For Emily Gee, life’s been clear sailing.
And she credits that to a year spent on a ship while she was a youth.
“My father arranged for me to have a year on the Concordia when I was 17,” she says. “And it was truly life-changing. It changed the shape of my adolescence.
“I was growing up in a small town in Ontario that had lots of teen pregnancies, drug use and alcohol abuse—the whole teen gamut of potential trouble. I had some friends who got pregnant; some were using drugs and drinking. In high school, there were not a lot of kids who were taking their education seriously; it was all about the social aspect of school, not the learning.”
“On the ship there was no time to worry about what to wear; we all wore work clothes because we were rust-busting or standing watches or helping in the galley. We were not only expected to participate in all the work of running the ship, but we were in an intensive academic program. All this while living with lots of other people, in a confined space and sailing around the world!
“The best part was that my peers on board cared about their education; they were giving it the importance it deserved. Being exposed to other cultures, too, in such an immediate fashion, gave me an appreciation for differences—it opened my mind. We started in Denmark and went to Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands before crossing the Atlantic and going to the Caribbean.
“It was my first time away from home and it was difficult. We were in Jamaica for Christmas and I flew home for the holiday and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back for the next semester. My brother had done a year on the ship before me, and he persuaded me to finish. I am so glad I did!”
Emily stops to sip her tea.
“It just got better and better after that point; after I’d committed on my own to finishing.
“We went through the Panama Canal and to the Galapagos Islands. I had some moments that will never leave me, some powerful images: swimming with sea lions, camping out for three days on Easter Island. We went to French Polynesia, all the way to Tahiti, and we were on Pitcairn Island. We became like family; I was at my 10-year reunion last year and the bonds formed during that voyage are still strong.
“If I hadn’t had that year, I don’t know if I would have gone to university; I don’t know what I would have done.
“I think that experience is probably why I have the good life I have now, loving my husband and our children and our life.”
These days, Emily is mostly about being a mom.
She and her husband Christan have two daughters under four, Evelyn and Lily.
Emily is passionate about being a stay-at-home mom, she knows how important it is and is grateful to be able to do it.
Christan teaches at the secondary school; the job brought them to Watson Lake in 2006.
They’d met and married while students at University of Fort Kent in Maine; Emily was pregnant with Evelyn when they graduated. It was Christan who would be teaching and the job in Watson Lake was his first position.
It was really exciting to move to the North. They took three weeks to drive here from Nova Scotia, camping most of the way.
The teacher’s orientation in Whitehorse, for new teachers, was a boon Emily says; they met lots of people and found new friends.
The community was friendly; Emily found Parents and Tots and quickly bonded with other young mothers, meeting for walks as well as taking advantage of other organization offerings.
Lily was born in Whitehorse the year after the family’s arrival in the Yukon.
Today, she usually socializes with the other moms. She is not very involved with the community outside of that.
“I don’t know a lot about what is going on here yet; all we talk about is our kids!” she says, laughing.
What she does know is groceries, and she finds the store “disrespectful” in its high pricing and selling (too often) of past-due-date products.
“It has given me a whole new appreciation for grocery shopping. When I walk into SuperStore in Whitehorse it feels like a kind of heaven.”
Another growing concern is the burning of town garbage at the dump outside of town.
“I am always worried about the air; there are days when the smell is so strong that I won’t take the children outdoors,” she says. “I understand some people live in areas where they don’t notice it, but where we live I can sometimes detect the odour even inside the house. Its baffling to me the practice continues considering all that is known now about how toxic and dangerous the air is when the garbage is burned.”
The lack of arts-related activities for kids—music and dance, for instance—may also force them to leave the community, though there are fine recreation activities in the town, she says.
She took over the yoga classes this year, teaching two classes a week and welcoming the opportunity of having something of her own to do outside the family.
Her husband is an avid outdoorsman, so much so Emily says she sometimes believes she and the girls are on a par with his passion for hunting and fishing.
Christen has bought her a rifle and she is going hunting with him this fall, a trip made possible by her mother planning a lengthy visit—from August until Christmas.
Her brother and his wife are currently visiting and, in keeping with the importance of clan to Emily and Christan, they will be heading east this summer to visit their respective families.
She is an ebullient woman, quick to laugh, and clearly contented with life with her husband and children.
“People with no passion, no values—lethargic people, non-contributors,” get her down, she says.
And what makes her happy?
“When the kids are asleep!” she jokes, before turning serious.
“I love to hear my children laughing,” she says.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.