Low Down Articles

How I Got Here

Article 13 of 14     

This article first appeared in the "How I got here" column in the February 07, 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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Taking the scenic route home

By Phil Jenkins

It's about 2,000 kilometres down the Trans-Canada from Winnipeg to Masham if you go direct, but that is not the route Leanne Olson took.

Leanne Olson
Leanne Olson during home renovations. Look familiar, readers? Olson took the long way in her journey to La Pêche, starting in Winnipeg and stopping everywhere from South Sudan to Bosnia before settling down in Masham. Photo courtesy Leanne Olson.

Born in Winnipeg, Leanne soon developed the itch to "go somewhere" and, indeed, she did, from A (Angola), to Z (Zaire), with Bosnia, Chad, the Congo, Burundi, Liberia, and South Sudan in between. Working as a medical facilitator and later as a nurse for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), her 'somewheres' were war zones and disease hot spots, both epidemic and endemic. And she loved the good work from the get go, from her first posting in Liberia to assessing the medical supply needs of as many as fifty hospitals and clinics in Bosnia.

It was during her posting in Bosnia in 1996 that she met a Dutchman and MSF rookie, Rink de Lange. They spent a lot of time together travelling in a land cruiser, and eventually travelled to Winnipeg to marry. Rink, who in the past has also worked as a pilot, as the director of refugee asylum centres in the Netherlands, and in water sanitation, is now the technical director at the Wakefield Community Centre.

In 1999, in between postings, Leanne found the time to write a book, a personal account of her missions with MSF entitled 'A Cruel Paradise', which is still available. It was during her Canadian book tour, which took her from Halifax to Vancouver, that the seed of one day returning to Canada from the Netherlands, where the couple had settled, was sown.

But where exactly was a new somewhere in the second largest country in the world? It was either to be the left coast or the right, or in the middle near Ottawa where there were MSF friends and hospitals. (Leanne now works as a charge nurse in emergency at CHEO.)

And so the early 21st century found the couple in Ottawa checking possibilities after several further missions and four years in Rink's homeland. The desire to be on water and within an hour's drive of the city narrowed it down to somewhere in the lake-filled Gatineau Hills. On a research trip, Leanne happened to call in at Chez Eric (RIP) where the owner at the time, Rosanda, spoke Dutch. That, and the welcoming presence of Theatre Wakefield, sort of sealed it. Their real estate agent lent them a small cottage as temporary quarters while they house-hunted. Thirty seconds after walking into a Masham house on a quarter acre with a lake in front and a forest behind, Leanne and Rink had found their home.