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Former Orillian channels hometown nostalgia through digital art

Nicholas Keays's depictions of local landmarks have proven popular; 'There is a certain comfort that comes with a place that you know'

A former Orillia resident is creating nostalgic digital artwork for people who love the Sunshine City.

Nicholas Keays, 42, moved to the Ottawa area three years ago for his job as a police officer. The Park Street Collegiate Institute graduate quickly began missing his hometown.

“I miss the simple things like going to the grocery store and running into everybody I know,” he said. “There is a certain comfort that comes with a place that you know, and when it knows you, too.”

To stay in touch with his community, Keays joined some Orillia-themed Facebook pages where members share photos and stories of the town’s history. The Facebook pages gave Keays the idea to start playing around with graphic design, but just for fun.

“I wanted to recreate some of the old buildings in Orillia — the less obvious ones like the old community centre and the Geneva Theatre,” he said.

One of the first landmarks that inspired a creation by Keays was the Golden Dragon Restaurant, which was in business for more than 60 years at 28 Mississaga St. E.

“The cool thing is I posted it on Facebook and people have been sharing all their stories in the comments,” he said. “Every day when I open up social media, there are new stories about people who worked there or people who even went into labour while they were in there.”

Keith Lem, whose family ran the Golden Dragon for generations, publicly gave Keays his blessing to share the digital artwork, which replicated the likeness of the restaurant.

“It was nice to have someone from the family talk about what a nice tribute it was,” Keays said. “I thought it was kind of special that Keith was on Facebook commenting on it and sharing it.”

Hearing the personal stories inspired Keays to create an Etsy store where people can buy shirts, mugs and prints of their favourite Orillia landmarks.

“I’ve started to fill in the odd print to Orillians who still live in the area,” he said. “I’ve even sent some to Medicine Hat, Alta., to someone who, like me, is no longer living in town and wants some nostalgia on their wall.”

The best part of the process for Keays is reading Facebook comments from community members who have suggested what landmarks he should draw up next. Some of the suggestions have included the Ossawippi Express and the Cinema 4 movie theatre.

“It’s a lot of work and there are a ton of buildings to do,” he said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to do it for fun, to see what people’s reactions are, and hearing what they want to see next.”


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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