Family and music trump a life in the North

'There is no way of knowing what will happen in a life. For me the best way to enjoy mine is to see it as an adventure.

‘There is no way of knowing what will happen in a life. For me the best way to enjoy mine is to see it as an adventure.”

Carolyn Turpin’s life to date has indeed been an adventure, taking unexpected turns at unexpected times.

She was an “army brat” in the Annapolis valley of Nova Scotia until the age of 12 when her father became a Baptist minister.

They were an intensely musical family with her parents and their four children involved in playing instruments and singing.

Turpin plays keyboards, trumpet and string bass as well as composing her own music. She is also a singer. Before moving north, she was always engaged with music, playing at different times, in quartets, trios, bands, and as a solo artist.

At 19, she was living in Stratford, Ontario, and attending nursing college when she met her first husband. They married; two children later her husband announced a desire to become a minister.

Although Turpin had never wanted to be a minister’s wife, the family moved to Heartland, New Brunswick, in order for her husband to study at the Bible Institute. The couple’s third child was born there.

The first posting for the newly ordained minister was to Gananoque, Ontario, and they spent five happy years there.

“It was a lovely community,” Turpin says. “I was able to involve myself in the two things I have always been most interested in: music, and working with children. It was there that I started writing music.”

The Gaspe was the next adventure, with the family spending two and a half years there before getting posted to Ottawa.

It was in Ottawa that Turpin’s marriage ended, suddenly and dramatically, with her husband’s departure from the family.

“I met Joe quite soon after my divorce,” Turpin says. “He, too, was healing from a marriage meltdown. We became friends, comforting one another and helping each other through a bad time.”

They were married in 2003 in a karaoke bar in Ottawa.

“It was a fun wedding, and it marked the beginning of happier times for both of us.”

Joe had always wanted to go north and buy land; he wanted to live close to nature, hunting and fishing and building a home. The plan sounded good to Turpin. “We were in a position to do it; my kids were grown and I was ready for a change,” she says. “I thought it sounded like a fine idea.”

They got as far as Alberta before running out of money. They stayed a year in that province, working and saving. It was there they bought a bus and renovated it into living quarters.

In February of 2004, their mobile home took them as far as Watson Lake where they discovered there was no propane available to refuel their bus between Watson Lake and Whitehorse. They are still here.

“Funny how everything works out,” Turpin says. “We got jobs here right away and then we got better jobs. People get opportunities here that they might not get down south; Joe and I have both gotten work we thoroughly enjoy and that we may never have had a chance to experience any where else.”

Turpin is currently co-ordinator of the Liard Basin Task Force. She is responsible for the Better Moms Better Babies program, among others. This gives her the opportunity to work with kids.

“I find I need to do work that is meaningful to me, work that feels as though it has value, and work that helps people.” Turpin says. “This job offers all that; I am grateful to be doing something that gives me such tremendous personal satisfaction.”

Joe works for forestry in the summer as a mixmaster and in the winter works with the local EMS, both jobs he likes.

“We lived in the bus for two years,” Turpin says. “That lifestyle was one of the most important times of my life because it taught me a kind of liberation. You can’t accumulate stuff in a space like that; there is only room for necessities and you learn to truly have only what you need. It was very freeing. I also learned and liked the dependence Joe and I had on one another in agreeing to live like that. We were sharing the commitment to a simple lifestyle.”

The couple found and got their land: four hectares in the Rancheria River area. The bus was sold for some of the down payment money, and they moved into a house trailer, realizing they would be living in town and working as they got their ducks in a row for a permanent move to the property.

Before that could happen though, things changed in their lives, as things will do.

Joe’s mother has had to move into a nursing home and Turpin’s daughter had a baby.

“We need to go back,” Turpin says. “Joe needs to be there for his mother and I need to be there for my daughter and her family.”

They have sold their dream to a couple from Switzerland and have purchased a cottage in Quebec, on the Ontario border, a few hours from their families.

They don’t know exactly when they will be taking up residence in their new home, but it is not without regret they leave the Yukon.

“We both love it here; we love the land. There would be no question of leaving if it weren’t for family commitments,” Turpin says, “Though frankly, I am really excited about participating in a musical community again. I have missed music a lot.”

The idea of a return to the North at some point is not entirely gone. As Turpin says, “Who knows what might happen? Life is an adventure.”

Tor Forsberg is a writer

living in Watson Lake.