The Rest of Your Life
What are you doing for the rest of your life?
North and south and east and west of your life…
Getting your bearings, finding your way
In North American lore, most of the magic in the compass resides in the West. Of course it makes eminent good sense that when Europeans came to the New World as explorers, exploiters or colonists, that arriving on the Eastern shores momentum and curiosity would take them in the direction where their noses were pointing. “Go West Young Man!” must have been coined almost immediately after the boats landed on the Eastern shores of North America. Aboriginals undoubtedly hoped that the newcomers had return tickets and would quickly pull up their tents and decamp in an easterly direction whence they came after realizing, as the visionary Voltaire had facetiously characterized, that Canada was simply a few acres of snow. The newcomers stayed.
The north pointing compass is attractive for ferrous metals and for the young. For residents of the Southern parts of Canada, the North holds a magnetic attraction for the young unsettled person trying to find his bearings, unsure of his direction, wanting to start his working life with quick and frequent access to lumps of money to underwrite expenses for creating a new family unit. A modified version of the grubstake, corporations and government agencies give inflated remuneration, so called northern allowance or isolation pay, as incentives to young inexperienced people wishing to relocate to northern latitudes from established communities in the South.
In North America, the south of the Continent, shimmering with all its langorous charms, calls to Snowbirds. While the Young head north, the Old head south. When young people where I lived expressed their restlessness to leave the familiar and explore the unknown they were rarely tempted to head in a southerly direction. More significantly on a personal level, my early contact with North America in the decade from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s effectively removed the South from my list of options. All the bogeymen of my first North American nightmares resided in the South especially in the Deep South.
When the colonists settled in communities on the eastern rim of North America some chose to remain close to where they settled, the restless few chose to leave the relative comforts of the developing communities. If the dictum “go west young man” had originated in Canada it would have been refined, nuanced. In Canada the restless went Northwest. Go Northwest by Northwest Young Man! The Northwest Trading Co. and the Northwest Mounted Police, our Mounties also realized that. In 1969 we also went Northwest.
We were now ostensibly three, our 18 month old infant, Allison, her Mother, Deanne and me. In fact though, we were nearly four since a seed sown in our Lachine, Quebec apartment around Christmas of 1968 had given notice of her intent to give up her pre-existent sleep and come with us. We checked the Eaton’s catalogue for means of travel and decided not to use the pack mules with travois or canoes that they stocked to go Northwest. Instead we drove our olive green ’64 Rambler Classic about 3400 km from Lachine Que, to the West Coast, one half of the 7821 km Trans Canada Highway. It was then as it is now, a great thrill to drive that distance and never leave home! By July of 1969 I had had my apprenticeship in things Canadian. I had redefined myself. In 1968 the Landed Immigrant had become Canadian in a citizen court in Hamilton, Ontario. Although I still cherished my Caribbean roots I had been acclimatized. The tropical Youth had been reborn a temperate adult.
Since our marriage in 1964 Deanne and I had spent many delightful hours camping fishing and traveling through the rugged but soothing beauty of the Canadian Shield: the Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton, Muskoka and Algonquin Park. Based in Ottawa we could find quick and easy access to a variety of desirable camping areas north and west of Ottawa on Highway 60. We were seasoned people of the great outdoors and took it all for granted. So far we had had the luxury of choice. Any given weekend we could find a strip of land in a campground close to a lake, pitch a tent and spend a couple of days being spiritually recharged for the next five days.
Things would change as others discovered the virtues of recreation.The limited numbers of lakefront spots created increasing tensions between the growing numbers of camping enthusiasts. Campgrounds close to cities would fill up quickly and relaxation was no longer available. Still energized by the fallout from our 1967 Centenary, we were ready to find new landscapes, ready especially to investigate why the many rivers of British Columbia are in such a great big hurry to leave their mountain origins to see the wonders of the Pacific Ocean.
In 1968 I took a job with a Textbook Publishing Company, a stopgap job for which I was unsuited. We relocated from Ottawa to Lachine, Quebec. I spent a few unhappy months visiting Universities in Quebec and the Maritimes promoting a catalogue of textbooks.
Early in 1969, while in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia I replied to an ad for teachers for a Community College in Prince George, B.C. which was to open in September 1969. After an interview in Toronto, I was offered a job and accepted it. With great anticipation we prepared to leave our comfort zone in central Canada and explore parts of Canada which lay west of Ontario.
For some time we had been curious about British Columbia, especially its abundant fauna and its spectacular geography. Deanne and I decided to indulge our curiosity, spend two or three years and then return to live the healthy Harrowsmith* inspired life, an old decommissioned red brick schoolhouse with an edenic garden in the Ottawa Valley or somewhere within a radius of 100 kms west or southwest of Ottawa. British Columbia got in the way of these projections.
*Magazine celebrating rural life.