How I got here
Stories on how people found your way to the Gatineau Hills written by Chelsea writer Phil Jenkins.
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the August 01, 2018 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Home is where the water is
By Phil Jenkins
At some point during our journey through time, we decide between two ways of living a life - in the city or the country. The Gatineau Hills are replete with folks and families who fled the shoulder-to-shoulder, bumper-to-bumper metro lifestyle for fields and farmhouses. Some ran back to the city soon as they could. Others stayed.
Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown grew up in the small city of North Bay, on a big lake, and her summers spent with her several older siblings at a rustic cottage on a river. The stage was set for the rest of her travel through the years. "I think landscape imprints on us," she said, "and living in a region of rivers and lakes and Canadian shield certainly was imprinted on me."
Leaving there at 18, Brown spent three years studying at the lakeside university in Kingston, took some time out scratching the travel itch, and then settled on the left coast in the city of Vancouver for a decade, becoming a master of environmental engineering. She was soon, so to speak, back by the water, restoring salmon runs, nursing rivers back to health.
Brown and her family - her husband is a forester and they have a daughter - crossed back east to Montreal. The job she took there was a good one, but it was in a city (albeit a great city), and the need to 'go country' grew stronger.
And then she arrived where she was always meant to be. Robert Kennedy's Waterkeeper movement had flowed up into Canada, and a Riverkeeper job was opening up on the Ottawa. Brown dove in, hooked the job over hundreds of applicants, and had the pleasant task of finding somewhere to live within the river's watershed, close to her work, so to speak.
A ski racer when she was younger, and still mad keen on it, Brown had trained on the Gatineau Hills' ample supply of slopes, one time staying in a Wakefield bed and breakfast. Visits to Chelsea friends pointed the way and there was really no doubt that a home in the Hills, preferably with walkability into the open-armed community of Wakefield, was the only option.
During the subsequent hunt for a place to settle down, a house appeared online that looked in less than perfect shape, but "one photo showed that you could see the river from the balcony," Brown said. "That did it." Just a short walk through the woods from her house leads to the covered bridge, which looks over the river that runs into the Ottawa - the river and its tributaries she is professionally devoted to protecting. Brown is back in the landscape of lakes and rivers and granite. "I've landed in the cream," she said, glad that she got here, and determined to stay within sight, sound, and smell of water.
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