Thursday, April 12, 2012


I'm taking a break from the usual blog entries, and changing things up. I want to talk about Katimavik. It was just eliminated from the government's budget, and I've been meaning to write about it since I heard this. I'm hoping to write it here, and send a letter to my local MP. (or anybody who will listen). I plan on cutting and pasting this to a few different places.

I was lucky enough to be involved in Katimavik in 1998. I graduated high school at the end of June, and headed off to a program I knew very little about in August.

Here is what I knew, and what I told anybody who asked me 'Where is Katimavik?' First of all, it's not a place. Katimavik is a government-funded program. 11-13 (I'm not sure of the exact amount. I can't remember anymore, and it changed) youth (aged 17-21) from across Canada live together in a house in three different provinces, doing volunteer work in the towns we were staying in. (That's one rotation. There are a lot of different rotations all across Canada). I was going to Glovertown, Newfoundland, Carlton Place, Ontario, and Baie St Paul, Quebec for three months in each place.

That's all I knew. I didn't know anybody else that I would be living with, I didn't know what kind of volunteer work, and I had no idea what to expect. It was also the first time I had travelled by myself. I think getting on that plane from Saskatoon to go to Newfoundland (with a layover in Toronto), was probably one of the bravest things I've done. I was young. I was naive. I was shy and timid. I hadn't really experienced life outside of my small town of 200.

I found an ad for Katimavik in a teen writing magazine I had. Even then I had aspirations to be a writer. I'm still working on that. It was early 1998 that I found the ad. I remember showing my mom, and thinking, "I could do this!" It was an exciting prospect because up until then, I didn't know what I was going to do after high school. I always knew I'd go to University, but I wasn't ready yet. I didn't know what I wanted to take, or what I wanted to be when I grew up... other than a writer.

So when I was 17, I boarded a plane all by myself to Gander, Newfoundland. There are certain moments in every one's life that have changed them. Changed the direction in life they were taking. The question always comes up... "What if I had never done that? What would my life be like now?" Of course, you never really know the answer. I'm sure life would be different.

I've had a lot of those moments. I'm not going to name them because I'm only here to talk about this life changing event. Katimavik. Without it, I would have been very different. I wouldn't have met the friends that I still talk to today. I wouldn't have fallen in love with Canada and with travel.

I wouldn't have had the opportunity to see all that I did at that stage in my life, and I'm not sure I would be able to afford to otherwise. Yes. The government helps the participants and gives them a chance to travel. That's not all though. We don't get a 'free trip'. We WORK. And work hard. We volunteered for different places in the communities we lived in (Monday to Friday 9-5), and got paid an allowance of 3 dollars a day. We received 1000 dollars at the end of our 9 months. (This is in 1998, the amount of money and amount of months have both changed). Food and housing were paid for, but we had a budget for EVERYTHING. We didn't go over the budget, and we made sure that we got everything out of what we were given, be it trips, seeing places in the province we were living in, learning new things, or trying new things. We had bunk beds with about four girls to a room. (And four guys to a room, if not 6).

As for the jobs, in Newfoundland, we worked at Terra Nova National Park. We helped build a boardwalk in the park.  I helped at various times with those jobs, and also worked at the Marine Centre. A young girl from Saskatchewan got to give tours, and tell people about the sea animals in the touch tank. We painted a scout's cabin one weekend as well.

In Ontario, we all worked at different places. I volunteered (and worked all day) at a daycare. As did a few others at a different daycare. Some worked for the Arena in town, and did manual labour. (I don't know exactly what they did because I only worked at the daycare).

In Quebec, we had a variety of different jobs, and unfortunately, I don't remember them all. I worked at a Women's Centre and helped with child care, with cleaning and cooking, and spending time with the women. Another participant worked at an art studio. Everybody had a job, and we were at times able to choose a job that we hoped we'd be interested in for the future.

We also billeted for a week in each province. It was a time to live with the locals, work with them, and learn about how they live. In Newfoundland, I stayed with a family with another participant. We worked HARD during that time. For the family mostly. Worked in the little village we were in doing mostly manual labour. We spent time with the family. We lived with an older couple, their daughter, and her two children.

In Ontario, I was billeting at an old folks home. The family lived in a house attached to it. I helped clean and cook all day every day.

In Quebec, I billeted with a wonderful bilingual woman who was a baker. I woke up, and went to work baking with her for the week, and helped cleaning out a house.

In all places we stayed, we stuck with them for a week. If they went somewhere, we went as well. They were family -if we were lucky.

We also learned. We had classes of sorts. We'd get people in to teach us relevant things that would hopefully help us in our futures. We had French classes, budgeting classes, and towards the end, we worked on resume building and cover letters, and so many others. We had life lessons that could never be in a lesson. We learned to live with one another. There were some relationships. In our case, none of them lasted too far past Katimavik, although at the time we probably hoped they would. It was a year of 'firsts'. I would have had these 'firsts' at some point in my life, but this was life changing. I learned about myself, I slowly started to change, and see things differently. I cared about different things.

We travelled the provinces we volunteered in. We climbed mountains, kayaked in oceans, saw Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ontario, Quebec and Montreal. We saw things and were able to see culture that most of us had not experienced.

I am 31 now, and I'm still changing, and still trying to have experiences that reach outside my comfort level (a comfort level that expanded like crazy because of Katimavik). I believe we never stop changing, but without Katimavik, I wouldn't have learned it quite as quickly.

Since Katimavik, I've kept in touch with almost all the participants (thanks to facebook). We've met up again at weddings, and kept in touch if we were going to visit one another's province. One of the other participants and I travelled to Thailand and Taiwan together about six years after Katimavik.

We've all changed, and we've all grown up since Katimavik. Going into Katimavik we were young, and coming out of it, we were still young, but had already learned so much about ourselves, about life, about money, and about one another.

I've done a lot of great things in my life, and Katimavik is on that list. As for the reason I'm writing this, the government has just cut the funding for Katimavik. After the rotation is done, it's over. Unless people can write letters and let the government know what a great program this is. How it changed your life, and how it will change other's lives. Because it will. And it did.

I'm not sure how to end this... Save Katimavik!!


For more information on Katimavik:
And if you have your own stories:

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