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How a leap of faith led Janet Ogilvie to PEI

Some single words evoke a mental image; “gutsy” is one. It makes you think of someone fearless and courageous, one who faces adversity and wins. What does “gutsy gal” conjure up in your mind? A female mountain climber? One who jumps out of airplanes? A woman who sails the ocean single handedly? What about a woman from Ontario who moves to PEI to start an alpaca farm? That is exactly what Janet Ogilvie did last year.

Some single words evoke a mental image; “gutsy” is one. It makes you think of someone fearless and courageous, one who faces adversity and wins. What does “gutsy gal” conjure up in your mind? A female mountain climber? One who jumps out of airplanes? A woman who sails the ocean single handedly? What about a woman from Ontario who moves to PEI to start an alpaca farm? That is exactly what Janet Ogilvie did last year.

Janet had been the single mom of two daughters since they were very young, and they were a tight little family. They lived in Hamilton, Ont, and Janet had a good job at the university in nearby Guelph. Life was good—then it disintegrated when her elder daughter, Amanda, died, in 2007.

For two years she was immobilized by the weight of loss. She tried different tactics to pull out of the gloom. Nothing worked.

Almost everyone faces dark times in life. Hardship happens, and the trauma that goes with it is hell. I was told several years ago that survivors of unexpected events that result in loss—earthquakes and sudden death for example—share similar reactions. They leave the survivors shaken, unsure of themselves, and unable to function normally.

Janet’s intense emotional reaction to her daughter’s death and her inability to pull out of the darkness was ultimately diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Her family urged her to participate in a treatment program. She agreed, though she was convinced that she would not benefit.

But surprise! In summer 2009, one of the chaps in the program vacationed in PEI. He shared his holiday experience with members of the treatment group, and a crack of light entered Janet’s darkness. It sounded like the sort of lifestyle she wanted—one of peace and stars and calm.

In October of that year she and her younger daughter, Rachel, visited PEI and realized that they had found an idyllic site. A real estate agent located a suitable house with barns and acreage on the west end of the Island; the house in Hamilton went on the market and a new life beckoned. Three months later, in mid-January 2010, the self-propelled duo climbed out from under the rock of darkness in Ontario and moved to the rural hamlet of Birch Hill, PEI. The new life began.

On Day One, Janet welcomed her first visitor: 80-plus-year-old George from up the road. George had grown up in Janet’s house and was happy to know that its walls would continue to be warmed by people who loved it. He taught Janet how to make a fire in the wood stove. Another neighbour came by to plow the driveway when needed. Janet’s sister Glenys, and other members of the family, visited from Ontario to lend a hand. With their help paddocks were fenced, a shop was created, and the barn was readied to receive the first alpacas that arrived on March 1st. Janet had become an alpaca farmer.

A veterinary technician by training, Janet feels comfortable looking after her herd of alpacas, now numbering 50. Each has a name, though they don’t necessarily respond to it, and each animal’s personality differs. Cola has a permanent, endearing grin on his face; Sammy is two-toned and appears mischievous. Mamas look after their babies as carefully as humans. Males are separated from females and all are friendly. They are joined on the farm by two dogs, a few cats, and Winnie, a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig who arrived with a shipment of alpacas. It’s a real farm!

Alpacas are bred for their luxury fibre—it is soft, and keeps its shape and shine when turned into clothing. Janet shears the animals, someone on the Island weaves it into wool, and others knit sweaters and scarves that are sold in Janet’s shop, next to the barn.

The sign at the end of the driveway attracts the eye of passersby, as do the animals in the paddock next to the road. Janet welcomes visitors and conducts tours for anyone interested in learning more about the animals. During her year-and-a-bit of operation she has hosted thousands of visitors from home and away.

In the parlance of travel brochures, PEI is known for potatoes, golf, Anne of Green Gables and beaches. Many square miles of dairy and potato farms have welcomed and kept families on the Island for eight generations or more. Some newcomers feel that they are objects of curiosity, or a source of amusement or irritation, but that their stories just don’t go back far enough to be real Islanders. Janet doesn’t feel affected by this philosophy—she and Rachel feel embraced by all neighbours and friends. Some, like Janet, are in the process of putting down roots; others have taproots that go back for generations. All belong to the same community.

Rachel is finishing high school in PEI. She takes a bus to school, and enjoys her new friends. Their new life has brought her mom back; for a while she thought that she had lost both sister and mother.

Few think of Prince Edward Island as a healing place, but Janet says the beauty and the silence of the nighttime sky allow her to calibrate her soul. Her desires pulse between privacy and contact, solitude and sociability, sadness and serenity. The Island allows her to control these emotions without angst. She says that she isn’t all the way yet, but is beginning to feel peaceful and calm, and to leave some of the darkness behind.

Glenys describes her sister as always being impulsive, independent and headstrong. That was the Ontario Janet. Some of those characteristics still exist, but the PEI Janet struck a bargain with her private jungle: if there was to be loss then there had to be recovery. As a newcomer to nature, she feels the reflexive burst of pleasure at waking to a beautiful day. Her night sky she shares with pleasant memories of Amanda. Inner peace and enthusiasm for living have taken up residence in her emotions. She wanted and has found a simple and honest life.

Janet is passionate about many things. Right now it is about Prince Edward Island and alpacas. Both have worked wonders with her healing. There is no doubt that as her energy mounts she will be involving more people in alpaca farming on the Island. In fact, she thinks that PEI holds the potential to be the alpaca centre of Canada.

We’re glad we were able to draw Janet Ogilvie to our shores—she joins a host of gutsy gals who treasure our lifestyle. She is now an Islander!

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