Tell us a little about yourselves. Where were you born and raised? How did the two of you meet?
Amy was born and raised in Frankville Ontario on an off grid self sustainable family farm. The mentality of growing and doing it yourself is best. Dima was born and raised in Zhytomyr Ukraine with deep roots to his grandfather's traditional farm. We met in Hana Hawaii doing volunteering and working stints abroad. We then continued to travel around the world together.
What brought you to Frankville in Leeds Grenville?
Amy's family is still in Frankville and we recently bought our own off grid farm in the town.
Not many Canadians can say that they’ve visited Canada’s artic, but the two of you used to run a remote lodge in the artic of Canada, can you tell us a bit more about that experience?
Living and working in the north of Canada is an iconic, satisfactory and extraordinary experience. The pristine nature, wilderness conditions and need of a survivalist work ethic are not easy to describe, nor are for the faint of heart. We lived in a canvas tent frame with a wood stove, and endured conditions ranging from -48 Celsius with meters of snow and the winter darkness to 25 Celsius on the arctic tundra and the 24 hour daylight. We ran all aspects of living in the wilderness, working with crews and conditions, and running a tourism establishment. It is a huge scope that includes everything from ordering masses of food that are dropped in occasionally, to fixing machinery, to cutting wood, to fishing, to looking after guests and giving them a glimpse of life in Canada's north. It is hard work, but Dima and I take pleasure in the reward of living in raw nature, snowmobiling, fishing, the aurora borealis, and the amenities of tourism, especially the bush saunas where you can cut a hole through up to a meter of ice for a dip in the water!
Your family currently lives off grid and is self-sufficient. What led you both to want to live this lifestyle? What have been the biggest challenges / most rewarding aspects of this lifestyle?
Off grid and self sufficiency lifestyles require a lot of attention and planning, but is very simple to carry out. You need to be aware and carry out tasks such as monitoring water and power consumption, pumping water when needed, maintaining a battery bank, cleaning and tilting solar panels, performing energy saving habits, gardening, root cellar-ing, etc. The combination of small jobs allows us to produce our own power, pump our own water, and we try to produce or locally source as much of our food as we can. The rewards, numerous basically are sustainability, better food, no power bills etc. Its a wholesome concept.
Do you have any personal or cultural traditions you love to celebrate?
We try to celebrate holidays and traditions of both Ukrainian and Canadian orient. Now that we have our son Damian we will try to do more of this so he can learn both cultures.
What advice would you give a newcomer moving to Leeds Grenville?
Our advice to any newcomers would be to get out and meet people. In rural areas it can be difficult, but joining clubs, groups or organizations is a great way to get involved in the community.
Andressa Costa, born in Fortaleza, Brazil is an international student currently studying at Thousand Island Secondary School (TISS) in Brockville through the Upper Canada District International Education Program. Andressa first arrived to Brockville when she was 15 years old, and has been living with Lee and Meghan Sample, her homestay parents for the past three years. Andressa originally came to Canada to learn English, “I was supposed to only come for one year and then go back, but then I really liked it. So I decided to stay another year, and then I decided to just graduate here. I want to go to university in Canada next fall” she said.
One of the main reasons Andressa decided to stay in Brockville to continue her studies was that she felt safe here and enjoys the freedom that comes with that feeling of security. She went on to explain that, “15 years old in Canada do stuff that 15 years old wouldn’t do in Brazil, like walk alone. In Brazil, that’s not a thing, being able to get a bike and go to school.” The school system and structure is different as well she said, in Brazil students take 15 subjects, versus here it’s 4 per semester. “I like the structure of the classes here better, we have more projects instead of tests” she added. Andressa also commented on the class sizes, where in her hometown in Brazil classes sizes are much bigger, with 50 students rather than 30 here, “the teachers are closer to you” she said.
Andressa is very involved at school with clubs and sports. In grade 10 she tried rugby and cheerleading. She has been a member of Student Council since grade 11 and is also a member of the outdoor club. Andressa is also a key member of the school’s ‘Aquity club’ – a club that works to make the school a better place for all students – LGBTQ, international students, etc. and it promotes a culture of acceptance.
When asked what she enjoyed the least about high school, Andressa, who is now in grade 12, said she has a lot to do right now, from looking for scholarships to researching universities, all on top of her regular school assignments. She added that even though she has been here for 3 years, English still isn’t her first language, so it always takes her a bit longer than Canadian-born students. Andressa added, “I feel lost when it comes to apply for university in Canada – international kids do not have a lot of help”. “I feel like we [international kids] miss out on opportunities for scholarships”. Andressa added that she would like to see the school expand more assistance and guidance for international students navigating university applications. Math and science are Andressa’s favourite subjects, her dream is to go to medical school and become a doctor in Canada.
We asked Andressa to tell us about her homestay experience. As mentioned above, Andressa has been living with Lee and Meghan Sample for the past three years. “They are young, it feels more like friendship than parents to me, and they let me have the freedom to do what we want” she said. Andressa participated in the couples wedding and also invited Lee and Meghan to Brazil to meet her family and visit her country. “They always try to bring the Canadian experience, like taking us to big family parties at Christmas and trying eggnog” she added. She discovered the Canadian delicacy, poutine, with them “it’s the little things that makes Canada what it is” she said.
When asked if she would recommend a homestay to other international students, she said yes. “My parents have been great, but having friends who are also in the program, I don’t think they educate the host parents enough about the student’s culture”. Andressa believes that there needs to be education from both sides. She says the reason for her positive experience with the Sample’s is because they respect each other. “They respect the fact that I am Brazilian, I speak loud, I am crazy, and I respect them and follow their rules” she said.
Though Andressa understands that difficulties in forming connections can be combination of internal factors such as shyness or poor English-language ability, she also wishes that her peers at school were more open and culturally sensitive. “I see some kids – they don’t know where we came from or how much we pay to be here – or they don’t want to know. They think we come here because we have a lot of money or think we are refugees”. She added, “It’s not so much with me because I have an outgoing personality, but I see it with other international kids, they struggle with making Canadian friendships – because I feel like the Canadians don’t make the first step to understand our culture”.
We asked Andressa if she had any suggestions of ways to get Canadian and international students to engage with each other, she said “I feel like we should do a mandatory class in school, like in grade nine we are required to take a civics and careers class”. “We should encourage people to come back to their roots, encourage people to be different, give them the opportunity to learn about their heritage”. Another suggestion of hers was to have an assembly, “every year we have assemblies about alcohol or drinking and driving, we should have one about learning about our neighbours, respecting and appreciating other countries and cultures.”
We asked Andressa what she likes and dislikes about Brockville as a city. She said, “I like how it’s cute, small, I love King Street and downtown.” However, like many other international students, Andressa takes advantage of Brockville’s close proximity to larger cities such as Montreal and visits when she cans, “the trains helps a lot” she added. Although she finds Brockville small and maybe even a bit boring at times, Andressa see’s Brockville’s potential to attract even more students by having a university here, having more youth oriented activities and being open-minded to learning about new cultures.
To finish off our interview with Andressa, we asked her what one piece of advice should would give to an international student considering studying in Canada. She answered simply, “choose your city wisely”. When Andressa originally came to Canada, she choose a small town because she was so young, “I was scared of the big high schools in Toronto. At 15 I was not really independent, I didn’t know how to take the bus”. Now, after being here for three years and in combination with her outgoing personality, Andressa has many Canadian friends. However, she also sees first hand what a lot of other international students experience - loneliness, isolation and difficulties forming friendships with Canadians. She said, “I know of kids who came here and ended up living in Mallorytown, they spent all weekend on their cell phone, what experience did this kid have? They paid a lot of money to play on a cell phone? Or came all the way here to meet another Brazilian or Chinese student?”
While smaller and larger cities each have their benefits, Andressa recommends that international students do their research into what city they think would be the best fit for them, so that they don’t feel “stuck” in a small town or overwhelmed in a big city.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born right here in Brockville at the Brockville General Hospital. I went away to college at Algonquin, I wanted to “get out of the small town”. When I finished college, I moved to Calgary for a few years to work. In my late 20s I wanted to put some roots down, so I decided to move back to Brockville, and I was fortunate to find employment. I have new and old friends and my family is in the area. I definitely have a new perspective of Brockville as an adult, it’s an amazing place to live.
Can you tell us about the Canada Homestay Network and how you got involved?
The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has a partnership with the Canada Homestay Network – the largest and most experienced homestay company in Canada. For international students coming into the UCDSB within Leeds and Grenville, they need places for students to live. The Homestay Network finds families and homes willing to take students in. The intention is for the hosts to treat the students like their own son or daughter.
I currently work at Fulford Academy, so I’m already used to working with international students and that lifestyle. When I met my wife, Meghan, she was also working at Fulford at the time. We both knew Matt Raby, who’s the Executive Director of the UCDSB International Education Program, so he was a common connection for us. When we bought our home, Matt mentioned this program might be something we would be interested in. We have a fairly good size home and we have the space, and we don’t have kids of our own yet, so the timing worked.
When did you start hosting international students?
We hosted our first international student three years ago. We have had the same Brazilian girl, named Andressa, for the past three years. She originally came to do what she thought was going to be grade 10, but they made her do grade 9 over again. She didn’t want to be left behind from her friends back home, so she actually completed grade 9 and 10 in one year. Then she came back for grade 11, and now she’s in grade 12 at TISS and is planning to go to a Canadian university next year.
We’ve also had other students throughout that process too. We’ve had a girl from Mexico who was with us from one year, another student from Spain for one semester, and other students through Fulford Academy. The owner of Fulford Academy has another business outside of the Academy, where she brings students in for college, university and high school to Leeds and Grenville and surrounding area. We had two Chinese students with us for one semester who were attending St. Mary’s. We have also taken in a student from Equatorial Guinea over the holidays, as she wasn’t able to go home for Christmas.
We have also had one other Chinese student, who was connected to us through a colleague at Fulford Academy, she lived with us for two years while attending BCI. The student’s mom also came and visited for a summer and stayed longer, so we actually had her and her mom living with us for a while.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a host parent?
Just knowing that Andressa, who came here when she was only 15 years old, has a safe place to live. I consider her part of our family and I love her as if she was my own daughter. The relationship I’ve made with her family is absolutely amazing. I joke with her dad, that we are long lost kindred spirits that have been connected through this experience. It’s been rewarding to see how much her parents appreciate what we have been able to offer their daughter. We don’t have much, but we’ve been able to offer her so much more than any money could provide, and them knowing she has a safe place, that makes me feel really good.
We actually went to Brazil and we met Andressa’s family. We stayed with them and travelled. Despite the fact that Andressa is 17, her parents aren’t that much older than Meghan and I. So there wasn’t a huge gap in age, her parents are some of my best friends now. They came and stayed with us the following year and I’m in contact with her dad all the time. This experience has completely opened up a whole new world – I would have never thought I would ever travel to Brazil. Now I have connections and family down there.
Now that I’ve done it [hosted international students], I would want to do it more so with my own children one day, because I think it would be such an amazing experience for them. It’s been an amazing experience for me, and I definitely recommend anybody to get involved in the program. Now, I will say not every connection with every student is going to be the same. We’ve had a very special connection with Andressa, but we’ve also made other great connections on different levels with other students, depending on how long they were with us for. There really hasn’t been a bad moment.
Have you experienced any challenges? Do you have any suggestions to overcome them?
I wouldn’t say there have been many challenges. I work in an international environment, so I am constantly communicating with international students. So, I am somewhat ‘trained’. Probably the biggest thing for me at first, was giving people space. When you bring people you don’t know into your home, it’s somewhat weird at first, until you get to know each other.
There’s always going to be cultural differences, something that’s normal in their culture is different here. Whether it comes to food, or daily activities and routines. But you just have to be open, and understand that just because you think something is normal, doesn’t mean it is for them. I’ve also learnt to ask a lot of questions to ensure I’m being understood.
How do you like to spend your free time?
We’re a very active household – we play soccer, hockey and like to go hiking. We have two dogs and a cat, so we are always out walking our dogs. I like to cycle, and I am part of the Brockville Cycling Advisory Committee. Meghan and I were also on the Committee for the Brockville Winter Classic event. When we decided to move back to Brockville and make it our permanent home, we really bought into the small town community. So we got involved in everything and anything we could, it works for us and our lifestyle.
What do you love about living in Leeds Grenville?
It’s what I know. It’s always been my home, despite how I felt about it in the past. It’s the comfortable place it always was. My mom lives around the corner from me, and my dad a brother are a few streets away. My aunt and uncle have also retired here. I have a great group of friends, new and old. I’ve also been able to become immersed in the community through volunteering and my career as well. There are so many amazing people in this community.
Where were you born and raised? What do you miss the most about your home country?
I was born in Zimbabwe, which is in Southern Africa. I moved to Canada in 2010. I was an expedition leader and safari guide across Africa for over a decade, so I definitely miss the wildlife, long bumpy roads, year-round great weather, and camping under big starry night skies.
I also find that I sometimes miss the sights and sounds of people going about their day - working, chatting, laughing, children playing, music in the background, dogs barking etc. You were constantly surrounded by people and life-in-action. I also think of family often.
How did you come to live in Brockville (Leeds and Grenville)?
I met and married a beautiful girl from the Brockville area and one day woke up to find myself on the other side of the world, in Brockville, knee-deep in snow when I moved to Canada in 2010!
What had you heard about Canada before you came? What stereotypes/expectations did you have? Were your initial expectations accurate? Can you give us an example?
Yes, I suppose like many people around the globe I carried an impression of Canada as having polite people, cold winters and a love for hockey. It turns out all three are true! And actually now that I’ve lived here for some years, I would add one other Canadian stereotype to the list, that is not very well-known overseas – Tim Hortons!
On a more serious note, I’ll add that the most important impression that people around the world have of Canada is that, even though it is still a work in progress like every other country - it is still arguably one of the most free, fair and equal societies in existence. It’s a country traditionally known for doing the right thing for its people as well as on the world stage. Traditionally, other countries wait to see where Canada stands on critical issues before adopting a platform because they respect the Canadian tradition of being fair and having the good of the world-at-large, at heart. What many Canadians do not know is that Canada belongs to the world. This is because as long as a country like Canada exists and has its ideals and positive traditions intact, other societies have an example to esteem to and emulate. We are a country that gives others hope. Are we perfect? No. But we are a work in constant progress and we have done many good things for ourselves and for others. And even though these are very testing times, I believe it is imperative for both new Canadians and those born here, to fiercely safeguard the virtues and traditions that made this country great and have always been passed down from generation to generation of Canadians.
Foremost, that of just being good to one another - being generous, kind, fair, welcoming, helpful and yes – polite! That was my impression of Canada and it is my impression still.
What advice would you give to a newcomer moving to Canada or Leeds Grenville more specifically?
Bring a warm coat! More seriously, when I first arrived it soon became clear to me that I had to relearn most of the things and knowledge that we take for granted as adults. You have to be open to this process in order to succeed as a newcomer. It’s almost like being a child again or learning a new language. You have to relearn how to dress because the elements and weather are different. You have to relearn social skills because how people interact with each other in Canada is often different to what you’re accustomed to. You have to relearn how to navigate the workplace because often the rules of engagement are different and how you interact with your colleagues and managers is different.
The biggest challenge can be realizing that the skills and knowledge you have accumulated through your life that were very valuable and valued in your old country can sometimes be almost completely irrelevant as a newcomer to Canada and you have to be prepared to start again and rebuild your knowledge and skills base. So my advice to a newcomer is to be prepared for a possible dark period, but by keeping your focus on your long-term goals and dreams, and doing what you need to do to rebuild your foundation, sooner or later the sun will shine again.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I grew up around sports and so I enjoy following a variety sports. I am yet to adjust to more traditional North American sports like ice hockey, baseball and football – I’m still trying to understand the rules! So I’m still following the sports I grew up with like rugby, soccer and cricket. I’m also yet to learn how to skate. I attempted it once and was stumbling, crashing and wiping out all over the pad while all around me, children below the age of 10 were gliding around effortlessly. A humiliating experience that I’m still recovering from! Ha-ha!
As I mentioned, I was an expedition leader across Africa for many years so I still have the occasional itch to explore. These days I do it by sometimes just taking long drives on roads I haven’t been on before and just seeing where they go. I enjoy that. In recent years I’ve also developed an interest in cooking and enjoy exploring new recipes. But most of all I like to read and I like to learn. Self-development is a key element to life and fulfillment. I think there is great satisfaction in learning new skills and learning how to be creative beyond what you previously thought was possible for you. The human spirit is limitless.
There is just something about food.
It is a centerpiece of holiday festivities. It is how neighbours welcome newcomers in their community. In the dining room, families share traditions. In many cultures around the world, coming together and sharing a meal are the most communal and binding moments.
In France, for example, communal meals are very common. The French tend to spend a full hour at the dinner table, and during that time, they’re actively engaging with family and friends.
In Spain, a long-held tradition is la siesta. For many Spaniards, a true siesta includes taking a break (around an hour or two) to eat, nap and escape the heat. However, for some working Spanish in the cities – those who can’t make it home to rest in the afternoon – siesta is spent with colleagues. It is the time to have a good meal with your coworkers and get to know each other better.
What we can learn from these cultural traditions, is that meals are about more than just the food; they’re also about conversation and connection.
Food is also a great vehicle for sharing culture with people from different backgrounds.
The Gananoque Public Library did exactly this by hosting a multicultural potluck earlier this week to celebrate the arrival of the ‘We Are Neighbours’ exhibit in Gananoque. Local residents were encouraged to bring a favourite dish representing their culture or heritage.
Over twenty local residents came together to exchange food, stories and culture. Long-time Leeds and Grenville residents, immigrants from Nepal, India, England and Mauritius, as well as Canadian-born residents who relocated to Gananoque from other provinces, each took turns sharing their stories. Stories about their travels, stories of how they came to live in Gananoque, and naturally as it was a potluck, there was plenty of conversation over the food spread on the table.
One resident, originally from Mauritius (an island east of mainland Africa) shared “I never learnt anything about Canada before I came, all I knew was that it was cold,” she laughed.
Another gentlemen, who was born in a small village in England, spoke about his entry process to Canada, “I had to have a job lined up before my application would be accepted. I ended up doing a transfer through the company I was working for in England.”
For another resident who grew up in Kingston, she shared that she was “tired of the hustle bustle of the city”, so she decided to relocate to Saskatchewan for a more remote and calm life. Eventually she came back to Eastern Ontario, but chose Gananoque for that small town feel.
A local chef spoke about what cooking means to him, “For me, the joy of cooking is sharing it, to see others smile after finishing a meal. It’s the love, a way of expressing gratitude.”
For another resident who grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, who moved to Gananoque with her family years ago, said “I love it here [Gananoque], it’s a great location, you have your choice of cities around you.” But ultimately, “we choose to stay here because of community”.
Our neighbours having amazing stories, so why not invite them over and dig in! Sharing a meal is the perfect time to ask them about their home country, their traditions, their stories – ask them anything, really. All that’s left to do is sit back, relax and listen.
If you're inspired to strike up a conversation with somebody new to the region or somebody different than you, here are some questions to get you started!
Where were you born and raised?
I was born at the Brockville General Hospital in Brockville, Ontario. I grew up in downtown Brockville, up the street from the armories. When I was 14 years old, we moved to Lily Bay, in the Township of Elizabethtown-Kitley. I consider myself a born and raised “Brockvillian” – other than moving away for university I’ve lived here my entire life.
Do you have any personal/cultural traditions you like to celebrate?
My parents are both of British and Scottish descent, so we celebrate very traditional holidays, Thanksgiving being my favourite. Coming from Nova Scotia, my mom taught us traditional Celtic song and dance growing up, so at holidays, singing often occurs!
What do you love about living in Leeds Grenville?
I love the small town feel, the St. Lawrence river, and all the local activities! We are an hour drive from Canada’s capital, and within short driving distance of all the eclectic surrounding communities!
How do you like to spend your free time?
When I’m not working, I enjoy hiking, hanging out with my friends, spending time with my family and most importantly eating. I’m a huge foodie, so things like the local farmers market on the weekend are definitely a must.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where were you born and raised? Can you tell us a bit how the region has evolved over the years?
I was born in Winchester, Ontario and raised on a family dairy farm south east of Kemptville, in North Grenville. The farm is still operated by the fourth and fifth generation of our family. Our community in the 60’s was very close knit with much of the focus revolving around church and long established family farms. Over the last 40 years the farm focus has remained but a greater number of residents in the area are commuters to jobs in larger centres.
As a retired elementary and secondary teacher, Vice Principal and Principal, with over 30 years’ experience with the Upper Canada District School Board, can you give us some examples of how newcomer children and their families bring both positive experiences as well as challenges to classrooms and schools?
While attending school in the 60’s and 70’s most schools in our rural region were usually 100% from white European lineage. At that time, urban schools would see more immigrants from non-European countries. While working in the school system for 30 years, till 2012, as well as today, more newcomers from all around the world, arrived in our communities. They were the face of more religions and customs that were new to our area. As our communities grew and valued our global reality, schools and staff supported, valued and celebrated what newcomers could share, creating a more global understanding in classrooms. As educators and parents, our biggest challenge was to try and not make assumptions in our schools about newcomers needs. We learned we must ask for leadership from newcomers and be inclusive in our school communities.
In 2014, you joined the Volunteer Centre of St. Lawrence-Rideau as the manager. What advice can you give to a newcomer wanting to volunteer in Leeds Grenville?
Newcomers must feel confident in stepping up and sharing their skills to our non-profits and business community. They can start to do this by volunteering. They must understand it is ok to ask for support and see that reaching out as a volunteer is a great way to network. Volunteering is a great way to meet people and feel included.
How to you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy volunteering and meeting people. I enjoy the arts and am involved in community theatre where I love to see youth and newcomers welcomed to our community events. I love to see their leadership skills and confidence while they are making community contributions. I value the opportunity to volunteer with the local YMCA and Children’s Mental Health and other organizations that value inclusion as an operational mandate.
What do you love about living in Leeds Grenville?
It is a wonderful blend of rural and urban communities who all show a community pride. A great place to live and grow with family and friends.
In previous Campaign posts we’ve met some of the MacKay kids from Merrickville including Fae and Hal, this week meet their brother, Neil!
Neil is 11 years old and like his sister Fae, was born in the United States. Neil says he enjoys living and growing up in a small town where everyone knows each other. We learnt in Fae’s story, that the MacKay family hosts “wwoofers” (a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers) on their family farm. Neil’s favourite part about hosting exchange students and “woofers” from different parts of the world is learning new languages. When asked what advice he would give to a newcomer moving to Merrickville, he said “Everyone is nice in Merrickville, don’t be afraid to go up and talk to people”.
Neil likes to play soccer with his friends. One of his favourite places to visit in the summertime is the local ice cream shop. His favourite ice cream flavour is chocolate mint!
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born at Brockville General Hospital and raised on Caintown Road north of Mallorytown. I lived my whole childhood in the same old stone house with my parents and a younger sister and brother. I went to high school at Brockville Collegiate Institute and then continued my education at Dalhousie University (Halifax) and then at Queen's University (Kingston).
Do you have any personal/family traditions that you love to celebrate?
My family has a number of traditions that we like to celebrate but I think the biggest tradition is that we spend a lot of time together. We have all settled within a hour and a half of our childhood home and my sister and I are within 10 minutes of our parents. We spend all holidays together and usually have dinner about once a week. Christmas contains the traditions that I miss the most when I am away...Christmas Eve candlelight service at St Paul's Presbyterian Church followed by a party at my parent's house, Christmas morning breakfast of cinnamon rolls and present opening followed by a wonderful Christmas dinner in the afternoon.
What advice would you give to somebody moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
Leeds Grenville has an unbelievable number of attractions available to everyone but you need to search them out! To those who have lived here our whole lives I think we sometimes struggle to see everything this area has to offer. I was away at school and working elsewhere for 10 years and it was only when I returned that I fully realized what we have here. Whether you love sports, the arts, the outdoors, history or small town life you can find it here. Many people think that our community restricts the possibilities of what we can achieve but I firmly believe that all doors are open for people of all ages and backgrounds. I'm proud of how welcoming our small towns are to families from all corners of the world.
What do you love about living in Leeds Grenville?
I am a country girl at heart and Leeds Grenville has allowed me to live in the country while still doing the job I love. I had always dreamed of travelling the world and had ambitions to do that as a physiotherapist. I have been lucky enough to have had that opportunity while still being able to come home to my quiet house in the middle of nowhere! I love our lakes and woods and most of all, the friendly faces of people I have known my whole life.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
My husband and my young son are my priorities when I am not working at my clinic. We love to travel and spend as much time as possible with our families. I have always been obsessed with sports so I also spend a lot of time either playing or watching sports or being a physiotherapist at various sporting venues across the country.
Where were you born and raised?
Born in Ottawa and Lanark County, Bill and Sarah have deep roots in Eastern Ontario. At the age of 21, Bill moved from Ottawa into Lanark County where he stayed until 1975. He then relocated to the Frankville property that currently hosts Gibbons Family Farm. An old stone farmhouse was his and Sarah’s first home on the property. In 2010 Bill built and moved into another house where he currently lives. Sarah has remained true to her country roots and now lives in Mallorytown with her husband.
Bill: Before opening Gibbons Family Farm as a business, you were a dairy farmer. What made you turn your hobby of maple syrup, into a business?
Bill explained that he worked with dairy cows for 20 years but always dabbled in maple syrup production. He made a living from the cows but eventually, wanted a change. He began putting more time and effort into maple syrup production, making it into what he calls a ‘glorified hobby’ that he affectionately says ‘just got out of control’. Bill never expected the business to blossom into what it is today!
Sarah: How did you get involved in the family business?
Sarah’s first memories of involvement with the family business were from a young age when she would take time off from school to help with sap collection. After a long hiatus from sap collection that spanned through university, overseas travel and various social work jobs, Sarah began helping on the farm during the 2001 season, working the off-season on local cruise ships. She alternated between farm and tourism work until 2005 when she was asked to manage the business while Bill cared for aging parents. Weeks morphed into months and eventually, Sarah became a full-time fixture of Gibbons Family Farm. This was very unexpected. When Sarah left Frankville to study at the University of Guelph, she did so with little intention of returning to Leeds Grenville. Sarah exclaims with a smile that, “By no means did I think I would be the one staying on the farm!”
What’s the best /most challenging part of running a family owned business?
Both Bill and Sarah agree that not having a boss is a big perk of running a family owned business. But with that perk comes significant responsibility. As Sarah explains, ‘being self-employed means being solely responsible for your own pay cheque.’ As the maple syrup season is very weather dependent and only occurs for a short period of time, challenges also include hiring staff. Bill and Sarah explained that it is hard to find people who can essentially be on-call and willing to work extremely long hours until Mother Nature says that sap season is done. They continued by saying that it can also be hard to remember that as business owners they can’t expect employees to have the same level of commitment to the business that they do.
If you were sitting down and having a conversation with a newcomer/immigrant who was thinking about starting their own business, what is the best piece of advice you would offer?
As English is the primary language of Leeds & Grenville customers, Sarah feels that having strong English skills is an important contributing factor to a newcomer entrepreneur’s success. Bill agreed with Sarah but went on to say that one needs to be friendly too and “probably personality is even more important than good English.” Finding a business that is needed in this area would also contribute to success or if planning to be home or web-based, ensuring the product or service is needed in Ontario or Canada. Bill and Sarah recommend ‘starting small’ and not borrowing more money than you are comfortable with.
Maple syrup is symbolic of Canada and trips to the sugar bush are a spring-time tradition for many Canadian families. Do you have any personal, cultural or family traditions you love to celebrate?
Maple treats in the springtime are a Gibbons family tradition but instead of driving to Lanark County to buy them, like the Gibbons family did when Sarah was young, the Gibbons now produce their own sweet goodies! Christmas crackers on the holiday table have also been a longtime Gibbons family tradition and Sarah tries to carry this on from her Grandmother. Members of the Gibbons family can also expect Polish treats at each family gathering as Sarah’s mother hails from Poland.