Four years ago a new job opportunity provided my husband and I with an opportunity to relocate our family from downtown Toronto to small-town Quebec. I was originally from La Belle Province, so it’s a return to my roots, but my husband was born and raised in Toronto and never really envisioned living anywhere else. We certainly miss our Toronto friends and many aspects of urban life, but we love raising our kids in this environment.
As outdoorsy/athletic people, being able to ski, snowshoe, canoe, swim and luge right from our doorstep (yes, luge! My husband built a giant luge track which is a bit hit on play dates!) is a huge plus. Respect for nature is deeply engrained in the local culture of our village of Chelsea, Quebec. The town’s tagline is “Environmentally Friendly Community”. My kids will attend a public school called “L’école du Grand-Boisé” (French for School of the great forest) where teaching kids to respect the environment is imbedded in the school’s mission statement. The natural sciences are taught as much as possible outdoors, including through on-site sugar shack run by students and parents.
Our house went from a small Toronto semi (500 square foot per floor) on a 17 foot wide lot, to a 2200 square foot bungalow on nearly 3 acres. We have lots of room for the kids to run around, and no worrying about them stepping into traffic. Deer, wild turkeys, frogs, and rabbits are regular visitors on our property. We enjoy teaching our kids to grow garden vegetables and fruit trees, as well as catching fish for dinner. I jokingly refer to it as our “1 KM diet”. Of course a bigger house and property involves a lot more maintenance. Luckily my husband is very handy, and enjoys the outdoor work in particular. I suspect the “toys” (a new tractor and snow blower) have a lot to do with his enjoyment.
We have better work-life balance in our “new life”, which translates to more time spent with our kids. And better quality time, since we’re more relaxed. We had to adjust – especially in the beginning – to everyone around us also being more laid-back. I remember being so surprised hearing the local garage is not just closed on weekends, but also during lunch hour!
I’m grateful that our kids will grow up with a strong sense of community. Whether it’s our family doctor, my hairdresser, or the local pastry chef, our little ones play together, and we’re always looking out for each other’s kids. As the African proverb says “it takes a village to raise a child”.
We sometimes miss the excitement and energy of the big city, but after having kids much of the appeal, like nightlife and chic restaurants, became less interesting to us. Even public transit is a lot less accessible with young kids; have you ever had to carry a stroller down three long flights of stairs to access the subway?
But the move was not without trade-offs. Other than a great group of friends we left behind, one of the things I miss most is being able to walk everywhere. I miss walking back from a yoga class and picking up specialty foods from some great little shops in the Danforth Village in Toronto. Now grocery shopping requires driving, and more planning to hit as many stores at once, and avoid having to drive back to the city. We also have to do a lot more contingency planning. Power outages are a regular occurrence, with bigger implications; being on a septic tank and on a well means we have no water or plumbing when the power is out. Can you imagine dealing with diapers when you have no water? Not. Fun. Now anytime there’s a chance of a storm I ensure we have extra water, batteries and other essentials on hand.
Will we stay here forever? You never know! But for now it’s a pretty sweet life for us, and our kids.