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2 Weeks in Canada, The Good, The Bad and the Absolutely Awesome

Dogs on Snow
Jane and her Kamloopsian Pack - Sam & Skeena

After a short trip north, the car was going well, I was pretty chuffed with my purchase until driving south the conditions were so icy even a large log truck had ended up in the ditch off the road. With my all-weather tyres and 2WD, I drove slowly and made bad progress to my new job in Alberta, I spoke to my future boss and decided to get a motel for the night, I’d leave in the morning and make it there by the afternoon.

"What they say about Canadians is completely true"

The next morning, I woke and started driving, after only a couple of kilometres my dashboard started flashing, bleeping, the steering wheel got really stiff – the power steering had gone. I pulled over and called the nearest garage, but most of them were busy, then I spoke to Byr Automotives who said they’d be able to squeeze me in for a diagnostics test later that afternoon. I texted the boss at my new job and explained I wasn’t able to give them an eta as I’d had to go to a garage, fortunately, they were understanding. The guys at Byr were awesome, wanting to ask about where I was going and where I’m from, plenty of pats for Jane and it was an issue with the steering column which could only be fixed by ford, thankfully I spoke to a lady called Miranda at the local Ford, who moved some things around so I could head straight there. Initially, they thought it was a sensor which was ordered and could be fixed the next day (a Friday), so I booked another motel for me & Jane and promised the new job I’d be there only 1 day later. Miranda was so understanding and even called the garage I had purchased the vehicle from in Vancouver, she thought they might be entitled to honour the purchase as I’d literally only bought it 1 week ago. The bill to fix my car was standing at approximately $1500, it would wipe me out, I’d already gone over budget on the car and buying equipment/warm clothes I needed for work but I needed to get the car on the road so I could make it to my new job in Alberta.

Ford Dealership
The service team at Dearborn Ford thoroughly looking after Jane

We woke up bright and early, looking forward to some progression after what felt like a wasted day. We arrived at Ford and handed the car over to experienced Mechanic Rob, who kept me informed throughout every step. The Dearborn Ford waiting room is like the Kamloops community hub, with free Starbucks coffee, snacks and even a coffee machine! It was a delight to get my laptop out and catch up with some blog posts. I hoped to be on the road by 10 am… by 12pm Service Manager Kerry invited me into his office. He brought out the manual and explained the problem and highlighted where exactly the advice was – the whole steering column needed replacing plus an engine coil, this wouldn’t be cheap. I accepted that I needed a functional vehicle otherwise I couldn’t earn a living and gave the go-ahead to do the work, I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bill: I couldn’t afford motels and food for the week, I didn’t know if I could even afford the fuel to Alberta. Unusually I became quite emotional, albeit briefly – I’m not usually an emotional person but I think that’s because I’ve always got a plan… Unfortunately, on this occasion, I did not and the reality of so many unknowns became a bit much.

Cute dog in hat
Dearborn Ford's biggest fan

The amazing service team all came in to comfort me (and Jane) they asked, “have you eaten today?” and I hadn’t, I was hoping to get to Alberta, my thoughts weren’t on looking after myself. Kerry the manager was amazing – he also called the dealership in Vancouver and the man on the other end of the line was quite abusive to Kerry. I asked if I would be able to sleep in the car overnight for the next week – I couldn’t afford anywhere else to stay, Kerry said that “it’s your vehicle” but he wasn’t sure how security would feel with someone on the grounds after closing time. I returned back to the waiting room, I’d calmed down and got a game plan – I needed somewhere to stay for the week, I don’t know anyone but what I did know was I was more than capable of getting myself out of this situation.

"I'd already gone over budget buying a car I was sold as 'super reliable' "

I sat at the desk and started googling in the area of Kamloops “ranch”, “farm” then “horse”. I called every phone number that came up, it went something like “Hi, weird one – I’ve somehow ended up in Kamloops, my car has broken down and I need somewhere to stay for a week whilst it’s fixed, I’m an experienced farm hand and willing to work in return for free board and lodge”. I called 4 pages worth of phone numbers, most didn’t have any accommodation, couldn’t take another dog or had accommodation but no work, I always asked, “do you know of anyone who I might be able to call?”. The Kamloopsians started calling round their friends for me, a couple of people actually rang me back later that evening to check I had somewhere – these strangers didn’t want me homeless. Mid-way through manager Kerry came in and said he’d had a chat with the guys and it turns out one was driving to Alberta to visit his son, Kerry had asked if he’d be able to give me a lift to my job and he’d allow him to knock off early. Amazed by this gesture but reluctant to be so far away from my vehicle, Kerry gave me 2hrs to make a decision. I then rang a lady 2hrs north of Kamloops who said I could stay but she was a bit far away – the team at Ford said they would arrange for one of their drivers would take me – no issue. Personally, I felt that I was taking the p*ss and asked the lady if she knew of any friends closer that might take me, she gave me the phone number of a lady called Gillian Watt. Gill picked up the phone and said “yeah sure, I’m just on my way to hot yoga but I’ll come and get you after and about 4.30?”. I skipped around the Ford service department – hi-fiving and cheering with the office team. They had been rooting for me throughout the whole saga, I’ve never felt so supported by complete strangers. As this was going on Darcell (one of the ladies) came in with some lunch she had bought for me, this gesture was so thoughtful – I was just another person getting their car fixed, Dearborn Ford really went above and beyond.

Fancy salad
Gill is famous for her salads - quite rightly so!

As I was waiting for Gill, Rob the mechanic came in, it turns out he knew Gill! Rob was actually going in for surgery the next week so he wouldn’t be able to fix my car but assured me the Dearborn team would do a good job in his absence. Rob also had called all the neighbours on his street to see if he could find somewhere for me and Jane to stay. He had 2 dogs and a cat so he couldn’t have us to stay at his but one of his neighbours was prepared to open their home to us. Rob even said we’d be welcome to come over for dinner/to hang out at any time. I bet he’s fixed thousands of cars in his career – I was just another customer, yet here he was making sure we were safe and looked after. Rob said he didn’t live that far from Gill, he assured me if there was any issue I could call him on his personal phone number and he would arrange for someone to collect me.

"I'm just on my way to hot yoga but I'll come and pick you up after at 4.30?"

Gill arrived and ‘rescued’ us, all the essentials got piled into her car and she drove us ‘home’. My first impression of Gill was this free spirit, pretty wild and just wickedly awesome. Gill used to ranch in North BC, 350 cows, whilst being a full-time Mum as her husband at the time was a logger and often working away. At her house were two Indian Air BnB guests, they were amazingly friendly and taught me so much about their culture. I lay in bed that night and just stared at the ceiling, 4hrs ago I was stranded, I had nowhere to go and felt pretty helpless. We suddenly had a roof over our heads, food in our belly and an invitation to stay as long as we’d like.

The next day I helped feed Gill’s highland cows, did some training with her super cute Aussie Sheepdog pup, Skeena and gave her flock of sheep some more water. I wanted to be useful, I found some horse tack to leather up, checked the animals and did some work in her 'plant' for BC's Best. Gill is a lecturer in Regenerative Agriculture for the local Kamloops University – TRU, most of her course was online and she spent hours on video calls every day, speaking to her students. When asked by anyone “What is regenerative agriculture?” I like to reply with “the future of farming” as I truly believe it is. Although growing in knowledge the concepts are still new in various parts of the world. Miraculously I was introduced to this movement by my best friend and roommate in NZ – Chantelle Fisher, who works as a Soil Consultant within regenerative farming. Conversations over dinner in NZ were often about what she was learning in her job and we discussed how it could be implemented on the stations I was working on and the symbiotic benefits of farming regeneratively. In my latter time in NZ, I was introduced to more and more innovative, regenerative farmers and it sparked something within me. I’ve arranged video calls between farmers in NZ, the UK and Germany to discuss regenerative systems and so spontaneously meeting Gill was a real ‘small world’ moment. Gill now has a long list of people across 5 countries to speak with and even include in her seminars for her students.

Shepherd with dogs
Holmwood Farm - Jane, Sam & Skeena

Throughout this last week I’ve had no pressure to do anything - on a small farm in the middle of winter there isn’t much work to do, with a few inches of snow on the ground as well. I wanted to thank the people who’ve helped me, offered a room or even just called to check that we were ok. Funds were very low as I awaited the final bill at Ford, I knew that they’d do everything they could to give me a discount, but my expectation was a couple of hundred dollars off, if that. Thinking inventively as I couldn’t afford a hamper, box of beers or any gifts for that matter, what could I do that might benefit these businesses/people? I reached out to local media; googled “news Kamloops, BC media, news” and emailed every address I could find, my expectations were low as I’m sure that they receive hundreds of emails per day. To my surprise, many called or emailed back, happy to hear about the good people in the Kamloops Community and wanting to share our story. Gill kindly drove me & Jane into town for various appearances (links below).

Natural Dog Treats
Making dehydrated lung for Dog Treats

I’ll be sad to be leaving Holmwood Farm, the home of Gill and Max (the Green Shepherd). Over the course of the last week I’ve made raw dog food in her plant for BC’s Best Raw Pet Food, had a dinner debate with winners of last year Kamloop’s business awards, discussed regenerative farming with Gill and her adopted English son Max, learnt so much about people, Canada, farming and myself. Gill is an inspiring woman, always on the go but willing to stop and help anyone at any time – she literally picked me up after a 5-minute conversation on the phone. She raised 3 kids virtually solo, got 1 month’s notice on a tenanted property so bought a piece of land and built a family home, whilst raising her family, working full time and after a marriage breakdown. I don’t think Gill has any idea how impressive she actually is. She’s built the business BC’s Best, only using grass-fed or organic ingredients, all sourced locally, human food grade and farmed regeneratively. Throughout the week I’ve been well fed (overfed even!) and with top-quality food, I never expected any of this. I will definitely be staying in touch with Gill, her business is – BC's Best (Jane is her new poster dog!).

Holmwood Farm
Me & Jill Watts, Holmwood Farm - 'aka. my Canadian Home'

This morning, Darcell at Ford texted me that my car was fixed earlier this morning and I could come in and collect it – Gill gave me a lift in. I’d moved money around and thought I could just about cover the bill and have enough gas to make it to Alberta, I knew the bill would be around $3000 after the additional parts and fittings etc. but honestly, I had no idea and was a bit worried about the final figure. When we arrived it felt like everyone came out from their desks to say hello, the whole team was eager to hear how our week had gone and many had seen/heard us on the news or radio. After lots of pleasant greetings, I turned to Darcell and said “so, what’s the damage?” nervous about the final figure on the bill. She replied “none”. I stared at her, and she repeated, “nothing”, Kerry stepped out of his office with a smile on his face, I was in disbelief. For potentially the first time in my life I was totally speechless “nothing?!?” I felt like I needed to step outside, pinch myself and re-enter, was this a dream? I totally expected to be wiped out and desperate to earn some money, but the reality of this generosity hasn’t quite hit me yet. I’ve been to Ford garages in 5 different countrieshave and kept in touch with many mechanics (my vans break down a lot) but none will ever match this, regardless of what others make think/say, the team at Dearborn Ford are angels – my guardian angels for that matter and I couldn’t have ended in a better town than Kamloops.

Dearborn Ford
Dearborn Ford, aka. World's best Dealership

After my vehicle was prepared mechanic Rob invited me to his ‘last supper’ before his surgery, he’d kept in touch throughout the week. Jane and I met his family and neighbour (the one whom we could of stayed with). I never intended to spend even a single night in Kamloops and after only 1 week I feel like I have a community, when I left Gill said: “you can count this as your Canadian home and you’re always welcome here”. Words like that aren’t said freely and mean so much to me, I’m incredibly lucky to have families who open their doors to us around the globe. I treasure you all dearly and I doubt any of you will ever understand my gratitude.

"...and we ended up in this little town called Kamloops"

Thank you, Kamloops.

*thanks also to my new work in Alberta, who patiently held the job for me, we made it and am looking forward to writing about Canadian ranching soon!


CBC Kamloops

Info News

Kamloops Last Week (video) - start at 18.30


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