Brantford is weird. There’s really no way of getting around it, but after a good deal of subjective research, it seems to be one of its most positive attributes. This city; home to a fairly average transit system, a standard uptown mall and a totally median number of Tim Horton’s per square mile, without its endearing quirks and edges, would be just another small town with an overinflated ego. That all sounds exceptionally harsh, and yet it’s not intended as such. Most of the students who’ve been on campus for a year or more, while self-depreciating about the strange setup of the city, are fiercely protective and thrilled to be involved. Geocaching, which is basically looking up coordinates and finding hidden treasures around town, is one of Brantford’s major ‘sports,’ and a solid metaphor for how things work here. Generally speaking, there aren’t flashing neon lights or road maps to fun, you earn your place. Are you into art, fashion, food, or a whole host of other hobbies, fantastic, there are incredibly special nooks for you here, but you have to find them and sometimes you have to carve them out yourself. Hopefully I can provide a small list, and a tiny plea, to be adventurous and get out there.
First piece of advice, take a walk down Brant Street. Do it, I promise you won’t be sorry. At first, it’s going to seem strange. Though the campus is integrated into the downtown, there are very clear borders that you’ll find yourself maintaining naturally if you don’t make a conscious effort to leave. On Brant, within the five first blocks you’ll find the best pizza joint in the city, a fair trade cafe and a very trendy vintage shop. The Blue Dog Cafe is a right of passage. Are you a vegetarian? Do you like live music? How about political meet ups? Would you like to browse local art? This is the place for you then. It’s low-key, quiet, fun and the hub of Brantford’s downtown culture. A little further, as promised, you’ll find Netty’s Vintage. This place is an absolute treasure, with reasonable prices on vintage items (I found earrings made from gold dipped lettuce, how freaking cool is that?), a shop owner who is not only warm but also incredibly helpful and a super beautiful atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to stop at other places along the way.
Second, go to the river. It’s basically a few steps away, and it really is amazingly beautiful. There are trails that take you across the city, serene places to have a picnic and stumps to sit quietly and think. With the exception of wild geese attacks, it makes for a great, fun, safe afternoon. Of course, you can also get yourself a canoe, a raft, even an inflatable tube, and explore the waters. While it’s probably not terribly encouraged by the city, people have camped on the islands in the lake before. In many ways it’s like having a wilderness paradise in your own backyard, without the risk of bear run ins or hunting accidents, yet people often treat it as if they’re going to wind up in Deliverance, part two.
Lastly, try new bars and night joints depending on your mood. You’ll find pretty quickly that Laurier students have their established places, but utilizing the strengths of each spot in town, based on what it offers, and what you’re interested in, will put you ahead pretty quickly. All Brantford students love the Piston Broke; it’s clean, has live music on Thursdays and is crazy close to campus. If you want a low-key evening while watching sports or playing pool, this is the place to go. While in a pinch, Boston Pizza will do. Therapy Lounge is also a great place to go on deal nights or when student bands are playing. Spots that might seem a bit intimidating at first, like The Alex, or Rodeo, can actually be incredibly fun when done in a big group (example, they have rocking karaoke nights).
So, instead of playing it safe, get out and experience the city. It’s very easy to walk right past interesting and fun places, particularly with the stigma that Brantford has nothing to offer. The truth is that there are a plethora of options, but if you never leave campus, you won’t ever find them.
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