A Tribute to Northern Gentleman

In 2008 I was on the Realtor website browsing like I normally do. I was checking all the small towns in and around Thunder Bay area for fun. When I came across this small little 700 square foot no basement bungalow in a town called Atikokan. The house was so cute from the pictures and was being rented by a local teacher. It dawned on me that if the teacher would stay a bit longer maybe I could buy the house! I had only been through Atikokan a couple times before that with my oldest daughter’s family and had always liked it. Rustic, wilderness and small and really nice people it seemed. I grew up in small towns in Northern Ontario.  I loved living with trees, rocks and water and even more so - the wildlife!  This town Atikokan had a vibe that I was drawn to. I eventually put in an offer on the house and in March 2008 the Princess Cabin I lovingly call her became my dream home! Over the years different people rented it. Usually I would get a word of mouth request for if my house was vacant for a friend of a friend. So I would rent it out. The goal  was to pay it off while I worked and lived elsewhere to eventually be my home for good!   The house would later come with a bitter sweet bonus! His name was Andrew but I called him my Northern Gentleman!  He got that name because he always looked good and took care of himself, he always treated me like a lady i.e. opened car doors for me, made me walk on the inside of the sidewalk.  You know the chivalry things to do, yet had the small town boy rusticness about him!  

Back to how we met.. 

It's now December 2012 - four years after I bought the house. I am sitting in my house in Sylvan Lake Alberta over New Years when I get a text from my then renters “thanks for the place.” At the moment I was enjoying a couple drinks and I thought to myself awfully nice of them to thank me for the place. After a while the light bulb goes off, oh my, I am about to lose my renters. And I am broke! How am I going to get there to check on my house. Luckily I had a friend in a town called Dryden about two hours away from Atikokan that I thought might be able to help me solve my problem. He knew someone in Atikokan that had a house, he worked with him! He would introduce us. I lucked out because I needed someone that would be available to check on my house from time to time going forward.

But at this moment, I needed to figure out how I was going to get the money to get my house and make sure everything was ok. It’s the middle of winter when it’s brutally cold in Atikokan -40 isn’t unheard of. Luckily I had some airmiles. But first I had to get back to Toronto where I was working at the time. So from Sylvan Lake Alberta I flew to Toronto, then made a flight to Thunder Bay for January 12, 2013 to get back to check on my home. To get to Atikokan I first have to fly to Thunder Bay then rent a car to drive 200 kilometers to Atikokan. So I did just that. Problem was when I got to Thunder Bay though I had a place to stay for the night the morning woke me to a snow storm! A biggie. I was staying with a friend that was a police officer for the night, and they advised me getting on the highway to Atikokan was not recommended. But if you know me, I don’t care how long it takes me to get there. I just have to get there! Any storm can be handled if you drive for the conditions. I am in no race to get anywhere, so driving slow is fine by me. I figure if I can drive 50 km/h in town during a snowstorm, I can do the same thing on the highway. So I got a rental car, and got on the highway to Atikokan. My friend’s weren’t wrong, it was a very bad day to drive, but for me it was just an inconvenient day to drive. Cuz a two hour drive would take me about four! I was fortunate as there was a snow plow enroute, and I just followed him! Driving 50 km/h in to Atikokan in my little rental car. Pulling in to Atikokan was the fun part. Of course the town roads are snow covered by inches and my driveway is kind of a disaster from the endless snowfall.

I get to my back door, and if the storm door wasn’t locked! Worse yet, they had left the back door open a crack! So I have an open door that I can’t get to due to a locked storm door. No problem, I will go in through the front. The front storm door is frozen! I can’t get in to my house! Everything is locked up… Lucky for me I catch a neighbour go by. A neighbour I don’t know at all, but I flag him down and ask for some help! Sir, do you think you can help me get into this house. He says look lady, I haven’t had to go to jail for 20 years, please promise me this is your house!! He was convinced to help me out. So he managed to push out the glass on my front screen door to get to my front door that’s unlocked! So in I go to my house. Thankfully the tenant had left the heat on, but I imagine it has been running on full blast for two weeks trying to keep a house warm that has an open back door in the frigid winter!

I got to work cleaning the house. I was so excited to be here. Though the tenants didn’t damage anything, and were great at paying their rent on time, they weren’t very clean! So it was elbow grease time. On goes the rubber gloves and out comes the comet I start scrubbing away in my kitchen with dirt layer counters! I am sure I looked fantastic, NOT! There comes a knock at the door, I go to answer my back door and there stands this super tall blue eyed man. He says your friend Adam says you might need some help! I had been texting this gentleman a bit between the time I had talked to my friend at New Years Eve and now. But now here he stood at my back door in person in a blizzard to check on things! He asked how things were and I said dirty, but other than that it’s ok. I invite him in to chat. Cuz it’s a snowstorm. He says hang on a sec, he runs to his mother’s house two doors down and returns with some tools. As I am cleaning he goes around the place and tinkers fixing odds and ends. I had a dresser that the door face had broken, he fixed it. I had odd nails poking out of baseboards, he hammered them. Then we sat down to chat for a moment, and I told him point blank I don’t trust guys, that I am happy to accept help, but I mention that I don’t really trust men to want to help without expecting something in return. He is happy to help, but offers to take me out to dinner. So off we went to dinner.  He then invites me to his home to watch some TV. I watched Duck Dynasty for the first time which by the way, I love and still watch the DVDs of the first couple episodes he bought me.   But I was so so tired that I fell asleep on his couch sitting up - which I have never done before. I wake from my mini snooze and head back to my own home. The next morning this tall guy with blue eyes shows up at my back door again with coffee and two muffins, he wasn’t sure what I liked so he grabbed two! We had a little chat some more but I am to be back on the road back to Thunder Bay for a flight to Toronto. He tells me not to worry about anything he will keep an eye on the place. From that day on he texted me daily, and the chats continued.  I learned more about him and about Atikokan! 

Then on January 27th, my oldest daughter went in to labour in Alberta with her first son!   I was off again on a flight from Toronto to Sylvan Lake, I wasn’t going to miss the birth of my first grandchild! I made it to Alberta in time. But guess who I was texting during my wait for my grandson to come, the gentleman! I often laughed that he practically witnessed the birth of my grandson by text! It was kind of a neat thing to share with some near stranger. But can’t say it wasn’t a bonding experience.

The chats would continue on, then calls, then in March he asked if he could come visit me in Toronto, and that he did! We went to SuperCross in Toronto and had some fun hanging out.  Things started to change from just friends to we were always talking and a relationship blossomed. He called me every night, and every morning. We were always in touch if we were awake and not together. And here’s where this relationship and this page are related. Northern Gentleman had heard me talking about how badly I wanted to do a backcountry trip. I loved the wilderness and camping and being outside. But though I had crown land camped growing up, I really wanted to try something where I hike in to the bush! What I didn’t tell him was about my anxiety for bears in the bush! You see I grew up in a place where we have lots of them, all the time. So they are a very real experience for me. Though I have never had a negative encounter I have watched them in real life. I know how big they are, I know how much damage they do, how strong and powerful they are and just how fast they can run! So being in the wilderness with that kind of danger scares me.

 Don’t get me wrong, I know that chances are I will never have an issue.  I know they run off when you hollar at them - most of the time. I am still healthily aware of their presence and the danger the can be. I know of people that have been attacked or killed in the areas where I have been.  Despite that I am ready to do this backcountry thing. So we ended up booking a couple nights in a place called Frontenac for the third week in April! Before hand he fixes us up with a backpack, and buys me some new hiking shoes and helps me set up with some gear. I was so excited to get out on this adventure. The suspense working up to that trip was awesome. But my anxiety is brewing about heading off in to unknown wilderness with B E A R S!!!  

Here we are now, the day we start our trip! It’s near 20 degrees when we arrive at the parking lot.  We are packed with some toques but hardly winter gear! We aren’t anticipating any winter.  It’s near 20 degrees out! There was a bridge from the parking lot in to where we would start our hike to camp. As we approached the bridge my anxiety was out of control. I was getting so scared my knees wanted to buckle. Andrew looks at me and laughs and says hey Cute Crazy Sexy Northern Girl, he called me his CCSNG - Cute Crazy Sexy Northern Girl, get going! But Andrew I am scared out of my mind my knees are going to buckle. He laughs again. Don’t care tough girl get moving! He would have none of my talk about turning back. The hike in wasn’t terribly long but it’s spring. There is no real green on the trees yet. The forest kind of has an early spring eerie look to it, but beautiful none the less.   We get to camp and wouldn’t you know it in blows this wind, and wet cold rain! Miserable weather. So we didn’t get to enjoy the outdoors, our only job was to get in to the tent and stay dry and out of the cold hard wind. It’s now dark to boot! In to the tent we go. As the night gets later, the air chills more and more. We ended up putting on every layer of clothes we could find in the bags we were so cold that our teeth were chattering away. We had to think, do we get out and get back to the car or do we stay put and hope for the best. But we figured we would be worse off trying to get back to the car in the dark, cuz if we got lost that could be a disaster. Best we could do was freeze it out til morning when it would surely warm up! So we teeth chattered and shivered and huddled best we could to keep warm, I think it dropped to about -7!!! Not funny. But it was. As we are lying there teeth chattering, I say to Andrew the good news is if we die tonight at least we had fun! And if we don’t die, we have something to laugh about for years to come! The next morning we aborted the plans for a two day trip. And so there you have it, that was my first backcountry trip with my Northern Gentleman.

 We spent a lot of our time together with a tent and a cooler in the car exploring everything. We one time went to the USA on a September long weekend with a tent and a cooler and traveled from Toronto to NY, then over to Boston then back up through Vermont and in to Montreal and back to Toronto to check things out. The reason we could is cuz we kept it cheap with a cooler full of food, and a tent! Camping makes things a little more reasonable. You can get four or five nights in a campground for the price of one night in a hotel! And who wants five star, when you can have billion star. 

He always made sure I had good gear, good shoes. And he knew how much I loved Atikokan so when we couldn’t be together, he would set his phone up on the window sill in his room at his own house which backed on to the river.  He did this so that I could fall asleep to the sound of the frogs up north while I was away in the city working. We had so much fun together eventually getting engaged. We were supposed to get married September 2015!

I could really get in to a stories about him but this page isn’t about that. But just know that northern gentleman was a graduate of the Outer’s program in Atikokan, a trapper’s assistant. He wasn’t really a hunter or a trapper, but one of his friends was and he would often help him out skinning things! He was a real gentleman. He always looked after his family, his friends and helped out in his community.  He was the President of the red dirt road I called it.  (the MotoCross track).  He was the most selfless person I have ever met. When it came to me, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for me. It was as if he woke up every day looking for a way to make me smile, and that he did!

Today as I write this I am up north at my Princess Cabin where I met him at the back door! But now when I go to meet him, sadly it’s at the cemetery. On April 12, 2015 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and on June 18, 2015 he was gone! He was 43 years old.  Our September elope and get married plans would never happen.  

I went to see him today at lunch as I always do when I am up here! It was a reminder of how much of a part he played in getting me out into the wilderness with a backpack. I still have the backpack, the shoes, and some of the other great things he bought me to make sure I was safe and comfortable out there. I also have a journal that we made together, where he journal entried our trips. It’s so nice that we made that. I had no idea at the time just how important that journal would become, what a treasure to have that!  It’s so nice now to open it up from time to time to relive those moments with him.

I am so blessed to have known his love, to have known the kind of love that didn't die with him because I still feel it. I saw daisies growing just behind where he rests now, so today I pulled a couple of them up and planted them in my backyard - I hope they take!  I love daisies.  But since they were growing near where he rests they will seem a gift from him if they do take!  

Also, I hope Northern Gentleman is speaking to my heart next week saying “just get going tough girl” when I am supposed to be heading out on my first Quetico solo! Every trip I do in the bush I get bearanoia. But since 2012 when I went on my first backcountry trip - I have yet to see one in the bush where I camp. That said, I can come home to the Princess Cabin in Atikokan and have them in my backyard snacking on the neighbours garbage they dragged over!  The Princess Cabin makes me feel like Snow White though my place is in town, I am surrounded by wildlife.  Animals walk by my door all the time!  :) 

I am so blessed to have this place, and to have the wonderful memories of my Northern Gentleman!