First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.
When you ask around Pugwash, you’ll discover a variety of reasons why people decided to move to the village. For 38-year-old Harriet Barbour, moving here 12 years ago was her first step towards independence, opportunity and an entire community of friends.
After opening a door with a very loud squeal, Harriet invites me into her one-bedroom apartment above a store. Her apartment is very tidy and filled with comfortable furniture.
Harriet was born on the last day of January in 1975 in Nain, Labrador, where she lived with her parents and siblings until the age of ten.
“I had to be taken away from my real parents to go to Goose Bay for foster care,” she tells me.
She doesn’t remember much about that situation but she did see her parents again, although never to live with them.
“I’m the youngest,” she says of her family. “I have two brothers and a sister. Well, there was seven of us altogether but two brothers and a sister are in heaven.”
So, too, are her parents, her mother dying of hepatitis and her father of lung cancer. I ask if the photo on the wall across from the couch is her mother.
“No, that’s my sister. She’s 41. I went up to Goose Bay last fall to visit her,” Harriet says, adding that she and her older sister maintain contact through email.
“Today is my anniversary for being here in Pugwash for 12 years,” Harriet tells me so I ask her why she left Labrador and how she ended up in Pugwash.
“My foster family moved to Antigonish,” she explains. “Mom wanted me to move out of Goose Bay because there’s too much trouble at home in Labrador with drugs and alcohol. I was supposed to be living in Antigonish but Mom wanted me to come to Pugwash to stay at the home at Sunset. I’m in my own apartment now.”
The door to her apartment emits its loud squeal and we hear footsteps coming up the stairs. It’s Wanda Munroe, Harriet’s resident counsellor, doing her daily check-in.
“I’ve known Harriet since she came to Sunset,” says Wanda, sitting down in one of Harriet’s arm chairs. “She was the first person in our independent living program in 2008. She’s the only person who came out of Sunset into the program.”
According to Wanda, when Harriet first moved into her own apartment, there was a lot of hands-on help for her.
“She needed support with banking, menu planning, grocery shopping, paying her bills. She needs no support with any of that now. Now, if I come in and spend five minutes a day with her... She doesn’t need any more than that. We see her at work. And she’s a whiz on her computer.”
“It was social services who decided I should move out,” Harriet says. “I was happy about it.”
She was ready, not scared, to be on her own.
Wanda describes Harriet as very outgoing.
“For the short time she’s lived here, she probably knows more people than I do. She’s very independent. She loves to socialize. She loves Bingo [at the Legion] – she’s quite lucky,” Wanda leans in to say and Harriet laughs.
“She’s involved with Community In Blooms, painting tables or mowing lawns,” the longtime Sunset counsellor continues. “It’s nothing to drive by and hear a whistle or a yell and there she is, pushing a lawn mower or painting a table.”
When I point out to Harriet, who also works through the week as the receptionist at Sunset Industries, that the cast on her foot must be slowing her down, Wanda jumps in.
“No, it hasn’t slowed her down a bit. She broke her foot and the next day she was doing her banking.”
Harriet chipped a bone in her ankle playing floor hockey at the Special Olympics winter games held in Yarmouth at the end of February.
“I went to score a goal and I twisted my ankle.”
Harriet has been involved in Special Olympics since she was a teenager in Goose Bay and now she is a member of the Amherst chapter. For the summer games, she competes in the 100-metre dash, the running long jump, and shot put.
When she’s not working, Harriet likes to cook, sing (“She knows the first line of every song,” says Wanda), go for walks and watch hockey on TV. She has been a Habs fan since she was a kid in Labrador.
She and Wanda trade insults over Facebook when their teams play each other.
Harriet seems proud of her Inuit heritage but is adamant she won’t move back to live closer to her sister and brothers.
“There’s too much trouble,” she says with a shake of her head. “I have a lot of relatives back home in Labrador. A lot of people want me to move back home. I’m afraid someone might do something bad to me, like already happened to me when I was younger. Plus a lot of people want money from me to buy booze and cigarettes.”
Her life is in Pugwash now. So this is the story of the emancipation of Harriet Barbour.
“I have friends and family here,” says Harriet while sitting on her comfortable couch in her tidy living room. “I’m loving it. I meet all kinds of new people and I love my job.”