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A sense of belonging drives Harriet Madigan to community cleanliness

"That feeling of ‘I live here, this is my home’ and everyone here has an opportunity to be a contributor.”

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

Just spend five minutes talking to Harriet Madigan and you’ll understand the dedication and compassion she has to make the city of North Bay the most beautiful city it can be.

“There are 35 lakes and 72 parks within our municipal boundaries and to me, that was one of the attractions for me to live here and when I moved here, I was two blocks from the lake. Can you imagine all the people who live in Toronto who never have that opportunity?”

It was a sunny Saturday morning and Harriet and her troop of litter-conscious citizens were gathered in the parking lot of City Hall dividing up the areas they were going to clean over the next hour and a half. The Clean Green Beautiful group then went on their respective routes picking up whatever garbage they could find that had been carelessly thrown about.

But this is just one of many initiatives that Madigan has embarked on in her time in North Bay.

“I was a teacher; towards the end, I was involved in mostly adult education. Life skills, family studies, that kind of thing and I’ve owned three businesses,” says Madigan about her professional life.

She moved to North Bay in 1981 with her family and went to high school here and says, “This is where I wanted to be, this was my northern paradise.”

After a time in Gogama, Madigan says she had a conversation with her husband about going back to North Bay and she said: “II I ever come back, I’ll put my heart and soul into the city because you have to be an active member in the community to make it a beautiful community and that’s how it started.”

Madigan says she joined the local YMCA and started volunteering there because in the time between high school and coming back all her friends had left and she felt that was a good starting point to meet new people.

But she went a step further and says, “I opened Living Fit Women's Club and I started teaching again but throughout that, I noticed the waterfront had become full of weeds and overrun after the development and they didn’t have a lot of money to maintain the area so we started volunteering down there. That's where the birth of the Heritage Gardens was formed and that’s been running for 25 years, averaging 250 volunteers every year.”

Madigan says that amount of support is something that makes her especially proud to live in this city.

“I have never been disappointed with our community because when you ask people to do some small thing like putting your hands in the soil, they take ownership because its something they can handle. It’s the same with Clean Green Beautiful and picking up litter; its something we can all do, and you don’t have to do a whole lot. People respond to that because it gives them a sense of community and a sense of belonging. That feeling of ‘I live here, this is my home’ and everyone here has an opportunity to be a contributor.”

Madigan is a Kiwanis Citizen of the Year and a former Honorary Colonel and she lives up to these accolades every day by continuing to push those messages forward. She says, “I think everybody is here for a purpose, and I feel a huge responsibility to that. I constantly think ‘what kind of contribution can I make. I have nine grandchildren now, so what do I want this world to look like for them? I know that’s an old cliché but that’s what I think drives me.”

She adds, “I believe the indigenous people had it right, if you’re doing something with your life, how is that going to affect the people seven generations from now? How will you contribute?’ And my heart goes out to anyone who doesn’t feel worthy, because we are all worthy of finding a way to give back. You never know the impact of one small gesture, I mean I’m out here right now with my teenage grandson. Its 9 a.m. and he’s out here on a Saturday morning picking up litter.”   

Madigan says going forward there is still so much potential for North Bay.

She says, “We have so many wonderful features. The waterfront is a gem but there’s also Duchesney Falls, the University and College, Laurentian Ski Hill. It is so unique, and I feel like our city can be a Heritage Site because we have not just the natural features, it’s the incorporation of that into our community living, it is just amazing to me.

“The goal of Clean Green Beautiful and even the Heritage Gardeners, is to bring that beauty throughout the city. So, when you go around every corner you think to yourself ‘oh isn’t that beautiful.’ And it’s the people that are rooted here that want that to happen and want to bring joy to other people through a vehicle of planting a beautiful garden and making sure their space is litter-free. For every project that I’ve been involved in, the goal has been to make it feel like this is all of ours. We have the potential to be the most beautiful community of our size in the province and in Canada and I truly believe that.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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