Thunder Bay is a small, icy cold, snowy city on the northern shores of Lake Superior in Canada and it’s the place I was born. My parents immigrated to this frozen tundra from the balmy warmth of Calabria in southern Italy. Once they arrived and found themselves in the middle of nowhere, like fish out of water, they asked themselves, “What have we done!?” But it was too late. They were stuck with their decision and they had to make it work. Going back to Calabria, where there was no work, was not an option.
Over the years I’ve been asked, “How did Italians from Calabria end up in Thunder Bay?” I know it sounds crazy that one would leave the palm trees and olive groves for snow and minus forty Celsius. But, like most immigrant stories, it was simple. They immigrated because there was work. In Thunder Bay, the jobs for immigrants were blue collar jobs like the Pulp and Paper Mills, the Grain Elevators and the Mines.
One day, a few years ago, I was on the telephone, long distance, with my mother and we were discussing some natural disaster that had occurred in Los Angeles. I can’t recall if it was the raging fires, the mudslides or an earthquake, and my mother said to me, in Italian, “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about any of that here. I mean, it’s cold and we have a lot of snow but really the most that can happen here is that a moose wanders out of the bush.” I thought she was joking, but she wasn’t. She went on to tell me that days before, a moose had in fact wandered out of the bush from across the street and made its way into her neighbor’s back yard, where it had managed to get stuck in the neighbor’s camper trailer. Moose Technicians were called in to rescue it. The street was closed to through traffic. The neighborhood was surrounded by police cars and news cameras. All this activity had caused quite a commotion outdoors, as well as indoors at my mother’s house where everyone was calling to see what all the fuss was about in her neighborhood. As soon as I hung up the telephone with my mother, I knew I had to write Moose On The Loose. I thought about how displaced and confused that big moose must have felt, stuck in that camper trailer with everyone fussing about, all because he strayed a little. But then I thought… strayed? Did he really stray? Stray from what? That part of Canada is moose country. It’s full of trees, marsh land, lakes, and miles and miles of uninhabited land and forests that back up into back yards in small cities that have sprung up over the last one hundred years. Not too long ago, all those small cities, including Thunder Bay, were home only to moose, beaver, deer, bears, birds, The Great Spirit Manitou, and Aboriginals. So then, was the moose really on the loose? No. I felt so bad for that big moose. One minute he’s wandering about on land where moose once freely roamed, and the next, moose technicians were scrambling to tranquilize him so they could take him back to the bush. He must have been so scared and confused. After all, a moose has feelings too. Then I thought of how all the local wildlife in the area must have felt when all the people and big industry started moving in, taking over their habitat. Then I began to reflect on my family, my parents, and how displaced and confused they must have felt when they first arrived in Thunder Bay, with the locals staring at them because they were different. They spoke a different language. They dressed differently. They had their own customs. Then I thought about myself and how, even though I was born there, I never really felt like I was from there because I was the daughter of Italian immigrants who were still Italian citizens when I was born. They raised me to be more Italian than Canadian, yet I was Canadian and so growing up I didn’t feel like I fit in fully as an Italian or Canadian. Then I realized that all immigrants must feel displaced and confused and that their children must feel exactly the way I felt growing up. I thought back to the confused and displaced moose and I realized that his wandering, his being there stuck in a camper trailer had become, for me, a metaphor for all displaced people… and so I began to write MOOSE ON THE LOOSE, a comedy about an Italian family and a Canadian moose.