Newish to Manitoulin

Maria and Steve Chovaz

EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin is being transformed with the influx of new residents and business owners who bring with them fresh ideas, experiences and perspectives that are enriching the area. Some individuals and families are still unpacking boxes, having only moved in the past month or two, while others made the move over the last few years and are now comfortably established in their new communities. Here are some of their stories.

by Heather Marshall

Integrating into a new community always takes time, as newcomers learn the ropes about the best business locations and identify favourite things to do as they settle into new homes and routines. Having a sense of belonging can be particularly slow for retirees who pack up their lives and move lock, stock and barrel to a new location after decades in the workforce to start a new life. Unlike people going to school or jobs each day, where they are immediately immersed in a community, it is often harder for retirees to meet people and plant roots in a new place.

Despite best laid plans, that has been the experience of Maria and Steve Chovaz, who moved from Guelph to Gore Bay in September 2019. They intended to join local groups and do volunteer work that would let them transfer their professional experiences and personal interests from the city to their chosen new home. 

Before making the move, the couple had a good idea of what life would be like on Manitoulin. They had spent more than a dozen summers vacationing in the area, exploring different parts of the Island and discovering many things they loved about the area and lifestyle. They made repeat stops at Gordon’s Park near Tehkummah but most often found themselves staying at Fred’s Camp and other resorts on Lake Kagawong. Their last summer as vacationers in 2017 saw them return at least a half dozen times. That’s when it dawned on them that they should consider making the place they loved so much their permanent home. 

They first had to sell their home as well as their accounting and bookkeeping business in Guelph, which took most of 2018. It then took quite a while to find a suitable house in a community that offered the services they wanted. They finally chose a fixer-upper in Gore Bay in 2018, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2019 that the necessary renovations were finalized and the couple moved in. 

Steve got off to a good start settling in, joining the local golf club and making a few friends with his golfing buddies. He also fulfilled his plan to spend lots of time outdoors enjoying nature, which their new location enables them to do. Maria talks excitedly about the lack of city traffic and the fact that, with just a short drive, she can be walking in the woods or harvesting leeks and fiddleheads.

“It is so beautiful here. The butterflies are extraordinary and I haven’t seen so many grasshoppers in years,” says Steve. “I grew up in Hamilton with Lake Ontario in my backyard, so living close to the water again and being able to walk to the bay to sit with my coffee in the morning, taking in nature, has been amazing.”

However, their ambitious retirement plans were put on hold in early 2020 as they found themselves caught in the middle of the COVID crisis. Suddenly, all their planning to get out and about in the community, meeting people and doing good, were delayed as various organizations and local activities shut down, leaving the couple largely isolated.

Maria has over 400 hours of training in interpersonal, self-esteem and conflict resolution skills and has volunteer experience with the Canadian Mental Health Association. She volunteered extensively while living in Guelph, working on crisis lines, facilitating groups for at risk youth, and cooking, serving, cleaning up and listening at the Welcome Drop In Centre. 

Maria hoped to find opportunities to put these skills to work when she got here. She had been part of a Truth and Reconciliation group as well as a women’s drumming group in the city and was keen to spend time at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation where she hoped to learn more about local First Nations and how she could become engaged in the community. 

Despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic, they remain optimistic they will find their niche on Manitoulin and they are taking full advantage of all the Island has to offer. Although they missed favourite summer pastimes such as attending powwows this past summer, they have spent happy hours finding locally grown food sources, visiting farms growing organic produce and ethically raised animals. And they at least dipped their toes into the local volunteer scene.

“Steve and I both connected with Local Food Manitoulin and volunteered at the community gardens in Gore Bay. We met some wonderful people and are hoping to get to know them better when it is safe to visit again,” says Maria. They’ve also become friends with another couple that recently moved to Gore Bay, ironically also from Guelph, who had a cottage on Elizabeth Bay for 30 years before making the town their permanent home. 

They continue to discover perks to being here. The couple has high praise for health care and medical services provided on Manitoulin, marvelling at how quickly they can be seen for consultations and how excellent local doctors are. “In the south, you can pay hundreds of dollars just in parking fees at the clinic or lab before you even get in the door to be seen,” laughs Steve.

“I love it here and couldn’t move back to the city now,” adds Maria. “but we miss our friends and having people to share our interests and experiences with. We would love to meet like-minded people.”

The couple is looking forward to post-COVID life when their retirement plans can move beyond being dreams and they can fully take part in local life.

Heather Marshall and her husband worked as journalists and communications consultants in the National Capital Region for more decades than they care to admit before making their Sandfield summer cottage their permanent home.  A lifelong learner, Heather loves discovering new things and people and relishes the opportunity to write about newcomers to the Manitoulin. If you would like to share your story or know of recent arrivals we should meet, send a message to hmarshall@videotron.ca.