Interviewing Cynthia is a bit of a blogger’s dream: she’s packed a lot into her six decades, so it was hard to know where to start. I met her for the first time last week, and as we sat in her garden she touched on a few highlights: moves, marriages, a wide-array of jobs, and of course, chickens.
Cynthia was born in Calgary, lived in Sylvan Lake and spent her teen years in Victoria. As a teenager her love of music morphed from singing in church to performing at weddings and, then, as an entertainer with the Victoria Symphony’s summer program, provided folk music during their breaks. Before she even finished high school, she was working at the Royal Oak Hotel singing in their restaurant, lounge and cabaret four nights a week.
At 19, she married and moved to the Cowichan Valley where she continued to sing professionally. She also worked as a drug and alcohol counsellor and did bookkeeping for her electrician husband. They had three kids together: son Ben, an electrician on Gabriola, and two daughters – one is a nurse and the other, a jewelry maker, who also has a fledgling natural cosmetics business.
After the breakdown of their marriage, Cynthia moved to Victoria, worked as a secretary with the BC Government and married Tom. During their time together they were foster parents to 70 children. Also during this period, she also took up writing for the first time. As a child she was always interested in old books, archives and the stories she heard from neighbourhood seniors.
She told me the fascinating tale of how her English mother and aunt were separated as children. One set of grandparents were Jewish, the other Irish-Catholics and neither one wanted to take in the two girls when both their parents abandoned them. Their bigotry blinded them from accepting them as family.
The girls were sent to live in orphanages; her aunt was adopted illegally with forged papers, which made it difficult to track her whereabouts years later, when Cynthia’s mother was looking to find her. Decades passed, genealogy searches were done and the two finally were reunited as middle-aged women. As you can imagine, they had compiled masses of paperwork in the quest for locating each other.
One day, her mother passed Cynthia the file and tasked her with writing their story. She did, and then searched for ways to get it published. As a first-time writer, she discovered that having a portfolio of published work would help, so she set out writing 22 magazine articles for Island Parent, Homemakers Magazine and online travel reviews. Her book Sisters Torn was published and she has gone on to author 11 non-fiction, true crime and Canadian history books. Her passion became documenting peoples’ lives: both the infamous and so-called ‘ordinary’.
Cynthia met husband #3 online and moved to Manitoba where he was living in a small Francophone town. She owned and operated Cindy’s restaurant, worked as a School Trustee and continued her writing. She chronicled the history of land developer Walter Pogue Davidson and his land business venture, the Manitoba Dairy Farms, which included the sale of ‘package farms’ in that province before the first World War and into the 1940s. These books are titled: A Boy, A Farm, A Dream, and The Dream. She was widowed in 2014 and decided to return to Vancouver Island to be closer to her kids and grandkids.
A few months later she met Peter, also widowed. He suggested they move in together on their second date. She laughs and said “He was hungry and needed a cook”. Cynthia managed to put him off, but four months later they moved in together and started to plan their retirement years outside of Victoria. Her first marriages were practice runs for finding her soul-mate, which she’s done in marrying Peter.
In 2015, they were searching for some land to build on when her son, Ben, and his family invited them to live on their 22-acre property on Gabriola. Cynthia and Peter moved a 40-foot 5th wheel onto the front section of the property, while Ben’s family lived in two off-grid cabins at the back. Over the last four years they have developed some infrastructure on their section: installed a septic system, brought hydro to their trailer, fenced a garden with raised beds, added a writing studio, animal housing and utility sheds.
Peter, a retired auto body technician, is handy and has built some of the structures as well as making planter boxes, trellises and picnic tables for sale. He’s got Crohn’s disease and Cynthia is diabetic so they are committed to healthy eating and grow a lot of their own food.
Peter and her kids surprised her with two baby dwarf goats for her 60th birthday as well as her first six chickens – all before they had housing for them in place. They have built a wrap-around coop/animal barn/pen adjacent to the writers’ studio where the chickens and goats live together.
What started as 14 chickens has fluctuated as they’ve hatched chicks and lost some birds to old age and predators. Living in the forest has made them vulnerable to eagles, ospreys, mink, raccoons and even otters. They’ve had a number of bantam chickens which were picked off by wildlife.
Their current flock of 14 are all standard sized birds: production layers and Ameraucanas. They are definitely pets, and a bit spoiled at that. Cynthia and Peter grow a section of their garden for their animals: lettuce, kale, apples, and carrots, which they get daily. They also make sure that all their grass clippings go to the animals as well.
After my initial chat with Cynthia she emailed to say: “It was so great meeting you, it feels more like you are a friend”. I have to admit she was an easy interview: an interesting life, an open and honest attitude about her highs and lows and willing to share lots of material for me to report. I’m glad that she and Peter have chosen to spend their retirement years on Gabriola and that they’re part of the our chicken community.