I am a Dene Woman, I am a Viking. 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 banks 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 left the north 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.
Life however, had other plans, and I met my future husband and business partner, Shawn Geary in London. Not long after, we moved to Kingston as Shawn was from Napanee. I had two jobs: Office Manager for the Dermatology Clinic of Drs. Danby, Margesson, Blakeman and Sapra as well as at The Bay, so Shawn could return to St. Lawrence College full time as a mature student. I worked to support us, all the while attending night classes at St. Lawrence College myself. During the college years, Shawn helped out by working part time as a butcher at A&P in the Frontenac Mall as well as driving part time for Ivan and Mary McCoy who owned McCoy Limousine Service on Portsmouth Avenue in Kingston. In 1987, Shawn and I were married and it was my honor to have Dr. Bill Danby give me away at my wedding. Drs. Danby and Margesson even loaned me the money to purchase our first home. He remained a wonderful role model and mentor for many years until his passing. My role at the Dermatology Clinic grew to management and Shawn took a job at Royal Bank/Trust upon graduation. Then one day, my friend Alberto from Italy, came to visit. He was arriving in Syracuse, N.Y. and I found that there was no transportation to transfer him to Kingston so Shawn & I seized an opportunity. We decided that Shawn should leave the bank and we began CAN-AM Shuttle Service, a daily return passenger shuttle service from Kingston to Syracuse. To support us, I would continue to work full time at the Dermatology Clinic during the day and Shawn would drive the shuttle. At night we cleaned office buildings to help pay bills. When Ivan and Mary McCoy decided to retire they contacted us to ask if we would be interested in buying McCoy Limousine Service. Having no money at the time, we used the cars as collateral to borrow some money from the bank, Dr. Bill Danby invested in me and Shawn’s parents loaned him some money, while Ivan McCoy took back the balance of the purchase price. Over the years the business was moved from Portsmouth Avenue to Steve Fonyo Drive then to Midland Avenue where our three daughters, Alison, Nicole and Danielle, were born. With me at the head of the Tour Division and Shawn running the Bus Department, the business continued to grow and in 2005, an office and garage facility was built at 566 Cataraqui Woods Drive in Kingston’s west end where I am currently a principal owner and landlord. To inject needed funds into the growing business I continued my full time management position at the Dermatology Clinic while spending nights and weekends planning new and exciting tours, cleaning the vehicles all the while raising my three girls while Shawn was away driving. Diving right into the tour and travel side of the business, I began adding overnight tours which expanded the business even further so the business was re-named McCoy Tours to continue to build on the McCoy brand that was becoming so well known. My tour division was so successful that we opened a second office in Belleville, Ontario about 80 Kilometers west of Kingston and Margaret is still there to greet our wonderful clients.
In 2017, myself and Shawn parted ways both personally and professionally. The McCoy Group of companies was divided in half with me rebranding the tour company from McCoy Tours to Maple Leaf Tours as Shawn wanted to keep the McCoy name. Starting over as a single parent and a newly named company was exciting and terrifying. On my own, I worked endless hours to build back under a new name, Maple Leaf Tours. Long into the nights and every weekend, I laboured with the help of my entire team that came with me to Maple Leaf Tours. We developed new and exciting motor coach getaways to new destinations. I expanded Maple Leaf Tours to Europe with Betty leading our first group to Ireland and 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)