Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Ouellette
Long before I was born, the three-man crew of Apollo 17 trained in my hometown. They tested their skills and equipment on the same rocky terrain I played on as a child. Only a handful of people can say they’ve been to the moon, but I had an early taste of what it might be like to explore a far, distant world. I grew up in northern Ontario and, while being in the great outdoors was a regular part of my daily life, I daydreamed of something more than lakes and boulders. I wasn’t impressed by the wide, open spaces; instead of finding them peaceful, I considered the tranquil landscape rather dull.
Like most kids, I craved adventure. I was disappointed that there were no secret passages to another world hidden in the nooks and crannies of our family home, despite eagerly seeking them out. Beauty and the Beast was one of my favourite stories. Belle ended up with an adventure and a gigantic personal library? Sign me up! Then, as a teenager, I wanted distance from my family so I could figure out who I was and what I wanted in life. I wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere else.
I applied to university in Toronto and set off on an adventure where the buildings barely shared space—let alone pedestrians—on a sidewalk. It was noisy and chaotic and, at times, a strange city where I learned to expect the unexpected: watching a busker juggle with fire on Queen Street, accidentally walking through a film shoot (and apologizing profusely), being invited to parties hosted in secret locations, sampling foods I had never heard of before. I fell in love with the vibrancy and diversity immediately. I didn’t know then that these first few steps away from home would end up taking me out of Canada altogether.
I met a man who was confident and charming, with a British accent that my inner bookworm hinted could be my own Mr. Darcy. We dated, it was exciting, and I fell in love. One night, he suggested that we move to England and live our life there. I laughed, but slowly it turned from an idea into a plan.
I moved to England, landed a job in marketing and made a small circle of friends. I toured castles, sipped tea with scones and clotted cream and learned to appreciate the charm of a full English breakfast the morning after one too many pints. I ventured to other parts of Europe for vacations and shared photos with people back home. Everything I was experiencing made it easy to forget that kid I once was in northern Ontario and distance myself from that part of my life. I grew more confident and independent, but I also struggled with feeling like an outsider at times.
One evening, my boyfriend surprised me with an engagement ring. I said yes, but my heart just wasn’t in it. After a year abroad, the glamour had started to fade and I felt profoundly lonely. I couldn’t just head out and celebrate the news with one of my close friends or family members. There were other things, too: I embarrassed myself more than once by saying “pants” instead of “trousers,” I missed my favourite comfort foods and I even missed the snow! I fondly remembered growing up hiking through the woods, kayaking and camping. My roots were in Canada, and I learned just how deep those roots were during this time.
I thought long and hard about what kind of life I wanted for myself and my future. Travel had always been the ultimate adventure in my eyes, but there was one journey that wove its way into my mind and stuck. I realized I eventually wanted to start a family—something I hadn’t thought about much before that proposal. When I pictured my life as a mom, I knew that I wanted to raise my child back in Canada. I wanted my kid to enjoy our four distinct seasons and explore the natural beauty and scenery of Canada while camping like I had, even if that meant subjecting them to the wrath of mosquitoes. I also missed my family and, at a stage in my life where I craved motherhood, I wanted them to be part of my future kid’s life. The distance I thought I wanted had lost its appeal.
I moved back to Toronto and ended my engagement. I have no regrets. I love living in Canada—this place feels like home in a way no other in my travels ever has. Eventually, my heart healed and I fell in love again. We got engaged at the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of our favourite local landmarks, and this time I didn’t get cold feet. We started a family. Today, our son is five. We live in Toronto but travel north to see my family, where we visit the familiar places I enjoyed when I was his age. He loves smelling pine trees, looking out across a vast, sparkling lake and lying in the cool grass, staring up at the stars. Our son loves being in the Canadian wilderness just as much as I do, and he has a curiosity about nature that reminds me of my own childhood. Whenever the wanderlust sets in, I daydream about where to travel next—only this time, I will get to show my son how amazing the world is and how special it feels to head back home after an adventure.
This article was originally published online in April 2019.