From Community to Family – Teaching in Northern Canada

Fresh out of university, and deep into debt, I made my way north to teach high school English in Norway House, Manitoba. With temperatures in the -40s and -50s, and isolation from family, cities, and most forms of entertainment, I had to be creative with my time and the relationships built with other community members. It was this unique environment that changed community members to friends within a few short weeks and friends to family within the first year. The family that I created while I was there has taught me to live life to the fullest, love and support the people that love and support you, and make the most out of each journey that comes your way.  I look back on my experiences in Norway House, Manitoba with fond memories of icy cold days, holiday celebrations, long drives, learning new things, sharing, dancing, and creating a bond that is unbreakable.

The extreme temperatures weren’t cold enough to put a stop to our antics. We embraced the weather with warm clothes and we sometimes tried to perform “snow dances” to lift our spirits.

Even our furry friends reveled in the chance to embark on a journey in the open oasis of snow and ice.

As teachers, we each had skill-sets that we openly shared with each other. Learning to play the guitar is normally a long, difficult process, but add a few family members and a couple of drinks, or something like that, and it becomes increasingly easy. I sounded great after only 15 minutes of lessons. I’m still not sure why no one would let me use the guitar after this, but I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame.

Learning dance moves took a little more practice. I watched patiently and inquisitively as I learned the concept of party dancing. 

By the middle of the year, I was confident in my dancing skills. After all, I learned from a master.
Holiday celebrations were never dull, especially with my new-found guitar and dancing mastery. With limited resources, our creativity flourished alongside our relationships. Some parties were more of a handful than others, but our happiness never escaped us.
Our reasons for celebrating weren’t restricted to holidays. We came up with our own themed parties and reserved random days for pot-lucks and other unique get-togethers. 

The hours of driving on a dirt road with transfer trucks flying by at high speeds made a smashed window part of the community initiation. We were certain to have an unforgettable venture while navigating the frozen lake, passing numerous bears, avoiding flying gravel and rocks, and watching for other, sometimes inebriated, drivers.

We often shook our heads at the time spent on the road just to get to a restaurant or to buy party costumes, but there was never a dull moment.
 Teaching in the north is always a life-changing experience, but it what you do with your time and your energy that makes it positive or negative. Although I missed my sisters and brothers, my parents, and my life in warmer, more populated communities, I had created a family and made Norway House, Manitoba my home away from home.

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54 thoughts on “From Community to Family – Teaching in Northern Canada

  1. There is such a strong sense of ready-made community…when you live in a remote northern hamlet! Although I’m not a teacher, the same sense of family in a remote place is what beckoned me to return to the north! I haven’t looked back since… It’s hard to explain to someone that’s never ventured north–but there’s something about living in Nunavut that just gets under your skin…and into your heart making it very hard to move south.

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  2. I wanted to be a teacher when i was in school, but things changed – however, I did manage to spend a lot of time up north (father in the RCAF, flew a Hercules until I was 12) fishing and camping at ice out (as you know, end of July-1st of August). When you live up there, you truly have to belong to the mantra “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”….

    Another great post in a long fence of them!

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  3. I love how your isolation bred good relationships: strangers into friends and friends into family. So often in big cities, such as hk where I live, people are so busy with the distractions of urban living that we barely get to know each other. I’m happy you were able to have such a positive experience in the world of ice and snow!

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  4. I like your friend in the red shirt. Are you going to share this blog post with him? LOL. That would have been a good entry for ‘expressions’. Seriously, Leslie,as usual, it looked like you guys were having a ball. Nice share. 🙂

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    • My friend in the red shirt may not be my friend after seeing that I posted this picture 😉

      We were doing that thing where you shake your head back and forth as fast as you can and someone else takes a picture. Normally, I’d say I have no shame or embarrassment, but I wouldn’t post the picture of me doing the same thing.

      It certainly was a memorable drive.

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  5. I spent time in northern BC, MB and NU. It seems you had a lot of younger teachers and tha would make a big difference. I liked our connection to the RCMP and the nursing team. We had lots of pot lucks but not much music and dancing which I love. I still keep in touch with my NU teachers and students. I’ve visited my first roommate from Ireland a few years back and met her family. So many great times! The kids were so full of joy.

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  6. Your teaching stories are the best – my teaching career has been very uneventful compared to yours! Please keep sharing your experiences 🙂 Hope all is going well with gestating!

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  7. I love how much you enjoy life. I am one that looks for the positives in all of my experiences as well. In addition to making me smile on days when I need a boost, they make for exceptional writing material.

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  8. Your post made me think of my early days of teaching in NYC in the late 60’s. How different can that be from your experience. Yet, of all the places I taught, schools or businesses, I never forged friendships as close as I did that year. When we’re young and fresh out of college dorms we are still programmed to form communities. My fellow newbie teachers and I taught side by side than went on to rent a beach house at the Jersey shore the following summer and went skiing together in the winter. But then when you’re twenty something real life responsibilities haven’t yet descended, except the need for fun and camaraderie. Thanks for the trip back – to my first years as well as yours.

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  9. Lesley, are you posting all of these incriminating photos here to get ahead of your friends who might want to embarrass you with your new child, say in about 10 years or so? Tee, hee! No kidding, just love the joi de vivre I see here among your teacherly family! You guys sure did know how to stay warm, I will say that!

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    • I am the first person to post the most embarrassing photos I have of myself. I think that previous posts, as well as this one, display that beautifully. I have nothing to hide; I love my adventurous, free life and the photos are reflective of that 🙂

      My friends in these pictures share a similar zest for life and I’m sure they loved the photos as much I do. 😉

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  10. I enjoyed the blog and am surprised that with all of the activities in Norway House, Manitoba that you were able to find the time to post. Continue to have a great time a drop us a line now and then. 60º below moved me to Phoenix, so don’t lose the mittens or the hat.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your experience. I really appreciated that. The first thing I thought about was Eat, Pray, Love actually and the first leg of the author’s journey. She made great friends that quickly became family- solid relationships that will last forever. That’s a blessing! You are very brave!!!

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  12. I’ve lived in the southeastern USA all my life and just reading this made me cold, but I was still inspired by the sense of community and creative fun these people built together. Thanks for a great post.

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  13. Looks like you had an awesome time. Great pictures tool I’m from northern Canada and I’ve found the people are warm and friendly and were always there for each other. Be it pushing someone out of a ditch in minus 40 degree F weather or bringing soup to a sick neighbour.

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  14. Yes, teachin can be a life-changing experience, not just for the teacher, but more importantly to the taught. And familiarity breeds affection, especially, in a bleak and frigid ambience.. Great post as always. V Look forward to more.

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  15. Lesley,
    What a great post! Uplifting as always. I was grinning the whole time I was reading this and thinking “My goodness she finally had a teaching experience in which she didn’t faint or almost freeze in her car” : ) Wonderful anecdote…

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  16. Pingback: Making all her dreams come true, yours too with extreme adventure and travel | All About Travel

  17. I am a school teacher in Fairbanks, Alaska, so I can relate to the below-zero temps! This year I’m in Alabama, where temperatures are about 110 degrees hotter than they are at home right now. You’ve made me homesick, cold weather and all, and you certainly know how to make the best of a challenging place to live! Way to go!

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