Newcomer profile: Dale Orton, Rivière-du-Loup
– Susan Woodfine
Dale Orton knew at an early age that he wanted to leave his tiny picturesque village of Stainton le Vale, in Lincolnshire, England. Back then, Orton was keen to travel and find someplace warm, or at least warmer than where he came from. Equipped with a fine arts degree, Orton did a fair bit of traveling in Europe, as well as making it to several warm and exotic destinations, including Australia and New Zealand.
While living in Scotland, Orton added a trade to his tool belt: he completed an apprenticeship to become a professional tattoo artist. Looking back, Tattoo Dale, as he is now known, is quite pleased how things have turned out, “It wasn’t [a career] I thought about, it just happened. I loved to draw as a child, I did it all the time and it came easily.”
Orton left Scotland for the land Down Under, then made his way over to New Zealand, and life was good, in fact, Orton describes it as amazing. But back in Scotland something would happen to change his life forever. Orton found out that a Québécoise woman he dated in Scotland had given birth to a child, and it was his! For Orton, it was a no brainer; he wanted to be present in his daughter’s life so he packed up his bags and left the hot country he’d dreamed of to follow the mother of his child to a very cold climate: Montreal, Rimouski, then Rivière-du-Loup.
When Dale Orton thinks back to his arrival more than 10 years ago, it wasn’t a happy scene. He prefaces his story by saying that becoming a dad has been amazing from the get-go, “Many people say she is lucky to have a father but I am so lucky to have her in my life.” Orton left Montreal, with his former partner, to come to Rimouski where she was studying social work. However, Orton spoke little French, “It was horrible, I had no friends or family. When I eventually found government- sponsored French classes, the teacher preferred to speak English, plus we had about 20 different levels happening so we didn’t advance,” explains Dale, “ I know this affects my perception of Rimouski and in a lot of ways I only have myself to blame because I was so shy, lacked confidence. I also figured we were heading back to New Zealand after a few years so I didn’t try hard enough.” To make things harder, Orton had a brutal time adjusting to the cold winds of the south shore of the St. Lawrence, “The coldness of Rimouski; I remember going out in the morning and those freezing icy winds. I go to Australia, New Zealand, then ended up in a place colder than England.”
Employment was not a given when he arrived in Rimouski. Tattoo Dale worked out of his apartment and went back to Montreal for a few stints in studios there. He then got word of work in Rivière-du-Loup, “I worked with a woman there who closed up shop shortly after I arrived. So I opened up my own. I am now heading into my fifth year of business.”
The demand for tattoos has exceeded his expectations. Tattoo Dale isn’t looking for new clients; he can barely keep up with the demand. People come from Quebec City, Gaspé, Rimouski and the North Shore and vary in age from teens to 80-year-olds. Orton is confident about his work as a tattoo artist but admits, “Something that has helped is that there is so much exposure to vedette tattooing, it’s all over the place.” Even so, Orton’s approach to tattooing is probably different to what people are used to, he says, “ Nobody gets the same tattoo, it’s not like in the old days where you just transfer a tattoo.”
People are often surprised to walk into his store and see nothing on the wall, “They probably doubt that I know what I am doing. I spend time educating people too, you don’t have to get what everyone else has, you can get anything you wish and it doesn’t have to be aggressive.” For each tattoo he does, it will usually bring another 10 to 15 clients.
Orton is very professional and is critical of some tattoo artists, “I refuse young kids, I may do someone at 16 if they have their parent’s consent but even that will depend on what [they want] and where,” for example, Orton refuses to tattoo hands, “You don’t want to give somebody a tattoo and have them regret it afterwards. At 16 your ideas change a lot.” Orton rolls his eyes when asked if people see tattoos as a temporary thing, “I have been half way through doing a tattoo and somebody says, ‘oh I can get rid of this later right?’ I told them there are two things you have for life: tattoos and kids.”
So how do Rimouski and Rivière-du-Loup compare? Orton is convinced that Rivière-du-Loup is warmer than Rimouski. “It’s a typical frontier town. I find it a bit small and behind the times. But it’s nice and the proximity to the countryside is the best part; we have the Kamouraska mountains and the fleuve landscape is fantastic. It’s secure and there is a good quality of life here. Unfortunately, for adults, there is not a lot happening and most of my artist friends have left because of that.” Although Orton is now functional in French and has no problem working in his second language, he finds the community a bit closed, “People tend to stay in their cliques from work and high school, so that can be hard.” The good news is that Orton’s former partner left Rimouski and also found work in Rivière-du-Loup meaning that his daughter, once again, is near, “There aren’t a lot of anglophones here so what’s funny is my daughter has picked up my British accent, it’s lovely.”
For some, this newcomer’s experience may hit a nerve. It’s a reminder of just how hard adaptation can be for some people. Dale admits that, despite the griping, he is a better person since arriving in eastern Quebec, “If I can make it here then I can make it anywhere.” Orton is honest and very direct, “My problem is I came here in my late 20s, I had travelled and worked all over, I had a lot of confidence and experience then I had to start from zero. It has been very humbling.”
So is there a happy ending to this story? “I have no regrets, this is what I had to go through to be a parent and she means more than anything to me.”