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How I ended up in Ken’s Canadian hometown for Barbie Day

In Cornwall, Ontario, Ryan Gosling is more than Kenough.

This morning I had a piece published on Jezebel about Barbie, but it was a big departure from a recent MSNBC column where I wrote about the unhinged right wing backlash to the film. Today’s piece was about my recent drive to Ryan Gosling’s hometown of Cornwall, Ontario, to see the Barbie movie in a private screening with his old friends and family. And while the actual story is quite fun—read it here—I thought the story behind the story was worth telling.

When I drove up to Massena, NY, the Saturday before Barbie premiered, I didn’t pack a single pink item of clothing. I was there to help my husband clear out his childhood bedroom before my in-laws sold their house, and I thought maybe I’d see the movie at some point during our time in the border town. It wasn’t until we crossed to the Canadian side one night for dinner that I unlocked a more unique way to see the movie of the summer.

While chowing down on Canadian Italian food with my husband and some friends who are all Massena natives, a memory materialized suddenly. “Wait, isn’t Ryan Gosling from Cornwall?” I got a couple of shrugs and raised eyebrows, and then my friend Christine googled it: She reported he was born in London, Ontario, a small city a few hours southwest of Toronto. But, a few glasses of wine deep, I was determined to prove that I didn’t just completely make up a story.

I googled “Ryan Gosling Cornwall” and sure enough, a video of him showing people around his hometown on the Mickey Mouse Club popped up as a result. A few links down, I saw a post from the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce announcing Friday, July 21st as the town’s unofficial Ryan Gosling Day along with a private Barbie screening for family and friends. I gasped at the table and knew immediately that A) I needed to go, and B) I needed to get paid to go.

So I started pitching the idea while also reaching out to the event organizer, Kelly Bergeron, nervous she wouldn’t want some American interloper crashing the community’s private screening and celebration. Bergeron’s initial response made me laugh: “Hey Marisa - so you want to come to Cornwall, Ontario tomorrow?” I’d sort of buried the lede and forget to mention that I was just across the border, and not in New York City where all my social media indicates I live. She couldn’t fathom that I would travel seven hours due north for this event. But honestly, spending Barbie Day surrounded by Kenergy sounded amazing.

So Kelly said yes, Jezebel said yes to the pitch, and I hopped in my car and drove 30 minutes (including the border crossing) to get to the theater. Afterwards, I had lunch with Bergeron, Gosling’s cousins and high school friends, plus Canadian Senator Bernadette Clement. As the former Mayor of Cornwall, she was the first Black woman mayor in the town and in all of Ontario. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called her up in 2021 asking if she would serve (Canadian senators are appointed) she accepted, but continues to live in Cornwall and represent her town. She’s the embodiment of the Barbie spirit of, “We girls can do anything!”

It was a lovely and strange and wonderful day, and Gosling’s family and friends were so generous with their time. The most special part of reporting is getting to hear stories you never would’ve heard otherwise and finding yourself in the most unlikely places.

Below is an excerpt from the Jezebel piece, and I hope you’ll read the whole thing!

Ryan Gosling’s hometown of Cornwall, Ontario, is best known for its stench.

Despite the fact that the Domtar paper mill printed its final sheet in 2006, the putrid, sulfuric smell from the pulping of wood chips continues to precede the reputation of the small Canadian town right across the river from Massena, New York. Mention to someone you’re from Cornwall, and they’ll likely make “the face,” friends and family of the actor told me at lunch last Friday—unofficially, the town’s first Ryan Gosling Day!—after a private Barbie screening.

Stink notwithstanding, Gosling has made a point of shouting out his roots, from his 2015 Saturday Night Live opening monologue to a recent GQ cover story. And with a glittery pink carpet rolled out at the local movie theater to celebrate his turn as the one and only Ken, residents hoped some of the shine from Barbieland would cut through the border town’s “inferiority complex,” as Gosling’s high school friend Erin Fry referred to it. In some ways, Barbie is like “escaping reality, creating your dream world,” Fry said. “The fact that like, our guy—Ryan! from our town!—he’s playing the iconic Ken, how cool is that?”

The day starts off with me having the distinct pleasure of telling a Canadian border agent that I’m going international to attend a Barbie screening in honor of hometown boy Ryan Gosling. (“He’s from Cornwall?” the agent asks me. “He is!” I assure him.) I soon enter town and drive by an outdoor performance space where I imagine a young Mouseketeer-era Gosling once did the running man. There’s also a banner advertising an upcoming poutine feast. We’re definitely in Canada.

Read more here.

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