Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In Conversation With...Cathy Duynisveld

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

If there is one word to describe Cathy Duynisveld, it would be “beloved”. 
“Lucky” would work, too.
Originally from Wallace Bay, Cathy is now the senior science teacher at a school in a small village in eastern Quebec she’s called home since the fall of 1995.
“I had three interviews in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but none panned out,” she says of her attempts to find a job after graduating from Acadia with a teaching degree. “The superintendent at the golf course [where she’d worked for several years] said if teaching didn’t work out, I could become a golf superintendent. I was all gungho, we were making plans. I loved that job at the golf course.”
But life had different plans for Cathy. 
“A week before school started, this job came up in the newspaper for teaching in a remote community in Quebec,” she says. “So I flew to Montreal and had an interview. By the time I got back home, they’d called and said I had the job. I left within a week.”
Raised in the lushness of Cumberland County, Cathy was shocked by the remoteness of her new home.
“I had to fly to Montreal, fly to Sept-Isle, sign my contract then fly up the coast in this little plane with six other people. You’re looking out the window – there are no houses, there are no trees, there’s nothing down there.”
Despite the lack of trees, Cathy settled very quickly into life in St. Paul’s River, partly because other first-year teachers were her neighbours in the apartment building. 
“I was homesick,” she admits, “but once the other teachers had moved in, we did so much adventuring together. We went cross-country skiing on the river in the wintertime and we climbed the hills.”
Incentives for living in an isolated fishing village included cheap rent with utilities included and three paid trips a year. Cathy used those to return to Cumberland County.
Even if she hadn’t met the love of her life at the end of her first year in St. Paul’s River, she believes she would have stayed for a few years.
“It was good for a new teacher. You’re young, you’re starting out. I enjoyed it so much and I made some good friends,” says Cathy.
A lifelong dog person, Cathy added an Australian shepherd named Sam to her life shortly after arriving in St. Paul’s River, and that is how she met her future husband. 
Sort of.
“She got her dog that fall,” Maurice says, “and that’s when I realized she loved dogs. I loved dogs too so I walked my mother’s dog back and forth in front of her place to see if we could meet that way.”
Alas, his ploy did not work. The following spring, they were introduced at the local bar by a mutual friend. For their first date, Cathy invited Maurice to her apartment ostensibly to eat cheesecake but really to pass the dog test.
“Sam went right over and chewed his bone by Maurice so I thought he couldn’t be a bad fellow.”
Cathy married Maurice, who was born and raised in St. Paul’s River and works as a crab and cod fisherman as well as a salmon guide, at the Wallace River Baptist Church in 1999. 
In 2004, after daughter number two was born, the family moved to Pugwash.  

“Back home, there aren’t a lot of things for kids to do so we decided we would move over here,” Maurice says. “More stuff for our children to do. But when we came here, Cathy didn’t like it. 
“Coming from a really small community like St. Paul’s River to a class with 20-plus kids was a whole different thing,” explains Cathy who teaches in a school with a total student population of about 70. “They were great students but I missed my ten to 15 students. You know them so well. It’s a whole different environment for teaching.”
 They returned to St. Paul’s River at the end of that school year.
Of his hometown, Maurice says, “You either love it or you hate. It’s so isolated.”
And Cathy loves it. An avid photographer and cross-country skiier, she enjoys the best of both worlds: A job and a lifestyle she loves in St. Paul’s River and summers in Wallace Bay.
“Summer at the farm means I get to be a kid again. Roam around the fields, take photos, help John out. I love the farm. And the girls love their ponies,” she says. 
“Cathy loves taking pictures of flowers,” Maurice adds. “She takes pictures of flowers I’ve never seen before. She uses a macro lens to get really close to the flowers on the ground which I’d never looked at before.”
Cathy used to be a watercolour painter but a riding accident in August 2009 resulted in a head injury that affected the right side of her body.
“It was three days before we were supposed to go back home,” Cathy says. “I’m not a great rider. It’s not the horse’s fault; she stumbled, I fell off.”
Even though she was wearing a helmet, Cathy was badly injured.
“We were in Halifax until Christmas,” Maurice states. “We got a ton of support from the community. When Cathy was in hospital, we had to rent a place in Halifax and they had bingos back home to raise money for us. A lot of the fishermen I work with, they sent thousands of dollars. They were unbelievable. We had a lot of help to get through it.”
Cathy was off work for two years and had to battle a school board who heard ‘head injury’ and wrote her off. Between her determination to recover and her husband’s  gifts of technology (to aid her writing in the classroom), Cathy returned to the science lab full-time where she is happiest. 
“It feels good to prove them wrong,” she smiles. “I call it being stubborn.”
Her husband never doubted her fighting spirit.
“The nicest thing she ever said to me was when she came out of her coma,” says Maurice. “She didn’t really know anybody but she looked at me and told me, ‘I haven’t got a clue who you are but I know I love you’.”
Finally, for Cathy, it was love at first sight.

Where Cathy and her family live, courtesy of Google Maps.


  1. I knew this lady was a wonderful teacher and her students were lucky to have her when one day when my 14 year old came home from school and said, "Mom, no matter how bad of a day I'm having, when I see Mrs. D (as they affectionaly call her) and she says hi, it brings a smile to my face and it makes my day so much better...

  2. I loved mrs. D , she was my teacher in secondary and going to a new school was hard when you only know very few people there. It was nice to have someone kind , happy, friendly to be around you could tell she enjoyed her work. We weren't the easiest all the time. Now she is teaching my children.keep up the good work mrs. D