Karen Robinson stepped onto the campus of St. Thomas University in September of 2005 for her first year of university and her first year living in Canada. Her mom accompanied from their home in Bermuda, and once she’d spent her first week in Fredericton, she turned to her mom and said: “Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not staying. I’m never living in Canada.” Thirteen years later, Karen lives in Kingston, NB with her baby daughter and partner Stew.
Karen grew up in Bermuda, she’s lived in England, but she now calls the Kingston Peninsula home. She started dating Stewart Tongue in her third year of university in Fredericton, and after graduating the two moved to Rothesay, NB.
“I’ve got family all over the place,” she says. “But I think the people in Canada are just the nicest, easiest to get along with--my kind of people.”
“It was the natural thing to stay,” she says about choosing Canada over Bermuda. “I didn't like the winters, but I liked the people.”
It didn’t take the couple long to build roots in the area, and after six months of apartment living they started the search for a home. They widened their search from the KV area, where Stew is from, to Kingston, and discovered a place with land and a pond.
“When we moved to Kingston, we started doing things I’ve never done before. We had blackberry bushes, so we started making blackberry jam,” she says.
She used the apple trees in their backyard to make apple pies, and suddenly Karen had embraced the life of a backyard homesteader.
“My mom couldn’t believe it once when she came to see me and I was making jam. In Bermuda we’re not a city, but we are more urban. Not many people grow their own vegetables [in Bermuda],” she says.
Thinking about what makes her life on the East Coast different than her life in Bermuda she says: “You just love the people here in Hampton: friendly and accepting. When I moved here I was a very different person; you wouldn’t catch me eating moose and deer. I couldn’t imagine that. And now that is what we do regularly. We raise chickens and eat their eggs. Completely different, but I love the way I live. I’d never move anywhere else.”
Over the last few years, the couple started looking for a place with more land and waterfront. They wanted to build their dream home, and last year they found it in Clifton Royal, along the Kennebecasis River.
“We like our land,” she says, when asked what drew them to the new place. “We have 31 acres, an old farmhouse with a garage, apple trees, two ponds, and [the land] goes down to the water. We are going to build our dream home. We’ve drawn up plans of what we both want, and we’d like to also build an apartment above our garage for our parents, or children when they grow up.”
Karen said she and Stew like the freedom of their lifestyle here. They collect their own maple syrup, grow their own vegetables. And thinking of what she wants for her daughter, and her future children she says: “I want them to learn the things I never learned living in [Bermuda].”
She says her children will have the freedom to play on their land with the chickens.
“And to be environmentally conscious,” she adds. “I want them to grow up having fun on the land and outside. I grew up inside with TV, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do, so I want my kids to be able to go outdoors and know a lot. And if they move to the city, they know how to grow their vegetables, and when you go to the store [to know] that animal may not have had the best life so to support local.”
Ultimately, what she wants her children to remember is that they had a good life outdoors.
“I want them to look back at their childhood and know that they’ve had a lot of fun,” she smiles.
Even before they had their daughter, Karen and Stew embraced the nature around them by creating adventures for their friends. She says they did a lot of different things that “you can’t do in other places, [like] build a hot tub in the back of a pickup truck...make an 80 foot long slip and slide….an obstacle course….Things that you can look back on. I think the area allows for that. And the people are more accepting about it,” she laughs.
Other advantages she’s grown to appreciate about the her small town lifestyle since having her daughter are the schools in Hampton. She also mentions the HALL Celebrate Baby series. “Hampton offers things that I don’t think people know, like the HALL group, for free,” she says.
“The only thing I wish for is a big grocery store,” she laughs. “[Hampton] has everything else you need. We even have a bus that I used to catch to work [in Saint John].”
Overall, when asked about the differences between her life in Bermuda and her life in Canada, she said it was the people that drew her to Canada’s small town East Coast living. “The people in Canada [are]...my kind of people,” Karen laughs. Karen, Stew, and their daughter will begin building their dream home soon.