Moving for a Career: How Canadians from the South Made the North Their New Home

*This article was created in collaboration with The North West Company. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Moving for a Career

I’ve spent the last half-decade away from home as a travel writer. Yet, the concept of moving somewhere new is a little foreign to me. After every trip (whether it’s six days or six months), I’ve had the ability to return to my home, return to my friends and family and return to the life I’ve built in Saskatoon.

This summer I travelled with the North West Company (NWC) to visit their stores in the remote First Nations communities of St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill and Wasagamack located on Island Lake in northeastern Manitoba. NWC employs many locals from the area but also hire managerial staff from all around Canada. I was curious to learn the reasons why people were so willing and excited to live somewhere new and different.

After all, it’s intimidating to uproot your entire life and embrace change. But it’s even more daunting when that move means relocating to an area of Canada that’s considered remote.

With the exception of an ice road for a few months during the winter, the three communities are only accessible by commercial flights from Winnipeg. For the 7000 locals who live here, flying in and out to the rest of Canada is their only option.

One thing quickly became apparent throughout my conversations with those who have relocated to the area for work – “Southerners” as their called up here in the north. Their definition of happiness was closely connected to how well they were able to make their new community a home.

Connecting with Community

For Murray Thomas and his wife Kelley, travel for work in the retail industry has always been a way of life. They’ve been employed with the North West Company for the past five years. In that time they’ve moved to nearly half a dozen remote and northern communities to fill managerial positions. Currently the Store Manager and Administrative Manager at The Northern Store in St. Theresa Point since October of last year, they’ve had time to establish a home for themselves.

Thomas is charismatic and extroverted. It’s important to him to stay busy and get involved in each of the communities he’s lived in. “For me, that’s what makes it home. Home is where you swing your hat” says Thomas.

In his personal time, Murray is passionate about gardening. In the backyard of the NWC-provided accommodation, he’s gone out of his way to ship in a variety of different types of tomatoes as well as fertilizer to help them grow. While I was there visiting, he had hired a local worker to haul in additional soil so he could expand his garden for next year.

“I’m always busy and involved outside of work. That’s what makes it home for me” says Thomas.

But for Kelley, moving is the adventure of it all. For her, it’s fun to relocate to different places and learn about the nuances of a new community. Personal comforts are in the smaller details inside their house – bringing family photos and particular items that stay the same regardless of the house they call home.

Connecting with Nature

For people moving from southern locations in Canada or the United States into remote or northern communities, it’s a unique opportunity to enjoy nature while pursuing a career that offers financial stability.

Bernie Miller and his partner Trisha moved to Garden Hill in January after completing several months of training in Rossville, Manitoba. Originally from Alberta, Miller is an avid motorcycle enthusiast, often participating in endurance motorcycle riding. But because of Garden Hill’s location on the sixth largest lake in Manitoba, there are limited roads. Miller swapped his bike for a snowmobile and boat. In the winter, he explores the area by snowmobile and gets out ice fishing. During the rest of the year, he spends time boating on the water and participating in fishing derbies.

Trisha enjoys being out on the water as well. “Where else can you go to work and then be on the lake everyday after work?” she asked me.

When her son and grandson visited during summer, she took them out for nature walks as well as quadding and boating – activities that weren’t accessible to them while living in Edmonton. When their two-week holiday was over, they didn’t want to leave.

Continuing Personal Interests

In the neighbouring community of Wasagamack, 22-year-old Marty Sawanash brought a karaoke machine with her when she moved from her home of Berens River, Manitoba two months earlier. Sawanash is a singer and offered to perform at Treaty Days in Wasagamack. It’s what she loves to do in her spare time and she often competes in talent shows. It was also a way for her to get to know the community and meet more people.

Sawanash has been with NWC for a year but this was her first move with the company, a move that also included a promotion to Head Cashier at the Wasagamack Northern store.

Relocating with her partner Brandon Wood, Sawanash was excited to leave Berens River because of the opportunity to travel. “It was a start for me to go to new places and do something with myself” says Sawanash. “I’ve only ever been out of Manitoba twice before. Working with the North West Company will take me to new places in Canada. I can also hopefully one day be a store manager.”

Just as travel writing has given me opportunities for new adventures, moving to new locations to build a career with the North West Company has provided adventure and personal fulfillment for many of the company’s employees. But most importantly, by making each community feel like home in their own unique way, the North West Company’s southern employees have been able to successfully – and happily – pursue a career in these communities.

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