather holding a painting titled "Reminiscence". It shows a forest with sun behind the trees, painted in blue and aqua tones in a dreamlike effect.
 Penny Heather and her work "Reminiscence", 2021

North Bay has got it all – sandy beaches, the Laurier Woods, Deep Lake, Duchesnay Falls, to name only a few elements. Penny Heather, an established artist from Fredericton, moved to North Bay in October 2020. Since then, she has created works in the Fantasy Realism style from her home studio. “North Bay, what I really love so far, is all of the natural landscapes around here I find really inspiring. I really love the Laurentian ski trails…the hiking trails that are through the hillside. I love that place. I found it particularly inspiring right when the leaves were changing colours. It was like walking under this multicoloured stained glass. The light was illuminating the leaves above you, and it was just magical.” One of Heather’s new pieces, "Reminiscence", was inspired by a tree she saw on Cranberry Trail.

artist Laura Peturson, wearing a black coat, gloves and blue striped toque, painting a beautiful bird and floral motif on an outdoor wall.
Artist Laura Peturson // Photo credit City of North Bay

A great place to explore more is Creative City Crush, a marketing initiative that highlights people, organizations, and groups in North Bay’s creative sector.

About Maya Bilbao

Maya Bilbao is passionate about the history of Canada. Her work as a researcher and writer has been featured on CBC, PBS, Rogers-TV, and The Canadian Encyclopedia, among other media. She loves hiking, photography, classic jazz, anything invention-related, and finding the best possible decadent dark chocolate around. 

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