Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A new beginning

Young English family found challenges, happiness on Vita farm

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ABIGAIL Greaves was 13 when her parents called her and little brother Thomas together for a family meeting in their home in Devon, England.

"They sat us down and said 'We might be immigrating to Canada.' " That was in 2007. Today, at 18, Greaves remembers being happy and relieved.

"I didn't really like the school I was at. It was a boarding school. Here was the chance to move somewhere completely different."

Her self-employed parents were also seeking change. They ran a personal security service transporting young offenders to and from court, she said.

They also raised a rare breed of pigs.

"They were for the organic market and selling to the trendies," said her mom, Vicky.

"We were fed up with the world. It wasn't real," said her dad, Stu. At that time, a friend knew someone getting divorced and selling a farm in Vita. So they took the leap and bought it.

Now their reality is 162 hectares, home to two donkeys, a herd of cows, three border collies and a llama who protects their 197 sheep.

"Who has the opportunity at age 40 to do something completely different?" Stu said.

They found Canada much more affordable than England. Back home, they'd considered buying 24 hectares of land for about $500,000. In Manitoba, they found several times the land for half that.

Their southeastern Manitoba farm is just north of the U.S. border, 12 kilometres from the nearest village on a gravel road where, some days, not a single vehicle drives past. They rely on each other more than ever now.

Like so many immigrant farm families before them, everyone does their part.

"I do the Hoovering," said Thomas, now 11, who isn't crazy about the animals but pitches in with housework.

Thanks to supportive Manitobans, they've managed, said Stu.

"We've got brilliant neighbours," said Vicky.

They don't see them every day at the local pub as is the custom in England, but knowing they're close is a comfort. Friendly neighbours have advised them on plugging in vehicles in the winter, and people showed up with equipment ready to help when the Greaves' baler broke.

The Prairie winters were like nothing they'd experienced before, Abigail said, but her parents were used to overcoming challenges. The only real struggle she's aware of is her dad's "language barrier."

"He's from London and still has an accent -- so people can't understand him," she said with a laugh.

Since arriving in 2007, they've had some hard years, said Vicky.

They hope this will be the season they get a return on their investment. They're not giving up and have no intention of leaving before Thomas finishes school, she said.

Abigail lives in Winnipeg now and has just finished her first year at the University of Winnipeg, where she plans to major in theatre. She was the first recipient of the Garnet Kyle Scholarship for a rural student from the Dominion City area.

Coming to Canada has given her room to grow.

Looking back, she didn't know where she was going before she left England, she said.

"Canada was a place with funny accents." She could find Canada on a map but couldn't remember the name Manitoba when people asked where in Canada: "Someplace that starts with an M -- no, not Montreal," she'd tell them.

The image she had in her mind of Canada didn't match the reality.

"I thought of Canada as Mounties on horseback, riding by mountains," in the cold and snow. They arrived in September, and she got off the plane wearing a heavy coat.

"And it was so hot! The climate was a bit of a shock," she recalled.

They arrived in Vita in the dark. The town seemed deserted, like "one of those towns in the horror show where you just keep driving."

But in the light of day, it turned out to be very welcoming.

"Everyone was very open to having foreigners in the class." Abigail attended Vita's kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school, starting shortly after an Australian newcomer arrived, which helped.

Still, there are very few things she misses about England, though.

"I miss the scenery. I miss certain foods -- like fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding."

Manitoba feels like home now, first on the farm and then in Winnipeg.

"I think I've settled in the city really well," she said. "I'm going back to the farm less and less. I'm establishing a life for myself."

The major change and upheaval of immigrating as an adolescent wasn't traumatic, she said.

"For emotional development, it was a big step in right direction."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 J12

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