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The Wilderness Years

by Marilyn Duncalfe


Many have meandered their way up the iconic Highway 105 to the goldfields of Red Lake with the intention of jump-starting their careers for a year or so.  Then, as the adage goes, the phenomena of “come for a beer, stay for a year” kicks in.  Red Lake works its quirky magic and these self-described “come for a year” folks have happily settled in for the long haul.


What gives?  Part of it is indeed the plethora or work opportunities that abound – from entry level to highly skilled.  But that is more of less true in many places these days.  The beauty of the rugged Canadian Shield, endless boreal forest and so many beautiful lakes are definite draws.  The fact that you can actually afford to buy a home can close the deal.  (spoiler alert:  finding housing can be a challenge).    But ultimately, it is the inter-connected nature of just about every aspect of life in a remote northern town that hooks people and just won’t let them go.


Red Lakers care deeply about each other and are very welcoming to new members of the fold.  Deep and sustaining bonds can occur almost instantly and are integral to an individual’s quality of life and levels of happiness.  (Or maybe it is all that blue sky and brilliant sunshine).


Despite rumours to the contrary, there is no shortage of things to do.  Cultural events that range from performances by acclaimed musicians to celebrations of indigenous life occur on a regular basis.  Outdoor adventures abound.  Pursuing these activities – whether your passion is kayaking, cross-country skiing, fishing, snow machining, camping or hiking – will truly put you on the road less travelled.   In these frenetic post-modern times, the peaceful solitude that is to be savoured and enjoyed is rare.


And truly, in an increasingly complex and difficult world, it is particularly satisfying to make a soft landing in a place that is safe, yet exciting.  That is ever-changing – as there is a constant flow of interesting, rugged individuals coming & going from the community.  And offers a lifestyle that is absolutely not cookie-cutter or homogeneous.  With fewer than 5000 residents, Red Lake fits the platonic criterion of what constitutes the ideal size of community in which people will thrive.  It indeed takes a village.


This isolated manner of living won’t work for everyone.  And many who venture up the 105 may well make but a brief stop on their life’s journey.  But in one way or another, most who come will leave a mark and legacy of their time here than enhances the fabric of the community.  Even these folks, years after the fact, tend to wistfully recall their time “North of 50” as one of the absolute highlights of their lives.


The rewards of heading off the beaten track are many.  Checking out the Northern Lights while hanging out around the bonfire, short or non-existent commutes, the call of the loon.  In Red Lake, you truly will leave ordinary behind.  Because you are not in Kansas anymore.

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