Low Down Articles
How I Got Here
Article 11 of 14
This article first appeared in the "How I got here" column in the April 04, 2018 issue of the "The Low Down to Hull and Back News". Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.
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Expo 67 paves the way to a life in the forest
By Phil Jenkins
The year 1967 was a Canadian party, with party central at Expo 67 in Montreal. Among the millions who attended Expo, there was a 25-year-old Venezuelan woman, Elena Whyte. There as part of a delegation from Venezuela, and already able to speak English (her father had once been employed by the United Nations), Elena was drawn to this politically stable, dictator-free, egalitarian country that had four seasons.
With her mind set on returning to Canada, Elena landed a scholarship to study here. She chose Carleton University and flew north with her children on Jan. 15, 1968 to start a new life. At Dorval airport, even as she wondered if the cold would kill her, she saw out of the windows a completely white world and admired the determination and competence of these northerners as they coped with snow. Her husband joined her and found a job at the Venezuelan Embassy in Ottawa.
So the next phase of her much-travelled life - which has included several childhood bouts of exile in various Latin American countries due to her father's unionist endeavours - was spent in the leafy lanes of New Edinburgh, studying sociology at Carleton, and raising a family. Then there was another move, from husband one to husband two. A professor at Carleton, he had built a log cabin in the beautiful Meech Creek valley (may it never change). "I remember going into the woods with a copy of 'The Hobbit' he had given me, and reading it beside a babbling brook. I felt at peace in the northern forest. I was a newly blessed citizen of this wide-open country. I was home."
Not quite. When the properties owned by Meech Creek Valley residents were expropriated to make way for a zoo that never came to life (phew), the cabin was de- and then re-constructed in Fairville, near Low, making for an abrasive commute. A little while later, the marriage went south, and Elena, with no desire to leave the forest for the city, requested, in lieu of money, a piece of land in what the locals call Tulip Valley. Once a part of the Cross sawmills, it had a river view and a fine set of trees. She built a small shed on the lot with bunk beds, hung a telephone box in a tree so she could continue her work as a travel agent, and set out over the course of the summer, using her construction training, to build a passive solar house. "The first night we slept there, I heard a clomp, clomp outside," she said. Stepping out into the moonlight, she saw a moose go serenely by. The moose visit was taken as a sort of welcome wagon from Mother Nature.
With the assistance of the well-known builder and advocate Louis Gagné, Elena went on to build, in 1987, another house on the lot - a straw bale gatehouse which is still occupied 30 years later. Now in her 70s, Elena is a long-standing Wakefield Grannie and recently made a move into the village. The forest is only a few feet away.