Following her dream to work with First Nations people, Elmira nurse Danielle Weber has made Red Lake her home.
She and her husband Tim made the move in 2009, and are now raising their three children there – Elyse (5), Maddy (3) and Oliver (1).
Red Lake is more than 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and a five-hour drive to Winnipeg.
“Originally I really wanted to work on a reserve up here. I’d done some volunteer work and then a few wise nurses told me that I should not start my nursing career at a nursing station, I should start in a place that has doctors and more resources. I applied for a new grad initiative up here in Red Lake and I got it. And then I got a job straight out of the new grad initiative and I haven’t left or gone anywhere else,” Weber said.
Tim works as an electrician and she’s a nurse at the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital. She gets to see a variety of patients from ER to maternity and also has the opportunity to go on plane rides with patients being transported. She says she enjoys getting to learn a little bit of everything in different aspects of nursing.
“There’s a lot of working with the First Nations people up here, or Indigenous people, and that’s what I really love too, getting to know them and hearing some of their histories and stories and struggles, just that whole issue up here too I find very interesting. That’s definitely a huge thing that I wouldn’t get down south,” Weber said.
She’s found Red Lake is a great community to raise her family. Many young families are drawn to the area for gold mining jobs, who she’s had the chance to meet through the free kids program, Best Start Hub. They provide snacks and crafts for the kids in different locations and she says it’s essential for her young kids in the winter.
“There’s a music program up here and lots of sports too, so that’s what we do in the winters is cross-country skiing and ice fishing and snowshoeing, but hockey keeps us pretty busy in the winter and baseball in the summer,” Weber adds.
They moved back to southern Ontario for a year to have their first child, but decided they missed Red Lake and moved back. They returned to southern Ontario to have their second child because she didn’t want to have all her hospital colleagues delivering her baby. But when it came time to have the third, the trip south was too much with two other young children so he was born in Red Lake, and Weber says it went well.
The transition hasn’t been without challenges though.
They spent their first year and a half in Red Lake on McKenzie Island. There’s no bridge to the island – you have to boat across. So they bought a boat in Kitchener and pulled it up to Red Lake. They drove it across the channel once before it broke down.
“It was really hard living on the island. We had no boat for awhile. There’s a ferry that runs across but then I was late for my first day of work because the ferry boat drivers all had their First Aid training and I had no boat to get to work. So that was a really big challenge,” Weber said.
“Then when I got pregnant with Elyse I was stranded on the island again and my neighbour had to snowmobile me across really thin ice and we decided that we were done on the island.”
Living on the mainland has been much better, being able to walk down to the lake in their backyard. Although the remoteness isn’t ideal.
“You get used to it after awhile. And you learn how to online shop,” she laughs.
Since Elmira is a 20-minute drive from anything you need, she doesn’t think growing up in the small town prepared her for living far north, per se. But spending her childhood on a farm definitely helped.
“I just love outdoors and I always have. That’s a huge part of being up here too, it’s so awesome. It just takes a certain type of person. You have to like the outdoors and you have to like sports to survive in Red Lake,” Weber said.
While it’s hard for their parents to be away from their grandkids, Weber says their families have got used to them living so far north and make sure to visit as often as they can.
When asked how long she thinks they’ll stay in Red Lake she laughs and says her parents would be listening intently for her answer.
“There is a bit of a risk being here when you’re so dependent on the gold mine, like the whole town is. But for right now we feel like it’s really great for our family and everything we need is right here, right now. I would say we’re really happy right now and we really don’t know what the future holds, but we have no talk of going back at all,” Weber said.
Some of the best parts of living in Red Lake for her are being able to walk down to the dock and watch the sun set every night and taking her kids swimming in the lake after school. And anytime they get to see the northern lights is a bonus.
“We really just found a bunch of great friends, and now we live on the lake and we love it. We just got used to living in the north and we really like it here,” Weber said.