City of Inspiration: Cardinal creator Giles Blunt talks growing up in North Bay

North Bay native Giles Blunt is best known for his Cardinal series–inspired by the city where he grew up. We asked about his memories of the north, and his favourite spots both past and present.

Author, screenwriter, and creator of the award-winning Cardinal crime series Giles Blunt is perhaps North Bay's most famous export. But how did this Northeastern Ontario city help launch one of Canada's most successful crime writers? If you've read the John Cardinal crime novels or watched the television series, you already know the answer: the fictional city of Algonquin Bay is based on the author's hometown. 

We got in touch with the Silver Dagger winner and two-time Dublin IMPAC award nominee to chat about his time growing up North Bay. Read on to find out where Blunt grew up, where he hangs out when he's back in town, and his advice to young Ontarians looking to get into the writing and publishing business. 

Tell us about growing up in north bay–where did your family live? 

My parents moved to North Bay when I was ten because my father took the job of Local Director at the Nipissing Children’s Aid Society. My mother was delighted to discover there was a teacher’s college, and immediately signed up. We lived by Trout Lake on Lakeshore Drive, which was fabulous fun, and later we lived downtown on Jane Street, five doors away from Algonqun Composite where I attended grades 12 and 13. The trains used to go right behind our house, and I still love the sound of trains at night.

Blunt as a young man in North Bay: "I was home from U of T for the holidays, doing a Globe crossword, and clearly freezing."

Any favourite outdoor spots in North bay? 

My brother and I used to like hiking up by the Falls, and my sister was an avid skier—so visitors always got trotted up the hills for that. Nowadays, I like to stroll along the waterfront. It’s so gorgeous now. When I was a kid, it was all train tracks and weeds and bushes; it’s really a terrific example of urban renewal. And I love to go on the island cruise. It has special resonance for me because I set the opening of Forty Words for Sorrow at an old mine shaft of Newman Island—one of the Manitous, which have some interesting history with the Nipissing First Nation.

What was your favourite place to hang out growing up? 

DeMarco’s was a one-stop shop for North Bay families looking for fresh fruit and veggies (and candy, of course). // photo courtesy DeMarco family. 

My favourite spot to hang out growing up was DeMarco’s fruit store and cafe. They had four wooden booths at the back where we would talk and joke endlessly over Coke and chips and candy bars. They also had a pinball machine which beat me every time. 

A beloved family-owned established, Demarco's was an essential business in North Bay's downtown for many years. // photo courtesy DeMarco family. 

Favourite north bay bookstore growing up? 

Growing up, I loved Fosdick’s bookstore and Bruce Office Supply. It was always so exciting to buy new notebooks for the year. It was as if you’d just gone to Confession and now you had a completely clean slate. Later, of course, there was Gulliver’s Quality Books & Toys, where generations of kids bought their first books. 

I read on CBC's Block Party that you're a musician and music lover. Best music venue and band you saw live? Is there a North Bay musician readers should check out? 

Ten years ago I was at Cecil’s for The Prophets reunion, that was a total blast. But if you’re in town and Jake Thomas is playing anywhere, you have to go check him out—he’s a true wonder of funk and blues.

A historic shot of Cecil's, founded by noted bear wrestler and brewmaster Cecil Shamus Fitzgerald. // photo courtesy of the North Bay Museum 

Is there a restaurant, coffeeshop, or pub you visit when you're back in town? 

I always meet people at Twigg’s for coffee. Since I’m just visiting, the muffins and cookies have no calories for me. I enjoy the Raven & Republic for beers and burgers. I used to meet Billy Campbell there when he was in town for Cardinal. It’s kind of a classic pub.

Anything you missed about north bay while living in New york city and Toronto?

When I was in New York I was all-New-York-all-the-time, I didn’t really think about anything other than movies and books and how to sell my writing. And when I visited North Bay at Christmas it was always -30 outside, which was a healthy reminder that New York winters weren’t so bad. When I came up with the idea for the John Cardinal books, I got much more interested in North Bay. I interviewed police, doctors, pathologists, lawyers, and so on for background, so I got to see many different sides of the city. And I renewed friendships with people I hadn’t seen for decades. 

Season four of Cardinal is based on Until the Night, part of the John Cardinal series.

what can fans of cardinal look forward to next? 

I’m working on three different book projects, in rotation. Each is at a different level of incompleteness, and I don’t imagine any will be published anytime soon. One is a crime novel, but other than that I can’t say anything about them.

Any advice to North Bay creative types who might want to follow in your footsteps? 

Read as many how-tos and take as many workshops as you want, but bottom line is, the only way to get anywhere is through constant writing practice. 

Filming for the last and final season of Cardinal wrapped in April 2020 and is available on Crave in Canada and Hulu in the U.S. The John Cardinal crime novels are available from Penguin Random House Canada and wherever books are sold. And be sure to check out more movies that are filmed in North Bay, with Hallmark Christmas films leading the pack. 

About Jennifer McCartney

Jennifer McCartney is a New York Times bestselling author. She has written a number of books including So You Want to Move to Canada, Eh? Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vice Magazine, Teen Vogue, and CBC.

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