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Phil Jenkins

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 January 09, 2019 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Born in South Korea, raised in the Hills

By Phil Jenkins

Although Leon Hipwell, a 14-year-old, laid-back student at St. Michael's, was born in Daegu, South Korea, he was conceived in Chelsea, Quebec. "In the Asian way of doing things, that place of conception makes me a child of the Gatineau Hills," he said from his home near Vorlage ski hill. So, in a sense, he got here before he was even here.

winter
Leon Hipwell, a recent graduate of Wakefield Elementary who is ready for his next step in life; CEGEP. Photo courtesy Phil Jenkins.

Leon's mother, Kim, was over six months pregnant when she flew on a leave of absence from DND to join Leon's father, Bill, who had taken up a university position in Daegu. But Korea was not for the couple and Bill, a geographer, resigned after he had bagged another university position, this time in Wellington, New Zealand, and Leon celebrated his first birthday there, with over 35,000 kilometres already under his diaper. In between the two jobs, Leon briefly set foot in Canada for the first time.

Wellington is a long way from the Gatineaus, and from family, and by the time he was three he was back in Chelsea. A couple of moves, this time all within a short bike ride of each other, the arrival of a sister, and a divorce, and he was a young man. He built a sturdy circle of friends, many of them also the children of divorce, also with both parents nearby and anxious to raise them right; not easy in a world of technological and stimulant distractions.

There are now a handful of young people in La Péche who attended both the old and new Wakefield schools. "The old one was much better. We could play Manhunt in the woods. It had more nature," Leon said. At his graduation from Wakefield, he was asked to publicly announce his favourite teacher, and he diplomatically named someone from his earlier Chelsea education, so as to hurt no one's feelings. He had become what all parents hope for - a good kid.

All too soon the question of whether to stay in Wakefield or, as many another son or daughter of the Gatineau Hills has done, leave and perhaps return - this year, next year, sometimes never - will arise. The template for country kids is that they leave for the city and swap tall trees for high rises. Leon has a rough plan for the coming years.

"After CEGEP, one, two gap years of travel, the best education, see where I was born. Maybe back here to attend university, where I want to do a business degree. But I don't think my working years will be spent here." Time will tell.

But Leon will have grown up, mainly, in a rural region, at smaller schools, in a village where he could walk to the community centre to hang out before he was a teenager. It does indeed take a village, and one day Leon will say, when asked where he grew up, with a smile on his face, "in the Gatineau Hills."


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