Northern living loses appeal for some Yellowknife families, far from grandparents

Chris Rose and Alyssa Holland moved to Yellowknife in 2015. Five years and two kids later, they had no plans to leave. The couple had embraced the North. They paddled the North Arm with their kids this summer. Alyssa sang with Flora and the Fireweeds, a six-piece band that played gigs all over town. Their parents came to visit them and the children. Trips home to Ontario to see other family members, including a set of great-grandparents, were no big deal. Then the pandemic hit. Now, three-year-old Theo hasn't seen his paternal grandfather in nine months. Alistair, aged 18 months, doesn't remember him. "A switch kind of flipped for us at some point in the spring," said Holland. "I think it was just this moment when we realized … how far we are from the people we still love." "It became pretty obvious that we hadn't spent much time with older grandparents and if we lost them, we would regret it," said Rose. The couple sold their house and made plans to move to Ottawa later this month. And they're not alone. Former CBC Yellowknife reporter Randi Beers moved to Nova Scotia this fall so her new baby, Wally, could be closer to his grandparents. "As a journalist, quitting your job and moving is kind of a scary thing right now," Beers said. "I was hesitant."After her husband pointed out that it could be challenging to get airline tickets, and how quickly their son was already growing, she came around. "Let's actually move closer to family," Beers said. "I think that's a good decision right now." Samantha Mtatiro and her partner moved up to Yellowknife from B.C. Their kids are now seven and nine. Mtatiro normally visits family, or hosts family visitors, every two months or so. The pandemic, and the 14-day isolation requirements, have put a stop to that kind of easy travel. "My family, and like my mom and especially my mother-in-law, they're actually pretty devastated about it." That mother-in-law lives in Tanzania. Before the pandemic, she'd made plans for a three-month visit. Those plans were cancelled, and now Mtatiro doesn't know when her mother-in-law will see her kids again. Mtatiro is a photographer. She often shoots stills of families with newborn babies. Now, she wonders how some of her clients cope without family members flying in to help. "I can't even imagine what that would be like, especially going into winter." She said the pandemic is not affecting everyone equally. "If you have your extended family here and your lifelong friends, it's easy to hunker down and stay here and not leave," she said. "But for a lot of the people that have moved to the North recently, or don't have those family connections, you kinda rely on your coworkers or your church groups and then all that closes down and you're just alone, right? "It's affecting everybody differently."

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