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.
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.