After more than 60 combined years spent in Hay River, George and Eileen Collins are finally saying goodbye to a community sorry to see their departure. “I’m really sad to see them go,” said Mayor Ken Latour, who has known Eileen since he was a kid in the early 1970s, and whose mother Vicky was one of Eileen’s first Northern friends.
“They’ve both made big contributions to this town on many fronts,” Latour noted. “They’ve been wonderful citizens of this community, always very active and very positive.”
While Eileen has called Hay River home since 1968, George arrived here from Ontario in 1991 to retire. They laid down roots and immediately became involved in various aspects of the community, creating a substantial local footprint.
George promoted literacy by volunteering with the Hay River Literacy Society as well as the Hay River Library Committee, and was also a board member of the NWT Literacy Council. Believe it or not, he also found time to be a justice of the peace, an English as a second language teacher, administrator at Aurora College’s Community Learning Centre, a member of the NWT Humans Rights Commission, a gold-medal winner for the NWT at the Canada 55+ Games, co-organizer of bucket drumming events, treasurer of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Hay River, co-ordinator for the Hay River District Education Authority and an occasional cab driver.
Eileen was just as busy by being involved with the Hay River Seniors’ Society, working as a reporter for Northern News Services, writing ‘I’ve Been Here Ever Since – An Informal Oral History of Hay River’, and mother to three children who have all found their careers because of the North.
“They’ve been wonderful volunteers in our community,” said Bette Lyons, who worked alongside George at the NWT Literacy Council. “I’m sad to see them go, as they were an asset to Hay River.”
George started teaching in 1955, in a one-room country school in Ontario. He retired from that field in 1990, the same year he married Eileen. They moved to Hay River, where Eileen owned a house.
“It’s a bittersweet departure,” Eileen said, to which George agreed. “My roots are in this community. Because of our respective ages and the need to be closer to family, we felt it was the right time to move on.”
Their new home will be Sherwood Park, a city near Edmonton, where they recently purchased a condo. The house and property they currently own is 2,400 square feet on one floor, thus too much for them to take care of.
“It was a bit more than we wanted to take on,” George said. “The move is timely, affordable and the size of the condo (1,300 square feet) is something we can manage.”
George has kids in Ontario and the West Coast, while Eileen also has a son on the West Coast.
“The move will make access to us more affordable for them,” Eileen said.
With an assortment of differently-sized moving boxes scattered throughout their house, they talked about learning the virtue of detachment – getting rid of an accumulation of material objects. However, they will never be able to let go of the friendships they’ve made.
“You make all of these hooks,” George said, referring to both friendships and the various capacities they’ve taken on in Hay River. “Trying to unhook is somewhat difficult. We’ve been here 20 years together, so we have mixed feelings about leaving.”
Despite leaving a town where they have so much history, the couple expects to see their Northern friends from time to time.
“People are always passing through Edmonton on their way somewhere, so we expect to connect with our friends,” George said.
When asked what he would miss most about Hay River, George was quick to reply in nostalgic fashion.
“Fisherman’s Wharf,” he said. “Especially in June when you go down there and see people you haven’t seen in a long time. You sit down, have lunch and catch up with people.”
— Myles Dolphin