2 years later: small town, big hearts – A dedication to every single person who helped me grow in Gaspé

Today, I’ve got gratitude the size of a big city for this small, East Coast town by the name of Gaspé.

The town is home to the people, nature, and places I’d been blessed to call home for almost 2 years. I remember the exact moment I referred to Gaspé as “home” while I was talking to my family over the summer in Ontario. I had said, “Yeah, but I need to head home by then.” It was a moment – for everyone.

I wasn’t always ready to get comfortable there. Picture this: it’s the first month in my apartment, and I’d just learned that Walmart and Winners is a 4 hour drive away, and that the only familiar café here was Tim Hortons. I wanted out.

I didn’t know how I’d get used to less choices and how I’d be able to handle seeing a familiar face every time I was running errands. In Toronto, I’d run in the opposite direction whenever that happened – full disclosure. There’s nowhere to run in a small town.

Turns out it was exactly what I needed for the anxiety-ridden human I was.

With the help of some great friends, coworkers, students, and sweet strangers, I was able to put my walls down and enjoy every moment of this beautiful place. Both the peaks and the valleys.

Hm, maybe the whole “oh my gosh Walmart is so faaaar” was just an excuse to avoid fully immersing myself in a foreign place.

A part of me knew if I got attached I’d have to go through deep sadness, because I knew Gaspé wasn’t going to be my final destination. But avoiding the hard emotions isn’t going to make them go away, and living in neutral mode isn’t going to make anything worthwhile, so I learned a powerful lesson: I might as well live fully while the experience lasts.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Now when I told God years ago I wanted to explore what being Canadian means to me as an immigrant, I had no idea I’d be sent to the “Birthplace of Canada.” It’s a controversial statement, I’ll admit. This is an area that carries so much Indigenous and colonial history. Talk about discovering the Canadian culture in real life… God knew I wouldn’t have learned otherwise, yet there’s so much more to learn too. Thankful is an understatement.

Some key things I’ve appreciated this year: the raw, transparent, history of this land. The hospitality of the Gaspésien people. The curiosity. The nature. The road trips in and around this region. The lovely students that always reminded me of my “why.” The friends that helped me get through hard times with grace and patience. Coworkers that could make me laugh on gloomy days (where it gets pitch dark at 3pm). Bagel deliveries, and random dinner deliveries/invites from some stellar chefs in the neighbourhood – they know who they are 😉

And, the constant reassurance of God’s providence.

That still, small voice that always calmed my anxieties when it came to living on my own. There were plenty of moments that challenged my independence and the silence that followed. But, getting over the fear of being alone is something I will never be able to express enough gratitude for.

Thank you Gaspé for showing me I can actually enjoy a winter that lasts 10 months out of 12 in a year. Thank you for showing me how to breathe, even in negative 35 degrees on my walks to and from work. For being kind to me in not only one language, but two.

Gaspé – a town I didn’t even realize existed 2 years ago – inspired the way I want to do life moving forward, and it’s proven to me that it’s never too late to change. It’s also proven to me that it’s okay to be afraid of change, and it’s also okay to be afraid of the stranger; so long as you don’t let the fear paralyze you.

It’s absolutely cliché to be that girl who moved to a small town where nobody really knew her name so that she could get away from the noise for a while, but if it isn’t so… I don’t think I’m the same person I was back in Toronto, and that’s a dang, good thing.

Shout out to some Gaspesien people that made my time here special. Thank you for welcoming a stranger, and for teaching me life lessons I will carry onwards. Thank you for loving me without limits, and for allowing me to love you back.

Here’s to:

-the Odyssey team for being a backbone the past 2 years, Hemilie, Genevieve and Aurele
-the amazing, supportive, nurturing, teachers and staff at Belle-Anse and GES with Beryl’s leadership, and my main teachers Chris and Marie-Philippe the past 2 years (who are absolute queens & who I always love bumping into outside of work. Most people give me anxiety when I see them outside of work but these two always seem to warm my heart)
-a teacher-friend Marie-Claude who took me cross-country skiing after work last year just for fun
-Nancy Langlois, a powerhouse of a lady who will make sure you’re taken care of no matter what
-my students’ curiosity, humour, and hearts., esp. the film club, dance club, french club, & penpal enthusiasts who always made my day with their excitement
-Ashley, a friend to confide in when it came to many life-things (she knows what they are!) and who’s recently been a walking/running buddy
-inspiring educational assistants that always modelled patience and kindness like Janna and Molly and Lorilee and Vicky
-the secretaries like Lana and Helen that greeted me with a smile every morning
-custodians at work & their friendly “hello”‘s!
-Tuesdays with Mel 😉
-friends & people with big hearts like Natasha from BA
-funny British friends like Hannah
-friends from the city that visited for Thanksgiving, taking the longest road trips in order to experience this land and season with me
-bagels to my door by Jo & Chris (what a dynamic duo)
-my Gaspé BFF Beth who I could always be myself around and who never failed to make me feel loved and cared for (a true gem) And the only person I know who would drive around town looking for you because you said you were walking on the highway
-the one and only Marie-France, her amazing tofu, her loving dog, her beautiful family, hilarious kiddos, brunch-dates, literally all of her!
-Linda and her beautiful spirit and art!
-the wonderful church community at Assemblée Chrétienne that welcomed me with open arms
-the lovely lady at the boutique in Fox River who invited me to church in the first place
-the beautiful ladies from the Identité course
-the people who hosted plays in Douglastown
-Creations Marie Gaudet for all my gifting needs and to exchange a friendly smile whenever I pass her by
-the friends I met through volleyball & coach Philippe’s sarcasm/humour
-improv nights when it used to be safe to attend them
-“Oh les pains” for the most amazing chocolatines in the world
-the parents of my students like Chelsea who always made me feel extra welcome
-Megan McCallum, her amazing soul, and her kind kiddos
-Deb at the post office, ugh sweet, sweet, Deb!
-the hikes near and far, and their beautiful views
-the skating rink which made Christmas break spent alone a little more bearable
-my good friend’s neighbour Pierre & his amazing breads and cooking
-dance class and boxing friends & passionate teachers/coaches like Gabrielle, Dave & Coralie
-my landlord Colombe & her kindness during the lockdown
-Alexi at the ski hill who taught us how to snowboard for free
-neighbours like Raul and Paul that would make me smile after a hard day at work just with a little “salut, comment ça va?”
-new, unexpected friends like Mandy & Gabrielle
-Eric for being a mentor and friend these past 2 years especially
-my ex-roommate Sarah that helped me see things differently for a season
-the kind servers at Café des artistes, Tim Hortons, Brise-Bise (especially those that never broke their French with me even though they probably knew I wasn’t Francophone)
-the supply teacher who also turned out to be a Brise-Bise hostess – so cool!
-the custodians at the CEGEP that always let my friends and I play music in their hallways and theatres late at night
-the absolutely elite Gaspé gang of musicians Afrida, Dylan, and Robert and who ended up becoming my absolute second family
-the new monitors this past year Heather, Maria, and Zhao would added so much joy to my life and who I’ll never forget getting through a pandemic with (our walks, our virtual yoga, our breakdowns)
-my boyfriend for helping me grow and love well while long-distance
-my family for always being there for me virtually, especially these past few months
-and of course, the strangers of Gaspé on the streets that would say a sweet “salut” whenever you pass them by – you could tell they were smiling behind their masks

(Disclaimer: I feel like I’ve forgotten to mention either somebody, or an important memory. Just know human memory sucks, according to psychology, and so my lack of memory is not a reflection of how much you matter to me. I had to throw this in there because the anxiety of having forgotten somebody has been preventing me from publishing this.)

Last but not least, shoutout to God for seeing me through with all my flaws and through trials and tribulations. For bringing me alongside people that were patient with me. Who loved me. And who believed in me.

Here’s to leaving behind this beautiful, blue-skied town with nothing but fond memories and gratitude. To the new people I’ll meet and the memories we’ll make on the next adventure, I promise to love every moment the way I did with Gaspé. I have this town to thank for teaching me how to love where I’m at. Thank you Gaspé once again. You’ve truly healed me in ways I didn’t think were possible.

It’s humbling to know I can always come back to see the people I’ve made deep connections with at a pivotal time in my life. I love you all so much.

May you all keep your safe haven and take care of each other forever. Small town, big hearts. Avec amour.

-Manda

4 thoughts on “2 years later: small town, big hearts – A dedication to every single person who helped me grow in Gaspé

  1. What an awesome tribute! So nice to hear how much Gaspe has changed you as a person! My daughter mentioned your name very often during her school year and it warmed my heart to know she loved having you around in her classroom. I’m glad I was able to catch you at Oh Les Pains to thank you in person for all you did. 🙏 Kaitlyn and I would like to wish you all the best in your next adventure and know that you are welcome back to Gaspe anytime! Take care and stay safe!

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    1. Oh my goodness Heather, I just came across this comment today and what a way to make me miss Gaspé 10x more than I already do right now!! Wow, you brought tears to my eyes. I absolutely LOVED having Kaitlyn in every workshop during my time at GES. And it was a true joy seeing her in the halls with her positivity and her beautiful smile! She takes after you I bet!? Bumping into you before I left was an honour – truly left a mark on me! Please tell Kaitlyn I say hello and am wishing her the very best this new year. Thinking of you & your wonderful community in Gaspé a whole lot right now ❤

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