‘I miss the heat, all the different shades of green in the vegetation, the lushness, and I really miss the beach,” Amanda King says wistfully. “Its summer time at home right now.
Home is New Zealand, where Amanda, her husband Vince and their 16-year-old twin daughters, Brooke and Holly, were living until late last year.
Vince was a helicopter pilot in a land with more pilots than jobs, and when there was a job offered, he took it, even though it meant moving the family across the globe. He and Amanda lived in Whitehorse for a few months last summer until Vince was given the Trans North base in Watson Lake. They arrived here in September.
They felt immediately at home; though they have lived in cities as well as small communities, the rural life is the one they prefer.
“Watson Lake felt familiar, somehow; we liked it immediately,” says Amanda.
“The school, though, was going to be the deciding factor as to whether or not we stayed in Watson Lake. Vince and I went to check it out and we were impressed by the look of it; it was big, and it looked clean and well-maintained. There was lots of staff around. We were ready to be happy about the girls coming here.”
When they sat down to talk to the principal, however, he was less than encouraging, saying the school was years away from being a good school. He advised them to board their daughters away for their schooling. Amanda says that simply was not an option; the family enjoys being together and they didn’t want to be in a new country and living apart.
A second visit to the school led to a meeting with Rolly Comeau who was very helpful and supportive, telling the parents there were ways to ensure their girls got the courses they wanted and needed. It would take some maneuvering, and they would miss six months of English, but things could be worked out.
The girls arrived in December, to typical Yukon winter temperatures of 40 below.
“They’d come from summer in New Zealand; they were shocked by the cold, but they thought the landscape was beautiful,” says Amanda.
Brooke and Holly’s first day at school was less than ideal, with no schedule ready for them. They have to take two subjects which aren’t of any real interest to them, and they miss having English classes. These are young women with plans and ambition. Holly wants to be a writer/photographer, while Brooke wants to do something in the arts. Both want to travel.
“The best thing about Watson Lake for our family is the ski hill,” Amanda says. “We are all boarders, and the family season pass here is less money than a single pass at home. The snow is great, the facilities are great, and there are no queues. We have already got more than our money’s worth. For a small place, there is a lot on offer for people to do. I like the recplex; having so many things under one roof. There are yoga classes – the girls and I go to those – and the library is a really good resource, with helpful and friendly staff.”
Are they finding Watson Lake a friendly town? “It is very friendly in an immediate sort of way. My experience and the girls’ experience at school were the same; people are nice right away, but they don’t actually get to that next level. The next level is the one beyond saying, ‘We’ll have to get together sometime’ and then making it happen with an invitation, a time and date.”
“It’s hard for the new person to do that,” Amanda says. “You can’t just phone up and say, ‘Remember you talked about having us over for dinner? Can we come tonight?’”
Brooke and Holly are now finding friends; they had other kids over to their place last weekend and seem to be on their way to integrating into their new home.
“My husband’s mother is Maori,” Amanda says. “That’s the aboriginal group in New Zealand. The twins are close to her; they spoke Maori fluently when they were younger, and they look Maori.
“Because of racism in New Zealand, I used to worry about them. Here, I am getting a break from that. We are also taking a break from politics. We are too new here to know much about the government, whereas at home, we talked daily about issues.”
She can’t help but notice there is racism in this community. “I think it is worse than at home, and it seems the Kaska are not as well off as the Maori.”
Another less-than-wonderful aspect of life in Watson Lake is the cost of food, though Amanda notices there are a variety of available goods remarkable for a small community.
They get care packages from New Zealand: biscuits, favourite candies, and Cadbury chocolate.
“Cadbury chocolate tastes different here.” Amanda insists.
The Yukon is proving to be an interesting experience for this young family, but it is not home. Home is New Zealand, where their families are, and they will be returning there at some point. Vince misses surfing, and the twins miss the beach scene.
Meanwhile, Amanda works part time as a receptionist for the Signpost Seniors, a different sort of job than her work in New Zealand where she was a professional florist, working mostly on designs for corporate offices and events.
Amanda has been a writer and an artist for most of her life; as the kids grow up and away, she sees herself being able to devote more time to these pursuits.
Her Maori mother-in-law is currently finishing a PhD in linguistics in Hawaii and has long wanted Amanda to work with her on kids’ books of Maori traditional stories.
This time in the Yukon, too, will surely provide some excellent material.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.