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.
Nathalie and Clayton’s romance got off to a fiery start – quite literally. The couple was so engrossed in conversation during their first date at a Montreal café they ignored their server’s attempts to get their attention. It was only when the manager ordered them to evacuate that they realized the building was on fire. Fire played a pivotal role in their decision to move in together, too, when Clayton’s condo went up in smoke several weeks later and he found himself temporarily homeless. Nathalie invited him to move into her home in nearby Hudson, Quebec while he figured it out. The relationship rapidly evolved to marriage within a year.
Nathalie Fert was originally from Avignon in the south of France, where she studied marketing in university before marrying her teenage sweetheart. They began their family soon after, raising a boy and a girl. Nathalie started several businesses during those years, including a real estate company, but her heart had been set since early childhood on moving to North America.
“At six, I told my parents I will be a businessperson and I will go to America”, she laughs. “I always knew this is what I wanted to do but my ex-husband wasn’t ready for such a big change, so I waited and, when he gave me the go ahead, we packed up our kids and started building our new life.”
Getting a green card to work in the US proved to be daunting so she activated “Plan B,” moving to Montreal in 2009 where her children could continue their studies in French. While the marriage dissolved, Nathalie was employed by a variety of companies in the city and eventually made the move to Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), where she worked alongside the vice-president, strategy and the CEO.
An anglophone from Toronto, Clayton Berg had grown up dividing his time between affluent city suburbs and a remote family cabin in the forest along Six Mile Lake in the Muskokas. The son of a father who owned a law firm and a mother who was a surgeon and researcher, he led a charmed life that included home-schooling, enabling him to spend six months each year surrounded by nature. Following a private school secondary education, he attended the University of Toronto where he earned a degree in molecular chemistry.
Although his training was in the lab, Clayton discovered his entrepreneurial spirit, building and selling his first company, a music start-up, right after graduation. He then shifted to the nascent nanotechnology sector where his firm developed fire-resistant fabrics. That was followed by a health-conscious vaping company in another emerging sector, developing fluids for electronic smoking products as a safe as possible alternative to cigarettes.
Clayton’s next move was opening a business importing saffron from Iran where he bought a farm, partnering with local farmers to grow the crop. “Saffron is a miracle drug that can help with everything from menstrual cycles and libido to cancer treatment,” he explains. Clayton’s company began making targeted health tinctures that were distributed throughout Latin America, but that activity abruptly came to an end when COVID-19 struck. The Iranian government ordered him to start growing eggplant for the local population and expropriated his farm when he refused.
While figuring out his next act, Clayton was recruited by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to serve as a scientific advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office on the Canadian Technology Accelerator Program. He led teams of lawyers, professors and young entrepreneurs engaged in cutting-edge technologies and was running an accelerator program for high potential start-ups by the time he left.
The pandemic had a massive impact on Nathalie’s career, as well. Her BDC staff was travelling in Asia doing business in December 2019 as COVID was just emerging. When they returned to Canada, almost the entire office was hit with a particularly virulent strain of the virus. That got her thinking seriously about the importance of her own and other peoples’ health, rekindling another childhood interest of becoming a healer, which she always felt was an innate gift.
“I wanted a totally different way of life, so I took up reiki and am now a certified reiki master,” explains Nathalie. “I studied aromatherapy and massage and have been certified in five different forms of holistic massage therapy. I’m currently studying traditional Chinese medicine and acupressure. I’m constantly learning because it’s all about healing people.”
“We were both doing what we wanted to do in our former professions, but we realized we were on the wrong path and made the big decision to reinvent ourselves and get back to the country,” adds Clayton. “Our little community of Hudson was disappearing as developers threw up condos for commuters working in Montreal and it was time to return to nature.”
Nathalie’s focus on health came at a crucial time for Clayton who, one day in late 2020, woke up vomiting blood. After a rush trip to hospital, where he was briefly legally dead but revived, he learned it was due to an extremely rare genetic disorder. He spent weeks at home recovering, cementing the couple’s desire to find a quiet place in the woods where they could lead slower, quieter lives.
Within a month of getting back on his feet, the couple began looking online for forest properties in the Muskoka region but, by accident, their cursor slipped on a map of Ontario and they discovered Manitoulin. Within a month of that, they sold their house, packed the most basic belongings into their RV and, sight unseen, bought two neighboring parcels of land in Kagawong in August 2021. Their plans to build a new home were waylaid by permitting delays, causing them to miss their window with their builder. This winter they will be living in a guest cabin on their property with their ‘forever’ house going up in the spring and summer of 2023.
They’ve settled happily into their new life, launching several businesses. Nathalie works at Bare Naked Beauty in Kagawong or at her studio in Mindemoya as well as under contract with Mnaamodzawin Health Services. Clayton is having fun with his newest venture, Triple Dog Dare Sauces. He develops custom seasoning flavours for restaurants and competitive chefs around the country, which have won numerous awards. The couple also sell their wares at the Wednesday market in Kagawong during the summer. They still have fire in their bellies and ambitious plans for their new life on Manitoulin, but they’ve left the world of lattés, fiery cafés and condos behind, preferring a peaceful life in their idyllic lakeside hide-away.
Heather Marshall and her husband worked as journalists and consultants in the National Capital Region for more decades than they care to admit before making their Sandfield 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 HAMarshall@proton.me