Redefining home
The search for belonging in the smallest of places.

For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in the same house. My definition of home was the walls of my childhood bedroom, the green grass of my backyard, and the designated chair in the kitchen with my name on it. Home was the comfort of my red-painted house, the nearby lake surrounded by mountains, and the home-cooked meal on the table at 6 p.m. every day. For the first 18 years of my life, my definition of home remained the same. 

And then I moved away. And everything changed. 

When I moved from Port Moody, British Columbia, to Mississauga, Ontario, I didn’t quite realize all that I was saying goodbye to. Not only was I saying goodbye to my family and friends, I was also saying goodbye to the only home I ever had. While this goodbye was likely temporary, there was still something permanent about packing up my most cherished belongings into cardboard boxes and shipping them halfway across the country. 

Growing up, I always knew North by looking toward the local mountains of Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour. If I knew where the mountains were, I knew how to get home. But Mississauga doesn’t have mountains. And while moving here has certainly provided me with opportunities and advantages, losing my sense of direction was not something I was ever prepared for. 

I suppose that’s the thing about moving away, though. It makes you appreciate all the little things you took for granted, and it gives you the opportunity to find meaning in new little things.

One of my friends, Fahim, has lived in Mississauga his entire life. When I told him my sense of home was based on where the mountains were, he looked at me blankly. 

“That’s interesting,” Fahim told me, as we drove along Burnhamthorpe Road toward the Central Library. “I guess my mountains are the Absolute Towers.” 

“The absolute what?” I asked, clearly revealing my lack of knowledge toward common Mississauga landmarks. 

“The Absolute Towers,” he repeated. “Those twin-tower skyscrapers near Square One. You must know them. They’re the curvy ones.”

I nodded along. I knew the buildings, yes, but I was still taken aback by my cluelessness about the city I now lived in. 

“When I was a kid, I thought that if I ever got lost in Mississauga, I could find my way home by following the Absolute Towers,” Fahim continued. “So I guess everyone has their own version of mountains.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess you’re right.”

I looked out the car window. Mississauga is one of the flattest cities I’ve ever been to, yet what Fahim told me made me wonder if I could find a sense of home here as well. There might not be mountains, but maybe my definition of home could finally change.

The problem is that I don’t know if I want it to. I’ve developed a strange relationship with Ontario as a whole. I don’t exactly want to find “home” here—mainly because I don’t want to spend another 18 years tethered to a place. So instead, I’m learning that perhaps my definition of home can be ever-changing. On some days, home is where the mountains are. On others, maybe it’s something else entirely. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to travel the world. And at 20 years old, I can finally say that I’ve done it. 

Last spring, I traveled to Europe for the first time, visiting 10 countries in 30 days. It was my first time leaving North America, and it was also the biggest solo trip I’d ever done. Despite arriving in London on my own, I had the pleasure of meeting up with 50 strangers for our guided European tour. Fifty strangers who all came from different paths of life and ended up in the same place, at the same time. Fifty strangers, who 30 days later, would feel like much more.

While I was walking the streets of Amsterdam and Berlin, Venice and Rome, Paris and Barcelona, I couldn’t help but think about everyone who lived there—whether they were locals or maybe even new visitors that had just made a big move to a new city. Either way, I found myself picturing what it would be like for me to live there too, for me to call these unfamiliar places home. 

I’d left Port Moody to start a new life in Mississauga for university. Then I left Mississauga to start a new life seeing the world. As our European tour continued, I kept thinking to myself how much I didn’t want to leave. 

On the plane ride back from Barcelona to Vancouver, I watched Aftersun (2022), and there’s a quote from the movie that is entirely reflective of how I felt at the time: 

“There’s this feeling that once you leave where you’re from, like where you grew up, that you don’t totally belong there again. Not really.”

I was flying back home, a changed person, and returning to a city that had pretty much stayed the same. The fear I once had toward moving away and everything changing had transformed into a fear of returning and things staying the same. 

It’s been nearly two years since I made the cross-country move from Port Moody to Mississauga. Even though I haven’t reached the local status of using the Absolute Towers to find my way around, I’ve learned that people can find home in the smallest of things. 

As a child, my definition of home was always the same place. But now, as an adult, I realize that the way I define home is very multifaceted. Lately, here in Mississauga, I have found home in the people I surround myself with, in the nearby river that leads to Lake Ontario, in the music I listen to on the way to campus in the mornings. 

What all these things have in common is a sense of belonging. On a random day last week, I visited Jack Darling Park for the first time, and I admired how everyone on the beach took time out of their day to be outside. We all had our own lives going on, but for that moment in time, we belonged together. At that moment in time, I felt at home. 

So even though living in Mississauga has stripped me from navigating back to my childhood house (both figuratively and literally, by thousands of miles), I still find myself seeking out things that make me feel like I can belong here. 

So, to you reading this, if you ever find yourself lost in cities—both unknown and familiar—remember that pieces of home are hidden in the smallest of places. Whether it’s two skyscrapers in Mississauga or a small art gallery in the heart of Paris. At the bottom of a warm cup of coffee or in the sound of live music at a concert venue. Home is hidden all over the world, in people, places, and things. I encourage you to go find them, but don’t be afraid of how you might change when you do. 

While I certainly related to the Aftersun quote, I don’t necessarily agree with it. I believe that if it really is a home that you find, that you’ll always belong to it, no matter how far you tend to stray away. 

Staff Writer (Volume 50) — Keira is in her third year at UTM, working toward a double major in Communications, Culture, Information, and Technology (CCIT) and Professional Writing and Communications (PWC). She is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, music lover, nature enthusiast, and above all, a health and wellness advocate who cares deeply about the world around her. When she’s not working or studying, you’ll find her reading her favourite lit-fic novels in the park or booking spontaneous trips around the world.


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