Putting your name forward

When I meet new people, the second question I inevitably get (the first one being if they pronounced my name correctly), is where my name comes from. It’s Dutch – I was born and raised in the Netherlands, and even obtained my degree in forestry from the Netherlands (and yes, the Netherlands does have trees…). So how did I end up in Canada, working for the Canadian Forest Service no less? Well, here’s my story.

When I was a young teenager, I told my parents I wanted to live in Canada, even though at that point I had no idea I wanted to study trees. I couldn’t even tell the difference between a beech and an oak. So why Canada?

As was quite common in the late 1940’s, many people decided to migrate to Canada, New Zealand and other far-flung places, looking for a better life and more prosperity. My great-uncle ended up in Canada, and at one point had a stint as a park ranger in Algonquin Park. We would see him seldom, but he was a great story teller, and I think one of his stories may have (subconsciously) planted the seed for a future in Canada.

But how did I end up in Forestry? I always wanted to go to vet school, but needed some extra credits, which meant an extra year of high school. During that year we had a reunion where I ran into an old classmate of mine. She asked if I was doing something with trees. And even though forestry never, ever crossed my mind of something I would be interested in, it felt like something clicked immediately. I ended getting a BSc in forestry, and I have literally never looked back.

What never changed was my desire to live in Canada. So when I graduated high school (but before I knew I wanted to go into forestry), I was able to spend a summer in Canada. Remember that great-uncle? Well, he has a son who lives near Belleville, and they were able to host me for a summer, which was an amazing experience. From doing tourist activities like visiting the Niagara Falls to my first-ever overnight multi-day canoe trip in Temagami. I was officially sold – Canada was where I was going to live.

I was extremely lucky that during my third year in University, I was able to spend both a semester in England and do an international placement. My best friend and I ended up spending four months working at the Petawawa Research Forest in Eastern Ontario. It was literally a dream job! We learnt so much from basic forest management to forest research activities, were involved with a prescribed burn, received basic forest fire training and were joining researchers collecting field data. I don’t think we spent one day in the office.

Once I graduated, I wanted to permanently move to Canada, but that sounded easier than it actually was. I was able to secure another 6-month contract with the research forest, but had to go back to the Netherlands after that time was up. The year after, I was able to secure a one year contract (and visa), but again had to go back. I didn’t qualify according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) as a skilled worker, so wasn’t able to move permanently. However, three years after graduation (and several odd-ball jobs in the Netherlands), CIC decided to lower the qualification standard and I was finally able to move and become a permanent resident!

But at that point I didn’t have a job. Luckily my cousin and his family in Belleville were super helpful, but I ended up working at Tim Hortons for a few months, simply because I had to pay my rent.

The following spring I was able to secure another short-term contract with the Research Forest, and I ended up working with a researcher to put together an annotated bibliography on white and red pine management. It ended up being a great opportunity to learn so much more about these two iconic tree species and it also provided an entry into the research world of the Canadian Forest Service. After that I had several short-term contracts, to the point where I sometimes on Friday didn’t know whether I would have a job on Monday. One of these short-term contracts was working with the local logger, cutting the smaller maple and balsam while he took care of the large red pine. This was the time I met my now-husband. He still likes to jokingly say that when we met I was a real lumberjack, driving around with a chainsaw in my trunk. Admittedly, I’m actually proud of that!