Thunder Bay

How Thunder Bay continues to inspire author Michael Christie

Michael Christie has pulled inspiration from his hometown into almost everything he's written, and this weekend, he came home to give back.

Award-winning author hosts writing workshop at Thunder Bay Public Library

A man and a woman sit across from each other at a desk and speak to each other.
Michael Christie, left, speaks during a writing seminar in Thunder Bay, Ont., with Superior Morning host Mary-Jean Cormier. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Thunder Bay has always been a big part of Michael Christie's work. 

He's pulled inspiration from his hometown into almost everything he's written, and this weekend, he came home to give back. 

The award-winning author hosted a writing workshop as part of a collaboration between the Thunder Bay Public Library, CBC Books and CBC Thunder Bay.

CBC Books and the Thunder Bay Public Library teamed up through the CBC's Library Fund, which aims to raise literary awareness and inspire the next generation of local writers in Canada.

"It was really awesome that we were able to bring it together so quickly, " said Ruth Hamlin-Douglas, the head librarian at Thunder Bay Public Library. "Michael was able to come for an absolute flying visit, it's been great for him to reconnect with members of the community, both writing and beyond."

Over the course of the two-day workshop, 11 local writers were given the opportunity to flex their writing muscles, work on their own stories and bounce ideas off one of Canada's most acclaimed modern writers.

The group included writers from all different walks of life and at different points in their writing careers. From teens whose writing potential is far beyond their years, to people like Patrick Peotto, a semi-retired former teacher and lawyer and aspiring novelist.

"I've done a lot of different things in my life, writing is probably the hardest thing I've ever done, Peotto said.

"Being in this collaborative atmosphere with different people talking about different ideas, and problems that they're going through, and [Michael] being so open and honest about what he's gone through has been really inspiring, so it's a fantastic opportunity."

Participants had the chance to gain insight into how Christie forms different plot lines, builds characters, creates suspense within his work and then see how they could apply it to their own works of fiction. Some working on horror novels, others creating their own fantasy worlds.

A group of people pose for a photo.
The writing workshop featured writers of all ages, at different stages in their writing journey. (Trevor Carter/CBC)

The first day of the workshop was followed by a live event held at the Waverley Public Library on Saturday evening, hosted by Superior Morning host Mary-Jean Cormier. The pair discussed life growing up in Thunder Bay and Christie's writing journey in front of a packed Waverley auditorium of nearly 150 people.

"This is a really important place to me, this library in particular. I used to come here with my mom when I was tiny," Christie said, pointing at a corner of the library. "I would read over in that room and just devour books."

Christie's second novel Greenwood was a big part of the discussion. Since he published it in 2019, it has been on the longlist for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, won the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award for best novel and was a finalist in this year's Canada Reads, when it was championed by actor Keegan Connor Tracy

In the process, Christie has essentially reached the status of hometown hero in Thunder Bay, a city that is most often known for producing NHL stars.  

While walking through town, passers by would walk up to share their congratulations on his recent success and share a memory from growing up in the city together. 

But it wasn't a straightforward path from growing up in Thunder Bay to becoming an acclaimed writer. 

Being an author wasn't his first career. Or his second. Or his third. Christie, a father of two, initially worked as a carpenter, as well as at a homeless shelter worker in Vancouver for six years.

"That was a hugely transformative experience for me, and an incredible dose of humanity that I still access every time I write," Christie said. "I really go for writing about people who are on the margins or who are struggling with something like addiction, or mental illness. All those experiences have fed into my work.."

A man speaks into a microphone.
Author Michael Christie talks during the Saturday evening event at the Waverley branch of the Thunder Bay Public Library in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

And before all of this, he was a professional skateboarder. 

Christie credits skateboarding with directing him towards many of his different creative interests including film, photography and, of course, writing. 

He started writing while on the road touring with skate brands, volunteering to write articles for the skating magazines.

Transitioning into a full-time fiction writer has greatly transformed his day to day life and wasn't always something he thought was possible. 

"I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ont., never knowing a writer, never really putting it together that you could be a writer. But I was a lover of literature, a lover of books," he said.

What started out as a passion for writing has turned into signings, interviews, press tours around the world and it brought him back home to Thunder Bay.

"I get a big nostalgia blast for sure," said Christie. "Just driving around I see the sights and see the trains going by and I have all kinds of feelings. It's always such a moving experience coming home."


Trevor Carter is a journalist with CBC based in Toronto.