Home, created one piece at a time

I want to spend my life with you

Don’t want to live all alone

I can’t conceive of the years left in me

Without you in our home

—The Proclaimers, “Life with You”

It is the Good Saturday, the one before the snow. You can call it summer.

I go over to Mike Durham and Jillian Ewert’s place for grilled hamburgers and goofing off. They are excited about their new home in Granger, a duplex with a nice view, three levels and a great sunny deck.

They are both 25, this is their first home and they tour me through it as if we were all in a time machine: “This will be my music room,” Jillian says of the basement room painted purple. “This is the man’s room,” she indicates the couch and TV and video games in an otherwise sparse downstairs.

She stretches her arms across the space between walls. “This will be French doors here.”

They are a cute couple. I suddenly feel like people who kind of thought kids were nice and then hold a baby: incurably determined to have one, too. I feel like settling down. Domesticity is attractive.

Jillian scoops out artichoke/cheese dip and rips up pita bread on a plate. It’s mesmerizing.

She came to the Yukon when she was 8, grew up here, and left for school in New Brunswick, where she met Mike.

“She was determined to come back,” he says. “I wasn’t arguing. I wasn’t happy with the prospects in New Brunswick.” He remembers so many people he knew living paycheck to paycheck. It wasn’t, he discovered, the best place for him to start the kind of career he wanted.

“I wouldn’t mind moving back someday — I like the place — but it isn’t promising right now job-wise.” Mike works now in Whitehorse at Bank of Montréal.

In their dining room (“sage green” is the colour of the wall, Jillian tells me), Mike remarks on all the Maritimers he’s met here in the Yukon. “One out of four people I shake hands with is a Maritimer!”

Out of his high school, seven out of 10 people moved away, most to Alberta. “There’s definitely a brain-drain from the East Coast.”

He says a lot of people move with the idea that they should come West to seek their fortunes and then want to move back to settle, but they get caught up with a mortgage, kids, a good job, so they don’t always make it back.

“Life happens,” he says. “House, kids, roots. How can you break that, right?”

He pauses, looks at me. “Home always changes,” he says. “When you go back, there are subtle differences. Your folks change the house, your room. The town changes.”

So, I asked him why he came to Whitehorse. Why here?

“Oh, definitely because of love,” he smiles. “I don’t think I knew enough about the Yukon to move here myself. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have ended up in Vancouver probably.

“Everything I knew about the North comes from a Due South episode. I thought it would be a really small community. You guys have a well-guarded secret.”

When his Mom found out he was moving here, she asked him what he’d do if he hated it.

“But what if I love it?” he asked her. Give him three months he told his Mom. He would know in three. She called him in three months for his verdict. “I love it,” he said.

What did he love about it?

The mountains. Where he was from in New Brunswick there weren’t mountains.

The laid-back mentality. “People seem to have a purpose, something they’re about — they’ve got something going on.”

He counts off on his fingers “goals, hobbies, interests” — they were long-term goals, he says. In New Brunswick, it seemed most people had short-term goals — to make it to the next month, through the year, but here it seemed to reflect the kind of goal-setting he wanted to do for himself.

And he notes that the Yukon had already changed him in his nine months here: “I wasn’t very outdoorsy before. Now I love fishing.”

Down at Tatchun Lake for three days, they had the whole lake to themselves. They never saw another boat, another person. “It was unbelievable,” he said.

Jillian leans on the counter, looking under the cabinets they’re going to move because they’re in the way. “He settled easier than I did. He owned a home in less than a year!”

He laughs, “I’m a Maritimer!” And that seems to answer it for him.

Mike grills some burgers from the ocean blue deck that overlooks their yard. It’s got patchy grass and a forest standing right outside the chain link fence. “We’re giving ourselves a year just to grow grass.”

Later, at the table, they are flipping through a Canadian Tire flyer. “I totally want this,” Jillian says pointing at a Debbie Travis bathroom set. Dark wood. “It’ll match our Superstore coffee table.”

The couch was a gift. The rug underneath is from Walmart. Little white accent lamps on the tables. The window floods the room with light. They’re creating a home one step at a time.

They have little rituals — the sweet potato fries at Westmark. They go there on Fridays and chow down. She’s buying tea at Aroma Borealis — Arctic Wildflower. “You don’t have to add anything. I love it!”

Something about them I love — maybe it’s the stage they’re in — finding someone, settling down. Maybe it’s the settling down. Buying a home, planning a life together. Maybe it’s the finding someone. Maybe they’re the same thing.

“We only need a dog,” Mike says. “We need him to sit in the front of the canoe and not rock it.”

Jillian corrects him. “We need a canoe.”

Jerome Stueart chose this city on purpose. Maybe you did, too. He’d like to hear from you. Write to him at [email protected]

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]

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