I am a Dene Woman, I am a Viking. I have an unbroken matrilineal connection to Treaty 11 Territory, Tłegóhłį Got’įnę (the land where there is oil), Norman Wells, NWT. I now live on the traditional territory of the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee, and Heuron-Wendat peoples (Kingston, ON). As an Indigenous person who had to grow up away from my community and traditional teachings due to the impacts of residential schools and the 60’s scoop, I am working hard reconnect with my people, my language and my culture.
From humble beginnings to the career of a lifetime, this girl from the North came from the banks of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories to the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s been a journey with many twists and turns in the road and the adventure continues.
I grew up along the banks of the Mackenzie River, in Norman Wells, NWT with my Indigenous mother, Edith, a trapper, and my brothers. As a young child, my mom was taken away from her family and sent to Indian Residential School in Fort Providence then Grollier Hall in Inuvik, NWT. Mom met my Danish father who worked briefly for an oil company and me and my brothers came along shortly thereafter. I grew up on the land and attended Indian Day Schools in Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope, NWT. Being outdoors and around nature is in my DNA. From helping Mom on the traplines in the winter on skidoo or dog sled (rabbits on the snare lines), to helping skin moosehides, caribou hides and drying meat and fish as well as making Bannock – I did it all. We lived in a small, one room shack on the banks of the Mackenzie River, with no running water or plumbing. We hauled water from the river or snow in the winter for cooking, bathing, drinking. During the winter months we had a “honey bucket” in a corner beside the door if we had to go to the washroom during the night. I am a proud member of the Sahtu Dene. It wasn’t always that way, we were taught to be ashamed of who we are. My mom spoke Slavey and I loved hearing her utter words that she could still recall. After Residential School, she couldn’t remember much having been forbidden from speaking her language. I also lived in Destruction Bay, Yukon (Mile 1083 Alaska Highway. 3 hours North of Whitehorse, on beautiful Kluane Lake) where we would climb abandoned dredges from the Gold Rush to escape black bears on the shoreline. Climbing Mount Logan and sitting near the Dall Sheep seems surreal now but it was just our life. I remember those days of adventure so fondly. Later on we moved to Whitehorse. If you like, next time you see me, ask me to give you a sample of my moose call!
At 15, I was adopted out and went to live with a paternal Uncle and Aunt in Kamloops, BC, my first experience outside of the North. As Rotarians, they introduced me to the Rotary Exchange program that took me to Italy for a year where I caught the travel bug! I will never forget standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco in Venice in utter disbelief, as if I was in a dream. All I could think about were my friends and family up North, “If they could see me now!” I barely believed it myself. After becoming fluent in Italian, the following year I worked in Paris for a year as an Au Pair and became fluent in French as well. A chance meeting at an Italian marcato (marketplace) introduced me to a new friend from London, Ontario where I moved while I was waiting for a Visa for Austria where I hoped to visit and learn German. The amazement and wonder of traveling and seeing the world made me come alive. I have been passionate about travel and sharing the experiences with others ever since.
Not long after I moved to Ontario and became roommates with my friend from Italy. My journey brought me to Kingston in 1985 where I had two jobs: Office Manager for the Dermatology Clinic of Drs. Danby, Margesson, Blakeman and Sapra as well as at The Bay, I worked tirelessly, all the while attending night classes at St. Lawrence College.
With the encouragement and financial support of Drs. Danby and Margesson, I co-founded a local bus tour company that was built from the ground up.
After 25 years of owning a bus and tour company, in 2017 I founded, Maple Leaf Tours, Travel and Cruise of which I am the sole owner. It was both exhilarating and terrifying as I worked endless hours to build my new company, Maple Leaf Tours. Long into the nights and every weekend, I laboured with the help of my entire Office Staff and Team of Tour Directors that joined me. We developed new and exciting motor coach tours to amazing destinations. I expanded Maple Leaf Tours to Europe with Betty leading our first group to Ireland, Canada by Rail/Rocky Mountaineer that Richard led, Newfoundland Fly Tour (Corner Brook – St. Johns) that Susan escorted and many more to come. I launched an entire cruise division partnering with Norwegian Cruise Lines to develop both No Fly and Fly cruises around the world!
My heart is full of gratitude for my wonderful, loyal customers who have been by my side through it all. They continue to inspire me to work harder and plan wonderful adventures that help us make memories together. Many clients remember me taking my girls on our tours, sometimes in baby carriers so I could nurse them while clients were enjoying a musical theatre tour! We truly are a family, a Maple Leaf Tour Family. My Tour Directors treat my business like it is their own and they are by my side to support me every day. It is a blessing to be able to share your passion with clients who are so thankful for wonderful experiences. All the hugs and Thank yous are so lovely but I take the greatest pride in seeing the happiness and smiles on guests faces when they return from a tour and can’t wait to book their next trip.
Being a Certified Aboriginal Business by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business has brought me great pride. I know my Mom, my girls’ Ehtsu/grandmother, is smiling down on me, seeing all that I have accomplished. I feel her beside me every day, encouraging me. As I look to the future, I know that there are so many more roads to explore, exciting adventures that await, new friends to be met and happy memories to be shared. I’d be honored if you’d join me.
Mahsi Cho. (You can take the girl out of the North but you can’t take the North out of the Girl.)
Kristine (Chrissy to all my Aunties)