My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Safe, Secure and Beautiful

During my recent travels in Switzerland I took an interest in the extensive use of shutters on the buildings.  Almost every home in Hermance the community I was staying in have shutters on the windows and doors. The use of shutters is due to the age of the village, 13th Century, and it is one of Switzerland's protected historic sites.  Residents whose houses fall under the historic site category can only make changes to their homes with village approval.
I believe that exterior shutters are an optimal window covering.  I have never liked interior shades or curtains as they distract from the design of the window and collect dust.  Shutters were first invented in Greece where they were louvered and made from marble, allowing for adjustment to let in light and air.  They could also be bolted shut, allowing the building to be secured.  The concept quickly spread to other countries around the Mediterranean sea, the building materials going from marble to wood. The poorest people would make their shutters from straw which still offered some protection from the elements. Once the glass manufactures in Murano, Venice, were able to build glass that could be used as a window the shutters became important as a means to protect the very expensive and fragile glass.  Shutters did not come to the New World until the 18th century.  (via the history Pollock).
The value and beauty of shutters have endured and are often included in the design of a new home, a decision I truly appreciate.  I find the light that sifts through a louvered wooden shutter to be attractive, and in addition they provide protection from both heat and cold.  I also enjoy bolting shut the shutters on doors and windows at night, providing additional security.  At present I feel so vulnerable in our home that I would love to install shutters on our house.

Hermance, classic green shutters that are predominate in the village.

There are variations on the color green.

A little outside of the village other colors of shutters can be found.

Edmond put fake green shutters on his house on the ranch as a tribute to his Swiss heritage.

On the loss of a safe and secure home;

The winds of madness came through our farm,
it tore open gates, hinges stripped from old grey wood.
A late summer storm,
sent the chickens to the top of the trees, they will not come down.
Horses flew into the hills, I will never see them again. 
Cows left the barns ringing empty.
The wind changed everything.
It swept me away too, torn and tattered it would be many months
before I could breath without pain.
The garden planted with my grandmother’s soil, gone,
carried far into the breezes, I hope, enriching other places.
Even the family ashes, laid under stone, tendrils of storm pulling,
scattering them at last.
Lovely weed seeds sown far and wide, growing a massive crop,
never to harvested, but not wasted.
The great grey owl now lives here, and the deer deep in the field. 
Grasses not disturbed so nests are made, so safe.
We never go near and the breezes cannot reach past the strong stalks.
Another life, perhaps, will be nurtured here. 
We are farming hope.

We are farming hope...

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I find that I am still reflecting on immigration issues after coming back from visiting my family in Switzerland.  It was wonderful to come home to friends and family however not without the feeling of grief for all of those that I have left behind.  My trips back to Switzerland are focused primarily on visiting with family and I make an effort not to be a "visitor" by engaging in all the small tasks that make up a day such as cleaning, shopping and cooking. It is so nice to be part of the daily life of someone that you love.

It is one of the many reasons why leaving your country is so difficult, missing out on the support and the comfort of loving connections.  Renee was so fortunate when she was leaving Montreal as a newly bereaved widow with three young children that she had a close friend that made the decision to leave with her.  Mimi and Renee had been friends for years.  Mimi was a nurse who left everything behind to accompany Renee to Switzerland where they all lived together in the large home of Renee's mother-in-law.

Renee (far left) with friends and her parents in Montreal.

Left to right; Mimi, Jean, Edmond, Mounette, Grandmother and Michele in Switzerland.

Mimi would eventually find her own place to live in Geneva where she worked as a Social Worker, primarily in an volunteer capacity. She earned money as a seamstress.  Upon her marriage she and her husband moved to the Alps where they built their own chalet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Motivated by Hope

Immigration is motivated by hope; the hope for a better life, however the individual defines it.  Charles Fleur de Lys had become frustrated with the lack of work in his field as a printer in Switzerland and immigrated to Canada with his young family in the hope of a better future.  He was unsuccessful in his attempts to find work in his field around the Montreal area and as his funds were running dangerously low he accepted work with the Canadian Pacific Railway.  The work was physically demanding and did not resemble in any way his original career however Charles would stay with the CPR until his retirement on the Ferme Fleur de Lys. 

Charle’s first few months must have been an anxious time for him as he tried to prepare for the arrival of his wife, Caroline, who had been delayed in Switzerland due to the death of their newborn child.  He was left with the responsibility for the care of their young daughter, Renee, as well as starting his new job.  He also had to find a house that would be suitable for his family as well as affordable.

Charles kept a journal during this time where he carefully recorded all his expenses as well as some of his reflections on his new country.  It was through these careful calculations that he determined that he could afford to rent a large house that a colleague was moving out of.  He had been staying in a rooming house with his young daughter and was feeling the pressure to find a suitable home for his family.  As the house was quite large he decided to rent out some of the rooms and this is how Henri Miege would eventually meet Renee many years later as he rented one of the rooms in the house.

Charles and Caroline had moved from Nyon in Switzerland which is one of the many villages along the shores of Lac Leman.  Lac Leman is one of the largest lakes in Western Europe measuring 133.32 sq. miles. It is speculated that it was the Shuswap Lake that partially drew Charles to make the decision to purchase the farm. It is possible that Charles was missing his home country and saw something of the Lac Leman in the Shuswap. He was an avid fisherman and had fished regularly on the Lac Leman, and was able to continue this pastime on the Shuswap.

I have just arrived back from spending three weeks along the shores of the Lac Leman and there is a similarity between the lakes.  They are both profoundly deep and large with a skyline of mountains. Like the Shuswap, the shores of Lac Leman are often rocky.

Lac Leman

Shuswap Lake, view from our house.

Lac Leman, Geneva

Shuswap Lake

Lac Leman, sunset in Hermance

View of Hermance with the Lac Leman behind

The Ranch, on the shores of the Shuswap.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Family Roots

There are significant differences between those that are forced to leave their countries out of fear for their lives, either economic or political, and those that choose to go.  Refugees live with the hope of returning to their countries of origin and a sense of displacement.  Once given the opportunity to return they sometimes find they have changed so much that they no longer fit into their old customs and the years have left them somewhat estranged from family and friends.
My family that made their way to other countries did so seeking adventure and opportunity. As a second-generation immigrant from both Switzerland and New Zealand it is impossible to make judgment on the choices of the family before me. It is certain that it is difficult to live so far away from important family relationships and I do believe that my family has suffered from the lack of support and direction that could have been provided had we lived closer.

As I write this I am visiting my Aunt in Switzerland and although I have been fortunate in that I have seen her over the years and in fact lived with her for almost a year as a young person I still feel a sense of grief that I could not of been with her more. I think of my own nieces and nephews in Canada who I quite simply adore and find it hard to imagine being so far away from them. 

Language is a constant barrier when visiting family in Switzerland. I was not brought up speaking French and only learned it when I was 18 years old. Over the years I have had very little opportunity to practice my French, which leaves my annual visits to Switzerland as my only refresher. I manage one-one but in groups I quickly lose the thread of the conversation and then in confusion retreat to my own thoughts. I have always wanted my children to be fluent in French but somehow in the rush of everyday life we never managed to set aside the time.
I often wonder how my life would have been different had my parents returned to either New Zealand or Switzerland.
When I visit I try to imagine myself living there;

I could live easily here amongst the soft grey stones.
The comfort of my family roots deep in the ground.
I am not sure what I would do but I like the narrow streets,
the acrid coffee and charming collections of cheese.
Each day a different café?
Long reflections in the garden...
What next after the trip to the bakery to buy bread?
The emptiness of the day both intrigues and terrifies.
I could not complete a day around the perfection of a pastry.
And the pulse of humanity is strong here, a constant drone,
I would miss the wildness of green and animals.
Mostly I wonder what my father would think if I left all that he built?
What is now gone and perhaps never was.
Strange to return to what he left behind,
finishing the conversations he could have had.
To finally be buried in his place.