I have written about my Katimavik experience a couple of times in my blog. https://thewritingmommaca.wordpress.com/2019/02/20/letter-to-my-teenage-self/ and https://thewritingmommaca.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/nanowrimo-and-katimavik/.
I don’t think that either of those posts were able to represent my experience. Those were more about the many feelings of a 17 year old. Many many feelings. I am still working on that in short novel form. It will probably never be published, or shared, but I am still editing it.
In the midst of editing, something I was starting to believe wouldn’t happen, happened. We had a “20 Years Later” Katimavik reunion. It had been 20 years since we said goodbye. As many as we could find, and as many that could come, came to a beautiful spot in Ontario to meet up with one another.
Before I talk about the reunion, I need to talk a little bit more about my Katimavik experience.
In August of 1998, a small town girl got on a plane to Newfoundland. I had graduated high school in June, and was going on an adventure. What was the adventure? It was to join a program called Katimavik. How much did I know about it? Not a lot. This was before the Internet was big. People would ask what Katimavik was, and I would say, “It’s a government funded program that allows 11 youth from all over Canada to work and live in three Canadian provinces.” That’s all I knew. I did know I was going to live in Newfoundland, Ontario, and Quebec, but I had no idea who I would be living with. I had no idea what Katimavik truly was.
It would take a week of orientation, and nine months for me to truly understand what I had gotten myself into. I worked in each community. I learned about my other participants, and became friends with them. For a time, we were a Katima-family. We didn’t always get along, but we were there for one another always. For two weeks in each rotation, we lived with a family in the community. It was called billeting, and we spent the two weeks away from the other participants while working with our billets. I’m going to be honest, this was my least favourite part of Katimavik. Some billets were better than others. We travelled in the provinces we visited, and saw as much as we could. Each week, two of us stayed home from work to be House Managers. We cooked and cleaned for the crew.
It was a very long nine months full of ups and downs. Tears and laughter. Disappointments and success. Sorrow and gratitude. Hair and no hair. I started the program a little bit lost, with no clue what I was good at, and I did not have the best self esteem. I left the program knowing that I could handle many situations, knowing what I was good at, but still a little bit lost.
It was the perfect thing to do right out of high school. It was the experience of a lifetime. Until I read my journals, I had forgotten about many of the bad moments. I think that’s okay. It’s good to see that there was good and bad. Even on the worst day, there was always something great. There was always a new adventure awaiting me. With Katimavik, I learned about my sense of adventure, my love for travel, and my need to let people get to know me. I learned that I had a pretty good work ethic, and I discovered I was good at more than I thought. I planned a trip, and I worked on a yearbook for the group. I wasn’t always good at communicating in person, but it meant a lot that I could do little things for my group in my own way. I left the program with more confidence that I’d ever known.
Our group started with 11 people. We ended with 10. It’s actually rare to be done with a full group. We were lucky to have our 10. People choose to leave, or they’re kicked out of the program for breaking certain rules. None of us were kicked out, but we were pretty good at breaking rules.
20 Years Later
After leaving Katimavik, I promised everybody I would plan a reunion for five years. It turned into ten years. We tried for 15 years. It was a lot of lack of planning on my part. We would discuss ideas, and not go any further than that. It was hard to make decisions with so many people, and while I’m good at planning, I’m not always good at making decisions.
I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. In this situation, I am extremely grateful for it. We had a group where we could discuss memories and plans. We started serious discussions about two years ago, and finally decided on the place and dates. Not everybody could come. Unfortunately, that’s life. It would have taken forever to get all of us in one place. We couldn’t find one participant. He doesn’t appear to be active on Facebook, and any attempt to reach him didn’t work out. The participant who quit the program wasn’t able to make it, and one other person couldn’t come. We were quite sad not to catch up with him. I don’t think it would have been possible to plan this without Facebook.
With participants and their family, we had 21 people the first night. One family didn’t stay over so we only had 17 stay the long weekend. Three families were lucky enough to stay for the week. I think the ones that travelled the farthest wanted to make the most of our reunion and the cottages.
We stayed at a wonderful place called Round Lake Resorts. One of the participant’s family own a beautiful place in Ontario with cottages and a lodge, chickens, play areas, and a wonderful beach.
I left on Saturday morning from Saskatoon, and arrived in Ottawa around 3 in the afternoon. I rented a car, and headed to Round Lake. I was the second last to arrive. I was exhausted, but so happy to be there.
The first few moments were filled with greetings and hugs from the people I used to know so well. I met families, and introduced Anthony to them. I was handed a glass of wine from a friend, and the food was ready to eat. The first night was also a sign of what was to come with my son’s eating habits. All week, he barely ate. He ate a lot of jam on toast, and any sort of junk food that he saw in front of him.
After we ate, we took a walk to the water where some of the participants and families had already gathered. Anthony loves the water so he begged to go in. We went to change into bathing suits, but I really wasn’t loving the idea of getting into the water quite yet. All I wanted to do was talk and catch up with everybody. My very nice friend offered to go into the water with Anthony, and I was so grateful for the break, and the chance to talk to others. Anthony had a blast.
After I got my kiddo warmed up, we took some group photos, and went to the lodge to sit and talk. The kids ate popcorn and played games. Some of the kids spoke only French, and others were mostly English. For the most part, Anthony speaks his own language so it was a lot of translating.
After a three hour flight, and a two hour car ride, Anthony had ALL the energy. He ran around from room to room without stopping. My very pregnant friend looked over at me and asked if he was always like that. The answer is yes for the most part. Sometimes he will slow down if he’s allowed to watch the tablet. That week his favourite show was Max and Ruby. We didn’t need it that night. We just watched him run around. He was probably stealing all the energy around him as he went.
This was the moment I will remember. I was able to just sit and look around me. I can’t explain how I was feeling. Grateful. Amazed. Happy. I honestly just looked around in awe. It was unbelievable that we had finally done it, and were seeing one another again. To have so many of us in one place with our families was the best moment.
The participant that came up for the day had to head out with his family soon so we tried to get as much in as we could the first night. The reunion festivities were set for the next night, but we had a few things to share.
Somebody brought the yearbook to look at. I think everyone’s partners truly enjoyed looking at them. Unfortunately, mine had to work, but it was so much fun watching them laugh at what they read. I brought my favourite gem. We all wrote what we thought the others would be doing in the future. They were written by a bunch of very young adults so they weren’t all nice and they weren’t all appropriate, but they gave us a laugh.
I obviously am not going to share what we wrote for everybody. I will share mine. It wasn’t as bad or mean as some. ” Erin: live in a bigger town. Writer for a big magazine. Toronto. Boyfriend: hockey coach with green eyes. Have cats. Summer house in Plenty. Longer hair. Drink coffee. Smoke. Hot chocolate. Beer Belly. TV show gossip.” They meant bigger town than I grew up in. This isn’t hard to do because the town I grew up in only had 200 people. I never did find a hockey player/coach with green eyes. I had one cat, but now I have a dog. I don’t have a summer house in Plenty. Although I can stay with my parents. I don’t smoke. I do have a beer belly! I love the idea that somebody had faith I would be a writer for a big magazine. I’m not, but I am a writer, and some day I may even get paid for it. All in all, they weren’t wrong. Except, my TV show gossip is now a year behind because I watch everything on Netflix.
When I was in Katimavik, I was constantly wishing I was in on all the action. I hated not being included and always wanted to be in the ‘inner circle’. Whatever that was. At that age I was selfish. I was jealous of others. I needed people to see me. I still want people to see me, but it’s different now. I want to see others as well. That first night, my favourite thing wasn’t telling my story as much as it was listening to others. I tell it all on social media so I figured they knew a lot of my life story anyway. I enjoyed observing my friends. That’s not to say I didn’t talk, but I do think I took more time to hear things, and at times I was surprised by things I heard.
One of the women from my group said she went to visit a friend on a weekend off and cried so much because she didn’t want to go back to the program. This shouldn’t have been news to me. Katimavik was hard. We all wanted to leave at some point or another. I was surprised though because I don’t remember her ever saying it. I don’t remember wanting to leave. I know she was frustrated at times, but we were in a house with so many people that everybody was frustrated at one point or another. I felt bad. I wish I had known. I wish I had listened.
There were a few other things mentioned that truly surprised me. Some of them made me sad that I couldn’t help more during the program. I was stuck in my head for eight months. I tried to help people when I knew somebody was having a problem, but not enough. I was too busy thinking nobody was listening to me when it really seems that I didn’t do enough listening.
The first night, I listened. I heard people laughing and talking. I heard about their past and about their present. I found out a lot, and I’m so glad for that wonderful first night. We were relaxed and able to just be together and enjoy the time. We all wanted to leave the program at times. Some of us fought. At that moment, 20 years later, none of it mattered. None of us had hard feelings. We had finished the experience together, and were able to celebrate it years later. Not everybody is that lucky.
The next day was a little different. It was still wonderful, but I found it harder to find time to talk to everybody. This will sound strange, but I got this feeling that day as well as a few times throughout the week. I felt lonely even though I was surrounded by all those wonderful people. It’s hard sometimes with Anthony. He requires a lot of attention, and it’s really hard to have a conversation with anybody. He would play with the other kids at times, but he was the youngest, and when we were outside, he wanted to hang out with his momma. He also wanted to hang out in the lodge all the time because of the toys. This was hard as well because I think he is too young to run around on his own, but I didn’t want to hang out in the lodge and not catch up with friends. Basically, as many of us know, being a mom is lonely at times. Even if you’re surrounded by friends and noise.
We spent most of our day by the water. This was great. It was so much fun watching the families together. All the kids were loving the water, including Anthony. He loved splashing around and watching the other families. He loved jumping off the dock into my arms. My beautiful son is well suited for lake life.
I think meeting 20 years later was good. It would have been great to see people sooner, but it’s hard. I met up with a few of them when I could, but wasn’t able to see everyone. 20 years later my group seemed happy. We had lived a lot more life than we had in 1998. We had made families and lives for ourselves. People had careers and hobbies. (I don’t have a career yet, but I’m working on it, and I am following my passion.) I think at our age, we learn about what’s important to us. At that moment by the lake, we were all able to live in the moment, and enjoy the now. It’s not always easy to do that. Round Lake Resort was the perfect place to meet up. It was quiet and peaceful, but still had so many things for our group to do.
We had a potluck supper, and our table was full of food and families. It was the perfect last night. It was a late night, but we needed it. We all discussed what we’ve been doing these past 20 years. Unfortunately, I went first, and missed most of the important things. That’s okay. I loved hearing everyone else’s stories. We relived memories, and we laughed at how crazy our life had been in Katimavik.
Most of the group left the next morning. It was sad to see them go, but we all promised to meet up again in 5 to 10 years. I hope it happens. I stayed with two group members and family. It was a little less chaotic, but I missed the noise a little bit. I guess it never feels like enough time. The rest of the week we spent exploring the area, and enjoying the peace of Round Lake.
My friend and I were talking about what we would do differently if we were to do Katimavik over again. I already knew because I have thought about it many times. I fell for a guy in Katimavik (he wasn’t at the reunion). He wasn’t the right guy for me, but at the moment I thought he was. I wish I was able to see it for what it was. I wish I had spent less time thinking about him, and more time looking at the entire experience with gratitude and awe. I wish I had felt the same as I did while watching my group at the lake. I wish I had lived more freely and not worried about what was going to come. I wish I had smiled more.
I can’t change any of these things, but I’m glad I got to see the group again feeling happy and knowing what I do now. Katimavik changed all of us for better or worse. We all look back at it as a great thing we did with our lives. We would have changed either way, but this is an experience that not everybody gets. I’m lucky that teenage Erin got to open up her sheltered world to so many new people and places.
I’ve been writing this for a while, and I think this is the perfect place to end it. I am going to add a few photos. Some from 20 years ago, and some from this summer. I hope to introduce the people who were at the reunion. The introductions aren’t posted in any particular order. Mostly how the photos showed up. I won’t introduce the three that weren’t there, but maybe in another 10 years.
Katimavik has changed a lot, but it’s still a program in Canada. It’s been cancelled more than once, and keeps coming back. For that I am thankful. I hope it’s still changing lives, and making lifelong friendships that still stand strong over time.
The girls of the group. And an amazing recreation 20 years later.
Char (originally from Nova Scotia) and I are below. The first photo was taken in Quebec shortly after we shaved our heads. She was about 38 weeks pregnant at the reunion, and we are so happy she bravely made it. I have seen her a few times since Katimavik, and I’m grateful she’s in my life. In Katimavik, Char and I were the innocent ones. We had not experienced a lot in life, but Katimavik helped us out with that. I’ve never forgotten her laugh and her love of life. I’ve called her during the hardest moment in my life knowing that she would listen, and make me laugh. She’s going to be an amazing Mom, and I can’t wait to meet her son.
Below is a photo of Karen and I in Quebec. It’s not the best because it’s a photo of a photo. Karen was hilarious. She was silly, and loved to make people laugh. She and I were both moody at times and had short tempers. She was always there to listen though. This was the first time I’ve seen her since Katimavik ended. From seeing her with her daughter in person and on Facebook, I am amazed at her. She loves her kids so much. She works hard for her family, and you can tell she’s giving them the best life. It was wonderful to catch up.
The next two photos are of Fred and I. One was building a boardwalk in Newfoundland, and the other was in Ottawa. Fred and I fought sometimes. We were both stubborn, but to be honest, I was so lucky to have him in my group. There were times when I went to him for support. I trusted him to give me a hug, and let me know everything would be okay. We didn’t get as much time to catch up as I would have liked, but I can tell he’s the same wonderful person. Fred does what he wants, and doesn’t mind doing things solo, but I could see his gratitude for Katimavik, and his hope for the future. I can’t wait to meet up with him again.
Karen and Fred are both from different areas in Quebec. I didn’t end up with photos of just one of them, but that one is great.
Katie (from Alberta) and I are below. Looking very young. I don’t know if Katie knows how truly important she was to the group. She was hilarious. She was brave. She took care of everybody. She was probably the person who most of us went to for advice. She was young, but at that point, in my eyes, she seemed to have life figured out. She always seemed so strong. She told it like it was. Sometimes that was hard for me, but it was good. I learned the most from Katie. I’ve also been lucky enough to see her at least once a year, and went to Thailand and Taiwan together almost 10 years ago. I loved spending the reunion week with Katie and her girls. Her kids are wonderful, friendly, and creative, and they’re as kind and funny as their mom.
Anastasia (from BC at the time of Katimavik) and I are below. She came from Florida with her husband for the reunion, and I was so excited to see her. Anastasia was my rock through Katimavik. She was a rock. She was so strong and independent. We bonded from the start, and I was lucky to have her. I learned a lot from her. She was silly, and did her best to make me laugh when I needed to. We went for walks and we spoke about life. I haven’t seen her as much as I’d like, but we do write the occasional letter. I wish I had more time with her, but maybe some kid free time. As I said, Anthony made talking to people hard. She stayed for most of the week, and I was grateful for the time with her. I cannot wait until we meet again.
The photos below of Dave (from Ontario) and I are from Katimavik, last year, and this year. (The third one is with Katie as well.) At 17, I hadn’t been friends with many guys. I mostly had a group of female friends. In Katimavik, I discovered how wonderful it is to have male friendships. He was funny, and he teased like an older brother, but he was also there for advice and hugs when I needed. Last year, I was in Ontario for the summer. I decided to go visit Dave, and I was so happy to meet his family. I saw how he had changed, and he had become an even better person. We don’t talk often, but I’m so glad we got the chance to meet up then, and again at the reunion. I hope to stop by for a visit again when I’m in Ontario.
Marie (from Quebec) (below) was my friend from the start in the group. I can still remember the second night when we went for a walk and talked about boys we liked back home. Marie was quiet, but she was so funny and so kind. She knew how to be loud when she needed to be. We called her the cutie of the group. We shared a love of movies and movie stars. I believe back then it was Ben Affleck and Mat Damon. I think to know Marie is to love Marie. She was kind and she saw the best in people. I’m sad it took us 20 years to meet up again. She and her family are fantastic. They’re friendly and kind, and are raising some sweet and athletic girls. I’m so happy I met them.
When my group meets again, my son will be old enough for me to have actual conversations with people. He’ll be the right age for me to get to know everybody again. This reunion made me so happy. I am sure we will meet again because it would break my heart not to. In the meantime, I’m so happy we did this. Until the next reunion, I will see them on Facebook, and try to be as present as I can in their lives.
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