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Introducing Humans of Stratford – a local take on the popular Humans of New York City series, featuring interviews and photography with local residents on the streets of Stratford. Each with a unique and inspiring story to tell. Created by the talented @jeffsphotos , follow along weekly to discover more.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 9
“Hey, do ya mind if I sit beside ya?” “Thanks, eh, I love to sit here and feed these little birds, eh.”
There is a calm presence about Hugh, something that feels comforting even though he is a complete stranger. This is one of the very few times that a Humans of Stratford opportunity has just came right up to me, by luck. Having a chance to sit and talk for a few minutes, it was clear too me that Hugh had a lot to say…

The story of Hugh starts as a boy growing up in Newfoundland surrounded by fisherman and beautiful landscapes. He was brought up into a family that loved music, and he inevitably picked up the drums at a young age. Hugh told me stories of how he played in bars since he was 14, and how music eventually saved his life.

I find that one of the most amazing things is having a stranger open up to you about things in their life that have made them into the person they are today. Hugh’s life has been somewhat of a rollercoaster of loss… loved ones, family members, jobs, health, sobriety, the list goes on. There is something about loss that allows you to gain a new perspective. Through loss Hugh found hope. Hope for himself.

“Now I won’t beat around the bush, I’m a member of A.A. and I actually just received my 20 year sobriety medal,” you could just hear in his voice how proud he was of this achievement. He told me that alcoholism had been a big part of his life until an unfortunate spell of heath problems put his life at a stand still. He told me he credits pulling himself out of all this to his faith, and to being able to connect with people through playing music locally.

Looking forward to band practice and surrounding himself with buddies who also like to drink coffee and chat, is his his favourite thing to do.

There is a common theme in Hugh’s life, and that is finding something through loss. Keeping a positive mindset through hard times is tough, but finding the beauty in the unavoidable low points of life is important.

Thanks for the chat, Hugh.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 8

Smooth brush strokes on a blank canvas… there are a billion ways in which it can turn out. Some messy, some refined, all unique in their own way, all destined to be loved.

“I love that the possibilities are endless. There are literally an infinite number of ways you can paint a canvas and that feels so exhilarating. It sort of feels like searching for hidden treasure.”

Local artist Carlie Pearce, is one of the coolest people I’ve met – she’s an artist through and through. When I asked Carlie what her favourite thing about painting was, she went on to tell me that it’s the fact that the possibilities are endless. Limitless; as in there is no limit to the creativity one could have. The idea that as an artist, inspired by the people and world around you, you will never run out of things to paint.

When I asked her about her painting and her favourite things to paint she told me that although she’s tried to stay consistent, she “just can’t fit herself into a box, which I have finally accepted and realized that isn’t such a bad thing. I always like exploring different ideas and mediums. I think I get bored too easily.”

Carlie went on to tell me that her biggest motivator is that she wants to be the best version of herself possible while inspiring others around her with her art. I think the attitude and spirit of Carlie itself is motivating. Seeing someone fully be themselves and find a voice within their art is really special.

I asked Carlie what she would say to her 12 year old self. As an established artist, she had this to say:
“Follow your instincts.
Every hurdle in life is a lesson.
You are capable of doing anything you dream of doing.”

If anyone seeing this is interested in seeing more of Carlie’s art, you can find her on Instagram @carlieartist and on her website carliepearce.com

Humans of Stratford Vol. 7

“I think I can really relate to people. I’ve been in their shoes and I know just how it feels”

Sun shining, birds chirping, what a beautiful day to walk to work. Bumping into Sam this morning is like a breath of fresh air… He’s a talented singer/songwriter, front man for the band PLANTS, and all around good guy. I got to talking with Sam about how he’s been affected by Covid. He told me that it’s really pushed him to write more songs and become more connected with his job at Choices for Change.

Sam explained to me that he’s pursuing a career in psychotherapy. He’s someone that radiates positive energy and I can just tell that he’s destined to help many, many people. “Making money doing something you’re really good at and enjoy is special” he said while talking about his future plans.

Now I have a theory, and I’m definitely no scientist, but this theory is something I’ve thought about for years now. I think that the way you answer the question “what would you say if you had the attention of millions of people for one minute” speaks so loudly to who someone is as a person. I’m convinced it is the ultimate way to look into your own self and break down those barriers that society sets up for us. What would you say? Who would you speak to?

When I asked Sam this question he told me “Mental illness will force you to commit more sincerely to your goals, to work harder to achieve them, and to become a soldier of the psyche… Embrace the fight and share your war story. Your cantor will be the inspiration for fellow soldiers fighting their own battles.”

THAT everyone, is a voice that deserves to be heard by the world.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 6

You’ve probably seen her before… hard to miss when she’s always the most colourful person in the room. Meghan Seaman is the owner and artistic director of On Stage Dance Studio located downtown Stratford, Ontario.

When talking with Meghan it’s easy to understand her passion for her craft, it oozes out of every sentence. It’s apparent to me that her motivation to run a successful dance studio runs deep and is etched right into her heart.

Since starting On Stage Dance Studio she has based her focus around inclusion, knowing that everyone needs a place in our world, and strives to make it known that we’re all on the same team. She’s constantly working to build a community for young people to be inspired, creative and grow in a safe space. I think that’s pretty cool.

When I asked her what she would say if she had the mic in a room of millions of people, she spoke without hesitation about the importance of arts education. She noted how important it is that children are taught various forms of art in school just as much as math, science and other typical school curriculum topics. She says that allowing kids to be creative and express themselves through the arts is more important now than ever.

Chatting more with Megan I found that she is a humanitarian at her core. She does her due diligence to keep the city, especially the downtown core, alive. Volunteering in any way she can, donating to local charities at every turn and shopping locally on a weekly basis…. it’s sort of difficult to find something she doesn’t do.

When I asked to speak with her for Humans of Stratford she made it clear that she wasn’t one for notoriety. She insisted that she’d much rather have all the students at the studio keep the fire lit inside her. Meghan works tirelessly behind the scenes in all aspects of her life, particularly at the dance studio. She pours her heart and soul into her studio/students and rarely gets the recognition she so greatly deserves. So here’s looking at you, Meghan, a successful, independently run, female business owner.

I think we could all benefit from rubbing elbows with someone so community driven.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 5

This is Rob. “I come here mostly every day for one of the cheapest cups of coffee in town, and they refill it sometimes for me 😉”. Rob says that he is old enough that he can pick and choose who he hangs out with and who he doesn’t. He said that there are kind people all around him and in Stratford and that he’s lucky to get to talk to so many different people all while sitting and watching out the window. He rides a scooter from place to place and enjoys the summer months.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 4

Out of the cold, into the warmth of what feels like something you would only see in movies, I was greeted by a softly spoken woman by the name of Clarene. Amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Stratford lays a hardworking, family-owned sewing shop. It’s at this shop that Clarene quietly practices her gift of sewing.

Behind the puttering sewing machine sits one of the kindest people I have ever met. Humble, caring and funny, she’s a proud grandmother to her grandkids and couldn’t say enough good things about them. Asking her about herself she told me that her family comes from Guyana. Moving here when she was 30-years-old, her sewing talent allowed her to open Sew More Seams where she’s found success while helping the community.

I was delighted to be able to speak with her one on one. She told me stories of a famous author who would commission her to make him dress shirts and how he signed a book that now resides on her shelf, and that she values what I’m trying to do with Humans of Stratford.

“You know, there are great people everywhere you look. Willing to help out.” Clarene told me as I talked to her about the Humans of Stratford project. It’s people like Clarene that turn the wheels of a community, and to be honest I think we can all learn something from her. THIS is what Humans of Stratford is all about… Showing the public that there are amazing people with amazing stories all around you, sometimes you just have to say hello.

Allow someone’s kindness and humility to rub off on you, a smiling face and a friendly wave can go a long way.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 3

“You know my son calls that building my dads building.”

Walking around snapping some photos for @visitstratfordon I was caught off guard by someone saying “hey you, you work for the paper or somethin?”. He’s an older Stratford man with an infectious smile, and clearly a story to tell. He told me how city hall, one of the best buildings in Stratford, would have been torn down and made into a shopping mall if it wasn’t for him. He told me when he heard the news that he instantly started organizing a protest against the developers. He was so invested in the saving of the building that his family thoughtfully named the building, his building. Now a permanent staple in Stratford, city hall is a permanent reminder to him of the people that once helped him save something special.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 2

*clink clink* shiny bits of change fall into an open guitar case. Strumming on his trusty guitar, it’s one of the oldest professions in the world…

Jason is a New Brunswick native that now calls Stratford home. Off and on for 20 years, Jason’s been playing for people across Canada. “You know man, it’s that east coast Canadian way of life, being friendly and just gettin along.” I asked Jason what his favourite song to play for people is, he says “whatever makes people happy, that’s what I’ll play”. And in true Canadian fashion started strumming Fifty-mission Cap by the Hip.

I think there’s a lesson we can all learn from Jason.. it’s that we can all afford to take time to help people. It could be as simple as holding the door, doing something for an older person, or helping people smile by strumming along to some Hip.

Humans of Stratford Vol. 1

This is Brayden. Brayden loves to ride his bike. Brayden rides his bike everyday. Brayden doesn’t really care what people think about him. Brayden is one of a kind.

Zipping through the streets of Stratford is a young man who although doesn’t really know It, inspires many people. An extremely talented BMX rider, Brayden has been on a journey he set out for himself for what’s been 607 days straight of riding his bike, all documented, and yes, even in the winter. Brayden’s passion for riding has him up early and out late perfecting his craft, posting a video everyday showcasing his progression. Working full time at Totally Spoke’d, Brayden often shows up to ride still in his work uniform. (Dedication on all levels)

When the opportunity arose for me to talk to Brayden about Humans of Stratford, I asked him if he had the opportunity to speak to a high school kid who’s trying to make sense of who they are and what they want to do, he told me “You can always have fun and enjoy the little things in life… But once you find the thing that is the most fun to you, and makes you the happiest, find a way to channel as much good energy towards it as possible, and make it your life.”

Inspiration can take on many forms, and this is definitely one of them. Inspiring young people to pursue passions that ignites something inside of them is nothing to take lightly.

Thanks Brayden for being such a positive guy.

Humans of Stratford photos and stories compiled by Jeff Wood .
Please note: Photos from the Humans of Stratford series may have been captured prior to the current COVID19 restrictions set in place for the province of Ontario.

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