Montreal·First Person

How I rediscovered my love for a small Quebec town, after years away

After leaving Blanc-Sablon, Que., for her studies, Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge decided to return to her small hometown. Now, she says, she's there to stay.

At 26, this Quebecer learned to appreciate the ocean sounds and quiet streets of Blanc-Sablon

Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge enjoys spending time on the Lower North Shore no matter what season it is. (Submitted by Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge)

This First Person article is the experience of Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge, a resident of Blanc-Sablon, on Quebec's Lower North Shore. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Moving away from home is never easy. Moving away at 17 years old from a small, isolated community makes it even harder. That is the reality for youth on the Lower North Shore. With no road to connect us to the rest of Quebec, we are a world away from our families when we pursue our education. 

When I was old enough for CEGEP, my family packed up my belongings and we drove the nearly three-day drive to Gatineau from our rural town of Blanc-Sablon, Que. After two weeks of settling into an apartment with my best friend and finding my way around, my family hit the road for the long drive home. For the first time, I stayed behind. 

At the time, I had no plans of returning to the Lower North Shore permanently. I enjoyed the fast-paced life and the accessibility to shopping centres, sports stadiums, concert venues and diverse restaurants. Anything I could imagine was at my fingertips. 

Back home, it was quiet with limited opportunities. And, in my teenage opinion, there was very little to do. 

In five very short years, I had the most incredible experiences. I attended my very first NHL hockey game, and then many others. I watched my favourite artists from the front row. I lived unforgettable moments while working in my field of study at my university, solidifying my belief that it was the perfect career path for me. I knew that I would not have these opportunities back home.

Throughout my post-secondary education, I also missed my family a lot. But I was rarely homesick; I knew they were only a phone call away. However, although I was living the life that I had always dreamed of as a young teenager, I realized that you also miss out on a lot of things when you're away. 

For Hobbs-Etheridge, the hardest part of being away from home was missing out on family milestones. She was happy to celebrate her grandparent's 50th anniversary. (Submitted by Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge)

You leave home for the four months between summer and Christmas break, and all of a sudden your little brother is taller than you. While you were studying for midterms, your cousin was getting married but you're too far away to come home for the big day. When you graduated high school, your baby cousin was just learning to walk — and as you graduate university, she is graduating kindergarten. All of a sudden, you realize just how much you wish you could have been back home while building your future at the same time. 

At 22, I earned my bachelor's degree from the University of Ottawa. At this point, I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to pursue my master's or not, so I decided to move back home for a year. My plan was to return to the city for the following fall term.

For those five years away from home, I spent my time discovering the world around me. But in that one year back, I rediscovered my home. For the first time as an adult, I really lived on the Lower North Shore. 

After that year, I realized just how much I value the peaceful, slow-paced, and quiet way of life back home. Now, I hear the ocean at night rather than cars on the highway. My drive to work is five minutes rather than 50. The lady at the corner store is someone I've known my entire life and not a complete stranger. The simplicity of it all seemed so boring at 17. But the people of the Lower North Shore are one big family. There's a sense of community and safety here that is unmatched. 

In my little place in the world, every season has its perks. 

Upon returning to the Lower North Shore, Hobbs-Etheridge rediscovered her love of snowmobiling. (Submitted by Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge)

Summers, although very foggy, are filled with whale watching from your front step as you enjoy your morning coffee (or tea). After work or on the weekend, you can hop in a boat and get even closer to the gentle giants. There are also many icebergs to be seen, making for some gorgeous photo-ops. If you're up for an adventure, you can round up your friends and go for a ride on a four-wheeler, or go swimming at one of our many ponds. 

In late May and early June, we celebrate the accomplishments of our youth with high school graduation ceremonies. The entire community is very proud of our young people, so we hold a ceremony in church that is open to everyone on the day of graduation, before the formal ceremony at school. This way, the whole community can congratulate the students on their big day — just another example of how close our community is. 

In the winter months, we take advantage of the cold. When the lakes and rivers freeze over and the Route Blanche opens, the villages of the Lower North Shore are finally connected by a snowmobile trail. Between January and the end of March, we attend hockey tournaments and carnivals in every community. When we aren't traveling the coast on our snowmobiles, we are taking them to our cabins and chalets. We can spend weekends, or even weeks, there. After work, we can throw our snowshoes on right at home and go for a walk. Sometimes, we'll pack a bag of snacks and hot drinks and have a boil up in the woods after our walk. 

Being on the coast means you no longer miss out on family. Everyone is close together, physically and figuratively. When your grandparents, aunts and cousins only live down the road, you get to spend more quality time with one another. 

So here I am now, at 26, with no plans of leaving the Lower North Shore. Yes, sometimes I miss the experiences that were available to me in the city. But the opportunities and experiences on the coast are one-of-a-kind. 

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Honlee Hobbs-Etheridge comes from the Lower North Shore of Quebec. Although she loves to travel, she believes there is no place like the “Coast.” She is a youth cultural ambassador at Y4Y Québec, helping to increase English-speaking youth's sense of belonging in her region.