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 over the last few years and are now comfortably established in their new communities. Here are some of their stories.
by Heather Marshall
Like most millennials, Simon de Sousa and his partner, Lesley Smith, are ambitious, hardworking and anxious to build productive careers and prosperous lives. Like many millennials, though, they have been stymied in attempting to start new businesses by COVID-19 and priced out of the stratospheric housing market, seemingly putting their plans out of reach.
Until October 2021, the couple lived in Toronto, where Simon worked as a chef in high-end vegan and vegetarian restaurants while Lesley was doing a 4.5-year program studying to become an osteopath. Osteopaths apply non-invasive manual therapy to joints and muscles to strengthen the framework of the body to prevent disease and get the body back to optimal health. Many people turn to osteopathy and its holistic approach to health for chronic pain management for conditions such as arthritis, sports and repetitive strain injuries as well as digestive issues.
With repeated lockdowns throughout the pandemic, Simon’s dream of owning his own restaurant in the city’s downtown core was continually put on hold. Compounded by exorbitant retail rental rates and fierce business competition for new market entrants, both his and Lesley’s plans to run small businesses in the big city were simply unachievable. Their hopes of buying a home were equally unattainable in a region where housing prices are through the roof.
“We were looking for somewhere out of the city where we could afford a home of our own and be successful entrepreneurs,” says Simon. “We had spent the previous three years visiting the Island on vacation and very quickly concluded this is a really cool place. Lesley had spent a lot of time on Salt Spring Island in BC and was keen to move to another island, so we began looking into whether Manitoulin was somewhere we could potentially settle.”
“The Island is remarkably beautiful and there are so many welcoming people and communities. That was what struck us each time we came here,” adds Lesley.
When close friends moved to Manitoulin and they learned that friends of their friends, all with similar backgrounds and interests, also had made the leap, Lesley and Simon took the plunge. With her program completed at the Canadian Academy of Osteopathy and the food industry in upheaval, it seemed an ideal time to make a major life change and uproot to a new location.
Now a fully qualified osteopath, Lesley is sharing treatment space in Little Current with Nicole Murphy, a registered massage therapist. Nicole is another southern Ontario emigree who has made Manitoulin her permanent residence and who recently opened her new business in town. Simon has found work producing healthy, diabetic friendly meals each week for Wheels on Meals at the Mnaamodzawin Health Services centre in AOK and sometimes fills in as a driver delivering meals to First Nations when needed. He also has started a hospitality business, MAST, providing catering services and producing a variety of products for the Island Jar.
“I would love to establish a restaurant specializing in vegetarian food, that’s my long-term goal,” explains Simon. “I hope to meet other locals in the food industry to exchange ideas about filling some of the gaps in the Island restaurant scene and just like-minded people, generally, who are interested in healthy living.”
Lesley is equally keen to befriend people committed to wellness. “I have an extensive background as a dancer and yoga instructor and hope to tie that into my osteopath practice. I believe movement is essential to our well being and I hope to inspire people in that regard.”
Other than missing their friends and the occasional yearning to pop into a neighbourhood café or vegetarian restaurant, the duo doesn’t miss big city life. They love the slower pace and lack of anxiety that goes with living in an urban centre where the pace is fast and furious.
While it’s still early days, the couple couldn’t be more content or optimistic about their future on Manitoulin. “We hope that it will all work and feel confident it will. Everyone has been very welcoming and really encouraging,” says Simon.
Lesley echoes that assessment, adding that “People who come to see me for treatment are excited that there’s now an osteopath here. I also get lots of praise for being young and taking a chance. Now we just need to find a house and future locations to grow our businesses.”
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 hmarshall@