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You Never Know Where You Might End Up…

Pelee Island, Ontario
Pelee Island, Ontario

I have had an unusual life growing up in that I grew up on a very small island in Lake Erie called Pelee Island. Yes the Pelee Island where the wine comes from…

I was born in London Ontario and lived in small town called Belmont, south of London. It was a pretty serious hockey town with the arena the only place to really hang out. Of course girls did not play hockey as much as that annoyed me. I even tried to get a petition going to allow a girls team but couldn’t get enough girls to sign that they were interested. Hmm, interesting that I forgot about that and it was a telling sign that that was the beginning of; if you tell me “no” that just means I need to push harder if I want it.

My Dad was laid off and out of work and my Mom was working in London in Insurance when I was 11 years old. Dad applied for a job on Pelee Island as the manager of their pheasant farm. The farm raised 20,000 pheasants every year to be released for a number of fall hunts. We were not a family that supported or participated in hunting animals and using guns but it was a job that my Dad really wanted since it was working outside and working with birds, which had always been a hobby of his.

The next couple of years consisted of a lot of back and forth travel by car and ferry boat to Pelee Island until we could find a house to buy so we could move permanently to Pelee. Finally the summer I turned 14 my Mom and 16 year old brother joined my Dad permanently to live on Pelee Island. Here is the unusual part of living on Pelee. There were only 11 high school students that lived on Pelee so we had to live on the mainland in Kingsville, Ontario to go to the high school there during the week and come home only on weekends. At 14 years old to start at a brand new high school living with people you rent a room from and don’t know and at a school you know no one at, this was terrifying.

While the waters in Lake Erie were not frozen all of us high school students travelled home on Fridays by ferry boat and then back again on very early Monday mornings. Let me tell you feeling slightly seasick from rough, heaving waters for an hour and a half to get to school and then sit in class for the day just about kills you!

Usually around late November the lake is just too rough and windy to keep taking the ferry so it closes for the season and then we students start travelling by plane. They load us into a van on Fridays and head for Windsor airport and we all pack into 2 small 6 seater planes to fly home to the island. There were some horrifically terrifying flights over the years with wind, ice, fog, landing gear failing, doors falling open, to name just a few but we survived it all. I still find it weird to get on a large plane where you don’t even get to see the pilot let alone chat with him as you take your flight to your destination. One of the pilots actually let me take the controls while sitting in the co-pilot seat and it was pretty fun swooping around. Another pilot did a few crazy air maneuvers that had all of us high school students holding onto the ceiling in the small planes while we whooped in joy. Never a dull moment living on Pelee.

I learned to be self sufficient pretty fast boarding out on the mainland. Luckily I had my older brother with me so I didn’t feel quite so alone but I missed my Mom a lot. She called us once a week but it was long distance so the calls had to be pretty short. Texting and skyping would have made me way less homesick that is for sure. It was probably a good thing growing up this way because I learned to get my school work done without someone telling me to. I had to remember to go buy shampoo and toothpaste before I ran out so when I went off to college I was a lot more confident and able to keep up with the workload and the busy socializing going on without failing my classes like a lot of college students do.

High school was typical and full of drama and lots of highs and lows and by the end of it I just wanted to get the heck out of the small town and head for the big city. It was at exactly the same time that my Dad got a job in Prince Edward County on Nicholson Island. My brother was already off to college and his new life when we packed up life on Pelee Island to move to another island which at least had bridges to get off of it!!

My parents dropped me off at Sheridan College’s residence with my clothes, a loan of their car and a map to find my way to my new home in Wellington of Prince Edward County, 2 and a half hours away.

I spent one summer in the County when I was 18 working for the Prince Edward County Conservation Authority (now it is all run through Quinte Conservation). It was great fun and I met a number of local college students that lived in the County plus I learned my way around all the back roads. The roads back in the late 80’s did not have signs on most of them, plus there were a great number of dirt roads. Now the going is much easier with pavement on 90% of the roads and lots of road signage.

The 80’s were hard in the County and when I graduated from Sheridan College’s Retail Management two year course in ’86 there was no wineries, no Regent Theatre running, no restaurants and probably not very many B & B’s. It was not much of a tourist destination other than the fabulous Sandbanks beach area, it was just farmland really. So I decided to stay in the city and find work. I worked a number of jobs, new car sales, the business office of a car dealership, a stock market office inputting daily trading, office building management plus waitressing in the evenings. I had fun but hated the regular hours and go-train commuting.

I convinced my best friend and roommate, Lisa to join me on a 3 month backpacking excursion to Europe during one of our evenings at the local pub with a few too many drinks into us. I was looking for any excuse to break out of the monotony of the office working world. We worked and saved for about 9 months and then took off for a fantastic adventure. The backpacking trip changed us both a lot and for me it made me realize I had to break the cycle of working at a job I was good at but didn’t really feel any great passion or excitement for.

Luckily I had an awesome boss who told me when I said I was quitting to backpack through Europe told me to be smart and ask for a leave of absence. Which I did, so I had a job to go back to. When I came back my mission was to work my butt off again at the office and waitress so I could save up enough to go back to Sheridan College but this time for a 3 year course in Illustration and Art. My boss told me that if everyone in the world lived the way I do following their desires to do what they want to do the whole damn world would fall apart! He was smiling and shaking his head but he admitted he was jealous of my fearlessness to just jump. He said the rest of the world will just plod along with everyone in their own little rut keeping the world turning so I could go play. That has stuck with me for a long time, what he said but I will be damned if I can stand being in a rut for any length of time.

Off I went to college where I was totally immersed in many different art mediums and loving it. Three glorious years of art; drawing, painting, photography, printmaking… it was fabulous! Granted I didn’t get to be like the other students and get free rent and meals during the summer and go home to work. I worked 2 to three jobs plus school but once again my old boss came to the rescue and hired me each summer to come back to the office and work or switch me to another office location to help them out with projects.

While at college this is when I first met Tim Snyder. He always stood out to me with his long black coat and crazy tall boots with the big silver metal plates up the front. He was in a relationship for our 1st year and 2nd year of college but his best buddy Dave liked to hang out with myself and my best friend Judy and Tim always came along. We had many evenings working late on projects at the school and lots of coffee meetings in the halls and gathering zones of the college. Sometime in the early part of our third and last year of college Tim became single.

Oddly I never thought of Tim in a romantic sense he was just another of the guys at school and I was all about doing my best at school and working to pay my bills so I didn’t have time for dating. Meanwhile we were organizing our graduating show with Dave, Judy, Tim and I working as a team doing a large chunk of the work to set up the whole show. Well three weeks before we all would have gone our separate ways Tim and I seemed to start looking for any and all excuses to spend as much time as possible together. Neither of us can quite figure out what changed back then but suddenly we started noticing each other. Our poor friend Judy was sick of us constantly going to her and talking all about the other one and finally told us to leave her out of it and just talk to each other. Well that was the beginning of us actually dating, though it was usually disguised as a gang of people coming over to my apartment to watch movies all night that Tim happened to have on VHS. We did manage to always sit side by side and talk into the wee hours and finally we managed to clue in that we wanted to be more than friends.

It’s funny dating someone after years of them seeing you show up to class after rolling out of bed with 3 hours sleep and no make up and your hair stuffed into a ponytail, unbrushed so you don’t miss the class. He had seen me in the raw form and all aspects of my personality laid out with no ability to take back or pretty up my looks, thoughts or attitudes. It was just the real me for the past three years and he liked me!

Anyways that was… good Lord! Almost 20 years ago! We got married on Nicholson Island in 1997 in a wonderfully small outdoor wedding under a tree by the beach. Our daughter Leah was born the same year in December and she is now almost 16 and our son Quinn was born in 2000 and is now 13 years old.

We lived and worked in Toronto for the first few years. We bought our first house in Burlington and fixed it all up and 4 and a half years later sold it to move back into downtown Toronto. We bought a very scary run down house on Gladstone, north of Bloor street. Over the next 3 and a half years we renovated the house completely. During this time I was home mostly looking after the children plus illustrating a few children’s books and a doing some illustration work for a toy company working on their games. Tim had been working in stop motion animation for years and had moved up to directing. The shows he had worked on were Zaboomafoo, Snowden’s Christmas, and at the end of our time on Toronto Tim was directing Jojo’s Circus.

We wanted out of the city and the tough work hours of television, more green space and more freedom for our kids. We had a 5 year plan but we lucked into finding a property in Prince Edward County, not too far from where my parents were still living, around year 4 of the plan. We decided to take the leap and bought the house, barns and land on the river unconditional. Then we started the 4 week panic of finishing the renovations and fluffing of the Toronto house to put it on the market. Luckily we did finish it all, sold it and moved in late November 2006 to our new County home.

The mortgage was manageable but taxes were the same as Toronto, food seemed more expensive and there was a whole lot of yard work with all these trees. Did I mention neither of us had a job now? We did have a plan at least. Fix up the barn that was starting to fall apart. Clean it up, bring in lighting and make it into a little local art gallery. Local art was not so easy to sell or obtain since most people doing it had their own studios so I started bringing in wholesale garden items and funny signs. This worked and people came to visit us.

Tim went to work building and tearing down old barns with the man that helped us fix up ours that first winter. Not easy work in freezing weather but Tim was happy for the change from television. Then he took on a few contracts from the city doing story boarding, then he was begged to come back to the city for 6 weeks to help out a TV show that was struggling and way behind on schedule. That was when he discovered how much he hated commuting home on weekends from the city so that was the last time he did that. After that he started working on graphic design and illustrations for local businesses and helping out Scout Design in Picton. He eventually took over for Scout Design when the owner moved to Ottawa. Now the business is called Ton-Up Creative. Ton-Up is a British expression that came about in the 40’s when men used to race their motorcycles from cafe to cafe and try to reach 100 miles an hour on the winding roads. 100 miles an hour became the slang Ton-Up.

Now it has been seven years we have been here. The Galloping Goat Gallery is enjoying quite a bit of notoriety. We have friends and family that have run into many people in far flung places that mentioned that they have visited the shop in the barn.

It is a fun place for me to shop for and the kids now help out in the shop and the customers are rarely not laughing over funny sayings on the signs and magnets. It also has the most fabulous view out the window that looks directly out at the Black River. Plus my good friend Bill Stearman, my assistant manager and all around awesome employee, with his side kick Otis the Wonder Weiner Dog makes sure that everyone who visits enjoy themselves, including me!

In the last decade I have been knitting hats and having a blast making some crazy, colourful and sometimes zany hats. I should say that it was a visit with my Mom when she showed Leah, then 7, how to knit and Leah liked it so much I thought I better learn a bit so I can help her. Then the knitting obsession took over me too. I found that I didn’t like to follow patterns but loved to take the fun, frilly and textural yarns and add them in to the hat pattern to jazz it up. I started selling them at the Galloping Goat and they flew off the shelves! Next I applied at Picton’s Arts On Main Gallery co-op as a fibre artist and was accepted! It took some getting used to be a fibre artist when I have always considered myself a painter but what the heck I was having fun!

A friend convinced me to take a nuno felting course and so began a new obsession. I started playing with dying silk fabric and felting wool to it and creating scarves and shawls. Then I learned how to make purses and started pursuing making felted hats. Now this tickled my fancy! Sculptural, colourful and unlimited designs running around in my head, I was truly in heaven. I took on the role of Treasurer and board member at Arts On Main in my first year and being a part of the gallery pushed me like nothing else to be more constantly creative and make new things often. I was doing really well with my art and gaining confidence.

I shopped at Rosehaven whenever I could and chatted to Linda Swaine the owner often and thought what a great store it was and how fun it would be to run it. Linda asked me to do some teaching which I gladly said yes to. Then after a number of other chats she asked me if I would be interested in purchasing the business from her as she would like to retire. I jumped at the opportunity! The thought of having access to all that yarn and fleece and a fabulous space to sell it from plus room to work on felting and knitting my own work and have people pop in to visit and knit alongside of. What could be better than that!

So here we are present day, whew, that was a long story wasn’t it? Now we are taking Rosehaven to the world wide web and offering the fun unique yarns to anyone that can visit our online shop. Plus Rosehaven will continue to live on in Picton on the main street. I am planning on continuing with Linda’s list of shows that she visits over the years next season. The incredible workshops that Linda has always offered to her customers might take a bit of work to get up to Linda’s level for me but I am never one to back down from a challenge! There will probably be fewer workshops the first year but as I find my groove of running the show I will had more in as I find things that people might be interested in.

I am going to be in Rosehaven starting in mid November so I look forward to meeting you and now that you know my story maybe I will get a chance to hear yours!



2 responses to “You Never Know Where You Might End Up…”

  1. I stumbled upon this post while searching for things to do in that area. I enjoyed this read. If/when I visit that area, I’ll make a point to stop by your shop.