I’ve now done 33 profiles in this series: some with friends and others with complete strangers. I sat down with Brin a couple of weeks ago to chat and get her story in a nutshell. I’d only met her briefly before, didn’t know anything about her, so as you can imagine I’ve had to distill six decades of a life into one manageable conversation. Brin quipped that 99% wasn’t relevant to having chickens, but it did give me a small glimpse into who she is, where she’s come from and what brought her to our small island, Gabriola. We managed to pack a lot into two hours: from her small–town childhood, big city adventures, romance abroad and back again, to rural living.
Keeping us company were Rupert, her rescue Shar Pei x and Harold, a senior kitty, who was an emergency c-section preemie kitten she bottle-fed/hand-raised.
She grew up in Rossland, a small community in the mountains of south-eastern British Columbia near the American border. Hers was a childhood filled with outdoor activities – skiing and swimming and playing outside. Brin recalled the story of how she got her first rabbit. I can picture her, a girl of seven, meeting a playmate in the middle of the road. Brin handed over her Barbie and her accoutrements, and in return was given a New Zealand bunny. In hindsight, it was probably an uneven trade, but as a child she didn’t question it. What she failed to plan for was getting permission from her parents and having some housing in place for it when she got home. Apparently they didn’t object to her fuzzy friend and her dad set about building a hutch, run and mobile pen. In the interim, the rabbit bunked down in the house. Her dad wasn’t a big talker, but she recalls fondly, that their relationship centred on doing things together in their garden.
A few years later, the animals were re-homed when the family moved to Victoria. They became friends with folks who bred and showed New Zealand rabbits and that reignited Brin’s interest. She got more rabbits and became involved in the Youth SPCA and showed them at the Saanich Fair. By her mid-teens, with her interest waning, the rabbits found new homes.
After finishing high school and having trained as a secretary, like many folks of that era Brin decided to travel around Europe. She ended up in Crete and stayed for the next few years. During that time she came to love the island way of life: small scale farms in a rural setting, chickens, goats, donkeys and home-made cheeses. Learning to both speak and write Greek, Brin found employment as a secretary. She also found a Greek partner, Yianni.
She was side-swiped in a motorcycle accident, an event that’s had a profound effect on the rest of her life. Her kneecap was shattered; femur, tibia and fibula broken. A bit like humpty-dumpty, it’s taken ten surgeries over a number of years to put her back together again. Brin and Yianni went back and forth between Greece and Canada for her medical treatment and, in 1984, decided to stay in Vancouver. They had a daughter, Nikki, and within the year had split up.
At thirty, she was a single parent and searching for a more rural place to raise a child, settling on East Sooke, just outside of Victoria. One of their rituals was to walk down the road and feed a neighbour’s donkey a carrot. She approached the owner about selling the property and ended up buying the five acre serviced plot that came with an old cabin, donkey and two goats. Brin declined the goats, but kept the donkey, and built a small house and three-stall barn. A free-leased horse and pony, chickens and rabbits were later additions.
Then came another relationship, with Graham, who had two teenagers. They were city kids in a country setting – the first time her step-daughter she saw their place, she was appalled that it was a farm. Despite that, as a blended family, they got along well, and continue to be a tight-knit, loving family.
In the mid-90s, Brin was diagnosed with fibromyalgia; something she feels was related to her injuries from the motorcycle accident. She quit her job, went on long-term disability and was forced to give up her vegetable garden and animals. After having raised meat rabbits for years, she also felt at a saturation point of the carnage from butchering everything herself. Graham and the kids were fine eating wild meat which they hunted, but couldn’t bring themselves to butcher chickens or rabbits. She’s philosophical about it: when you feel that the animals you raise are there for the purpose of being eaten you don’t get emotionally attached to them. They are treated well, butchered humanely, but they are not pets.
By 2006, that relationship had ended and she’d lived in two small communities on Vancouver Island – Lake Cowichan and Duncan – while she regrouped and figured out what she wanted to do next.
Brin discovered Gabriola when both she and Nikki took personal development courses at The Haven. One of the instructors, an acupuncturist, started to work on her fibromyalgia. That meant weekly, then monthly, appointments here. Along the way, she trained as a reflexologist and both practiced and taught it. Brin’s many visits to Gabriola gave her the opportunity to get to know the island, whose rural setting and community were reminiscent of East Sooke.
A decade ago, she pulled up roots and relocated here – living in two different houses before buying her current one. One of Brin’s creative interests is renovating and selling houses, improving a place, and then moving on. Going into her fifth year in this house she feels like all the things she’s done: working on the garden, thinning trees, getting birds, repairs – make her feel like she’s planted herself there. That this place is her home.
2017 saw another setback: she broke her wrist, which forced her to take stock of her life. Her reflexology practice ground to a halt, her income dwindled and she had to reassess her priorities, limitations and what she wanted from the next chapter of her life. Brin did some soul searching about what she wanted versus what she needed. The answer was to be as self-sufficient as possible, to spend within her means, to stop pushing herself. She’d always had a garden, grown food, ate game meat and canned food. Even though she’s not off-grid she’s significantly reduced the amount of electricity she uses.
Living on a property- through the seasons and over time- means getting to know it. If you’re listening and observing you can see what it has to offer and what it needs. Her goal is to make use of what’s there (an old shed, lots of water) to create permaculture zones and grow more of her own food.
Last summer she got three pullets from Grade Eh Farms: Bresse, Splash Marans and Bielefelder. Just three, which is enough to keep her in eggs and just the right number for the freecycled housing she’s cobbled together. One of the coops is mounted on a wagon that she can easily move about the property – any larger and it would be more arduous. I don’t think she’ll be a victim of chicken math – she loves her birds, would like more, but is realistic in what she can reasonably manage.
Joining them, are four Saxony x Appleyard ducks. Their pen and the chicken coop are housed for the winter under a car shelter – which she also got for free – surrounded by a moveable electric fence. The idea is to rotate the birds through different areas, have them eat slugs and bugs, rototill and add manure to the soil to break the lifecycle of pests.
The old shed will be fixed up and house two goats – La Manchas, known for their milk – so she can make feta, brie and asiago cheeses (another connection to her time in Greece). They’ll also be able to clear the invasive blackberries, a thicket that forms the perimeter of her .6 acre property. Meat birds, and maybe more rabbits, could be in the works.
Driving her is the need to live simply, to want less, be resourceful and examine one’s priorities. As someone pushing 60, I can relate to her question “What is enough?”.
“I think if anything, what I know is that everywhere I have lived I have created a garden and grown food. That I feel best outside, and with animals. I know I strive for a simpler life and love it when the power goes out – my entire being settles. So being as close to off grid as possible is a goal. I’ve finally reached a point in life where I’m settled. That’s finding this property. It might be a financial struggle, but it’s my life, and, I love it.” – Brin
Additional photos courtesy of Brin.