by Rebecca Swarbrick
Wakefield was the ruin of my life in Ottawa. In one seemingly innocent trip, the death knell was rung. It was just a matter of time before I would be walking the streets, humming as I gazed out over the river, gracefully pushing the stroller, as my two children blissfully napped. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, not living in a total bubble, I had other human beings to consider in the move – namely my husband Jonathan. Now Jonathan is a reasonable man and he understood my delight at this colourful, quirky, walkable village. Alas, the move would not allow him to do something that was clearly a non-negotiable – cycle to work. And of course he worked in downtown Ottawa, as so many of us do. So the dream took an adjustment and we moved into what basically looked like a farm field with a few houses, namely Hendrick Farm in Chelsea.
“Hendrick Farm”, you say, “one of the developments by the 5”? Dear reader, mind your language, our award winning piece of architectural paradise is none less than a village within a village – the quintessential Russian doll of living spaces. I jest; or do I? Living here for the last 3 years has certainly given me the village experience. Kind neighbours, kids cycling in packs like cute wolves, evenings of sipping wine on each others decks (as rules allow!). If you want to know what Hendrick Farm is like, get beyond the website, don’t bother driving slowly round peering into gardens as if you’re visiting the local zoo. Just find someone who lives here and become their friend. You will not regret it.
I must pause here to admit something about myself. I am not Canadian. The only Canadian thing about me is my 3 year old daughter and a certain love for changing-it-up with the seasons. No, I am from the UK plain and simple and in a few short months, to the UK I shall return. So if everything sounds a bit too good to be true, bear this in mind. Everything is more enjoyable when the expiration date is close – you can taste the freshness!
I shudder when I remember my first winter in Chelsea. My daughter was a babe in arms and my son a ‘runner’. Whilst he had the capacity to leap across the snow like a deer, I, well, sunk. As we headed along the path towards the little bridge, that fateful day, my son decided to take his own route directly towards the creek. I called out for him to stop, but he paid no heed. I tried to follow after him, but the snow was up to my waist and I didn’t want to deep-freeze my daughter. I then had the ingenious plan of using a sled as a boat. This was surprisingly ineffective. My voice got louder and more panicked as he disappeared out of sight. Fortunately, I was with a friend who is also a neighbour and her partner was working from home. Within minutes he had arrived decked up with snow shoes and followed the little footsteps my son has left. The next 10 minutes or so felt like an eternity. But then, suddenly, there they were! My son looking rather shocked at my worried face, quietly explaining that he was following some ‘doggy footprints’. One of his legs was soaking wet, but he was strangely nonplussed. I shudder to think what might have happened had I come alone. What a difference good community makes.
As I look out of my window, the farm field is splattered with fruit trees, a newly marked out section awaits the arrival of chickens and the community garden has taken flight. I can see a groundhog snuffling about and birds dart just about everywhere. Every so often someone wanders by with their dog or a cup of coffee (I still don’t understand coffee on the move). Though the field is mainly mud, green in sprouting everywhere – life is just about unstoppable, even now.
In about 30 minutes Jonathan and I will take our weekly walk along the trail, taking the route over the balance beam log and scrambling up the hill to emerge at the cemetery. I will don my mask and enter La Boulangerie. I will chat to the wonderful girl who works there and becomes more like a friend every week. Whatever is going on around and in me, I will come back home feeling strangely refreshed. These are sacred moments, especially in these times. To see a familiar face who is not a member of my own family. To leave the house knowing that they’ll be smiles and greetings along the way – people that help you to believe that we will get through this, that everything will be OK.
I will always be thankful of the day I took a trip to Wakefield. So much of my life here grew from there: hilarious and wondrous Write Nights and (the best ever) writer’s group, Sing Song Party times from Derek McKinley during the first lockdown, the magical musical evenings at Fairbairn House (so long ago) and the many walks culminating at Pipolinka’s or le Hibou. As I write now my children are being cared for at a nature school there, a place filled with growing vegetables, a sense of discovery and, well, chickens.
So thank you Wakefield and dear Chelsea old and new. You have been the best of neighbours and most wonderful friends. I wonder if I will ever again be a part of a knitting group who will take me as I come, or whether I’ll have to finally bite the bullet and learn to knit. Time will tell. Au revoir mes amis. Fare thee well.