Riverside, Manitoba, now referred to as the rural municipality of Prairie Lakes, isn’t just a romantic hotspot for pelicans, it’s also a popular central North American Snow Goose flyway, that was home to two Lakestone lovebirds, Eric and Simonne Dickie. Eric was raised in Ninette on Pelican Lake, a popular recreational cottaging area vibrant with boating, sailing, fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling, while Simonne was from Dunrea, now famous for its mascot, Cabrea, a 1200 pound Snow Goose (and two mysteriously laid golden eggs).
They graciously shared their story with us recently, and we’re delighted to share it with you.
They attended high school in Killarney, another rural community about 20 minutes away in southwest Manitoba. On weekends, Eric would drive 6 minutes west to pick Simonne up, for a double date to meet their respective dates (not each other). They did try dating a couple times before life lead them elsewhere, then fate introduced them again at Brandon University. They dated and after working a year for Children’s Aid, Simonne married Eric on May 8, 1971. Shortly after, Calgary came knocking with a job offer for Eric, and a chance for them to start exploring the world on their terms. They built a house on the outskirts of Calgary (now downtown) while Eric worked in construction, but it didn’t feel like home. Missing the lakes they grew up on, and having itchy feet, they stumbled upon the Okanagan two years later in 1973, and bought property, sight unseen, in Oyama near Kaloya Park (now part of Lake Country). The natural, healthy lifestyle, with access to so much water, fresh fruit and vegetables was very healing and inviting so it became their home away from home. After tasting all the summer sunshine, they decided to make it permanent, only it was difficult to find work as few hired out of province. Throwing caution to the wind, they decided to sell their Calgary home anyway and go for it. Convention would have you working in a job, having and living in a house, and some might have thought they were throwing it all away…but they weren’t…they just ‘traded’ and were following a dream…one that could last and feel good. With papers in carpentry/industrial/technical/automotive education, Eric returned to teaching and taught at George Elliot Secondary School for 28 years. Simonne found fulfilling work at Mara House in Vernon, a family-oriented, residential facility providing intensive 24/7 support for challenged children. Coming to the Okanagan felt like John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High “coming home to a place we’d never been before”.
So, what happened next? We had our Oyama lot, but we wanted to be on the lake, so we put an ad in the paper looking for lakeshore. We got two responses – one for property across the lake, and the other at Whiskey Cove in Carr’s Landing (now part of Lake Country). We basically mortgaged our souls, tore down and salvaged two houses, one of them a beautiful, mature estate home, to build our Whiskey Cove home. It was a lot of work, and the most tenting we’d ever done…6 months of sleeping in a tiny tent. By November, we realized the Okanagan isn’t exactly semi-arid and were able to live in the basement of our new home which we covered in poly to keep the rain out, at least theoretically.
But you moved to Lakestone? When at the Cove, people would look out our picture windows and ask, “how long was it before you stopped appreciating all this?”, but there was never a day where we didn’t appreciate all of it…the view changes, it’s not like a painting, it changes every day, just like the stunning sunset last night…we love being outside, eating outside…and even though the wind was blowing fairly hard, we love it. It’s easy to become complacent, so we’re very grateful we had a spectacular acre of land at Whiskey Cove, with lots of privacy, gorgeous beachfront, a big garden and fruit trees, berries and herbs, but found a happy medium at Lakestone. We’ve been in Lake Country 45 years now, and getting here was a journey, so we didn’t want to leave – it’s home. Our kids are very close, and Mom is at Glenmore Lodge. We’re still very close to the lake, with lower property taxes, low maintenance and lots of amenities. Adapting to our new surroundings was easier than we thought, with people being very friendly, welcoming, and respecting a neighbour’s privacy. Sometimes, we sit out on the street or courtyard, and it feels like an easy, breezy, porch party. We’ve even had progressive dinners. We love it here.
What do you love best about Lake Country? (Simonne) The lifestyle, four seasons playground, strong sense of community, and our children (Michelle, Rejeanne, and Chantelle) were all born here. We also live in wine country, with incredible vineyards and orchards. There’s a variety of great restaurants including Pizza, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Chaos Bistro. The wineries along the Scenic Sip are all good, and we recently enjoyed Ex Nihilo Vineyards, Arrowleaf Cellars, Intrigue Wines, and O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars which are close by. We love spending time at Silver Star, too, with its 105 kilometres of Nordic trails, along with Sovereign Lake, that make up the largest daily groomed cross-country trail network in Canada. I loved being a snowshoe guide and now enjoy parking the car, and snowshoeing wherever whenever possible. If the weather’s not quite right for downhill, I can snowshoe because I’m always sheltered from the wind and snow under big trees…it’s beautiful.
What do you do for fun? (Simonne) We’re always busy and going in different directions. I start my day with foam rolling and yoga. Eric loves being on the water, enjoying the ever-changing vistas, hot tubbing daily, and reminiscing about all the water-skiing he’s done. He also likes taking the boat out to read in the middle of the lake, or we’ll kayak, stand up paddle, go swimming, or jump off lower level rocks with our grandkids at Lakestone Beach Park, which is also a lovely picnic spot with a great public dock. We’ve walked and biked Carr’s Landing Road, Okanagan Centre Road West, and Glenmore Road a fair bit. We live a fit and healthy lifestyle, and visit the Farmer’s Market at Swalwell Park on Fridays for the best farm-fresh vegetables and fruit. Though we don’t eat sourdough bread, we’ve heard Arne’s on Cemetery Road makes the most unbelievable sourdough and pesto focaccia bread. There’s a lot of great artists and artisans here too.
Have you retired then? (Eric) Simonne retired from her position as an instructional designer and online teacher a year and a half ago, but I’m still working and consider myself semi-retired. I do some teaching in the energy exchange world. I was mainly rooted in the geothermal world, expanding to energy management – mainly distribution, consulting, training, and now more dealer network-related, selling heat pumps (i.e. residential to commercial hospitals). It’s a great network, closely interacting with positive, forward-thinking people, making our tiny difference in the world; educating others to not burn fossil fuel. We encourage more energy efficiency – to that end, we’ve practiced what we’ve preached. Our home has a tight building envelope, is geothermal of course, solar-based, and an inexpensive home to run with a smaller environmental footprint, burning less gas. It has 1-foot thick walls and windowsills, and the heat pumps for domestic hot water consume $1.50/month gas (for outdoor use, barbeque, and firepit). The heat pump is significantly more efficient than others (air compared to water – uses the heat pump to heat water for in-floor style of water heating). The evenness of in-floor heat is a draw, so you can set the temperature and keep the room temperature lower because the feet are warmer with it. Our utility bills are approximately $50/month. It’s just something I’m mindful of as I’ve taught hundreds over the years through the Canadian Geoexchange Coalition (CGC).
I hear you’re involved with the Lakestone Community Amenities Association as President? I help keep things on an even keel, particularly with the Lake Club, with a long-term plan and approach that serves everyone as well as possible, and we’re looking forward to when Centre Club in Benchlands opens. The amenity fees right now are $86.51/month and we don’t see the fees increasing much as the economies of scale improve with more homeowners.
What do you like best about living at Lakestone? Looking outside today, it’s so beautiful and you can’t help but feel grateful immediately. This morning we both went to HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) in the pool and did a few laps, and we’ll take the ravine trail from Benchlands back home to Waterside. Everything is so accessible, and we can walk to our appointments in the town centre. It’s a good healthy walk to the dentist, doctor, hairdresser, and church, which we don’t mind…or a 5-minute drive.
Our neighbours are amazing, wanting to build a community, going out of their way…so neighbourly. Everyone is relatively new, so no cliques have formed, so people are out and about, and feels just the way you hope a great community would. For example, there’s a potluck at the Lake Club on Fridays. Everyone here knows that…it’s easy going, not organized, come as you are, bring whatever, and can mingle anytime between 6-9:30 pm…usually, 12-30 people of all ages show up. And “WWW” (Women’s Wine Wednesdays) is the last Wednesday of each month, and a chance to meet others…it’s very casual, and ladies gather at the Lake Club rooftop terrace around the fireplace while lounging outside. There’s always great company to be had, and we look forward to more of the same…more happiness, in the community and within ourselves. We laugh a lot, and our HIIT class is just as social as it is intense…like life, it is what you make it….so we might even do a little dance, but no matter what, we always laugh.
What would you say to anyone making a move to Lakestone? Welcome! Just do it…it sounds trite, but it is a good spot! If you want to be welcomed, you’ll be welcomed. The developers, Macdonald Communities Limited, practice what they preach, and are first-rate; they’ve provided so many amenities like the linear path, and more, and it grows as a result. MCL fosters community and has provided amenities for the District of Lake Country too, welcoming the public; the pickleball courts are always busy, people are playing basketball, and families play tennis with their kids. Now the new public dock is in, and getting used daily. Lakestone Beach Park has a safe zone, with no motorized boats allowed in the area and it is safe enough that one man was able to let his daughter (who needed assistance) out on a kayak, while tied to him, so she could experience being on the water by herself. We wish all developers were as thoughtful and did the same thing.
What brings you the most joy? (Simonne) Anything that makes me laugh, brings joyful tears to my eyes, like a smile from my grandchildren, our kids, or Eric feeling good about himself. And, even when things seem bad, knowing good comes out of bad, you can always say “and the good thing is…”. (Eric) Gratefulness – focusing on the positives, and there are lots of them. We’ve been super lucky; partially due to decisions we made and when we made them…to some degree, you make your luck.
Something no one knows about you? (Simonne) I was a clown, named McGee! I taught dance for 21 years; started improvising, beginning with kids, doing things for their birthday parties – dressing up as a clown, lots of makeup, juggling with scarves, and once was even hired to be a clown at a friend’s husband’s surprise birthday party – she was so shocked to see me when I showed up at her door a week early!
(Eric) As we were getting ready to move out here, I was offered a two-year position in Saint Lucia, but we’d adopted a dog named Minou (Slang for “Kitty” in French) and were advised Minou would have to be quarantined for 6 months when leaving Canada, and 6 months upon return. We decided not to go to the Caribbean, and sometimes I wonder how things might have been different. Minou changed our destiny, though it would be unfair to say it was inconvenient because she was our baby. When we adopt a pet, we take on a big responsibility for their life. My parents had a cat named Dog, so there was a bit of a play on Minou’s name. I visited Simonne’s Dad, a mechanic/welder, in this French town once, and suddenly saw Minou uncharacteristically running down the road by herself, so I started running after her yelling “Minou, Minou…” only to find out later Minou had been with Simonne the whole time.
Life lessons learned? (Eric) It’s untrue to say life is “one big easy”…it’s that rollercoaster thing…always making it a learning experience; there’s always good around you, so ask yourself, “What can I do to enhance myself and those around me?”…because life is good.
Your Biggest Aha? (Eric) Making a career change – teaching was really good, but a shift to a completely different career, and was a fresh start. I had lots of support from Simonne, as we were stepping into the unknown. (Simonne with a deep sigh) Our daughter was quite ill – children are your heart! – and she beat this…we decided to go uphill with her. She’s very strong. So many great times, and some days I come home after visiting my grandchildren and my jaw hurts because they make me laugh and smile so hard…they’re an abundant source of happiness!
What can’t you imagine life without? (Eric) One with Simonne…we’ve had so many years…and have always been together. (Simonne) Our “secret” since 71 has been knowing it won’t be perfect, accepting, being committed…choosing commitment. You have to nurture that relationship…it doesn’t just happen…you have to nurture anything you want in life…whether it’s being fit…being healthy (both emotional and physical)…you have to will it…and as Eric says, sometimes you have to make your luck. It’s important to have something to feed…to take risks…we’re not saying jump off a cliff (which we’ve done) but be willing to take chances.
What’s on the menu tonight? Chicken and lemon tagine over white basmati rice (for Eric) and wild & other rice (for Simonne) with salad, and always dessert (usually something easy like ice cream, yogurt with fruit…but tonight it’s chocolate cake)…which brings us back to the Okanagan – it’s always a bit sad saying goodbye to Spring, and Summer, and the bountiful local fruit and veggies…nothing like fresh off the farm…so full of life, and goodness.
Parting words of wisdom? Carpe Diem (seize the day), choose to be happy, keep well & do good!
Lastly, your playlist? (Eric) I came home today and didn’t hear any music, and told Simonne, “I’m surprised the music isn’t on!”. The music is always on. I love John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”…it’s a song that helps you discover home is in your heart…no matter where you go if your heart is there and in it, you can make home any place…people are keen to have a sense of belonging. Otherwise, no drum machines…we like all live drums, no synthesizer (and light on the 80’s music). One band resonates because of its history; we had the forerunner ‘Chad Allen & Expressions’ with “Shakin’ All Over” at Highschool in Manitoba, and they became ‘The Guess Who’ from Winnipeg. You know the song “These Eyes”. Simonne was the social director at University, and she often brought in The Guess Who.
(Simonne) – I like the feeling in Enya’s music (Only Time) and enjoy early rock or music that makes you dance, like Johnny Reid (A Woman Like You, Dance With Me, Darlin’)…it’s dancey, music you can two-step, or jive to. I also enjoy Yanni (Three Words), Bob Seger (We’ve Got Tonight). We got to see Zac Brown Band on a cruise (Chicken Fried), and they even flew in Blue Rodeo (Lost Together). We recently saw Jim Cuddy again at Ex Nihilo Try. Of course, we like Tom Cochrane (Life Is A Highway), Jim Byrnes (Just A Pilgrim), and enjoy folk festivals, recently seeing Arlo Guthrie (I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You). We recently saw Royal Wood perform in a more exclusive concert in Vernon and loved his music (Forever and Ever).
Moral of the story if there is one? Back to Cabrea’s mysterious golden eggs in Dunrea, and a story about “The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs”. In laying two golden eggs, Cabrea has mysteriously done not only the miraculous, laying two eggs thus saving her own life, but teaching us to be content with what we have. It’s truly a fable about gratitude, something that is very present in the Dickies’ lives, and something which has kept them flying together, and on course. And we’re grateful they shared with us. Hope to see you at the lake soon!