We are honored to be invited to participate in the HomeLink Spotlight Blog. We are Hélène and Wilfrid Lavallée, we live in Chelsea, Québec, we are now retired and we continue to do house exchanges.
Our adventure with HomeLink started in 1994 while I was working at the University of Ottawa and Wilfrid was in construction. I heard about HomeLink from a colleague while discussing the rising costs of travelling (even in 1994) and how difficult it would be to travel once we retired. So, what started for us as a project to save money soon proved to be so much more over the years, as you will see.
Our home in Chelsea, Québec is located on a one-acre lot overlooking the Gatineau River where we have a dock and a canoe. Our guests are welcomed into our home which is surrounded by our landscape of flowers. Many of our exchanges take place in the early Fall, so they can experience the stunning display of Fall colors unique to this part of the world. We say we offer the best of both worlds as we live in the countryside, but are only twenty minutes from Ottawa, Canada's Capital. The Capital and the Gatineau area offer world-class museums, hundreds of miles of bicycle paths, golf courses and bistros. We are just a few minutes from Gatineau Park and its year-round walking trails. There are two charming villages less than fifteen minutes away: Wakefield with its covered bridge and beautiful rapids to the north, and Old Chelsea with many restaurants and shops to the south. Our visitors love these villages as they represent the multiculturalism of our Province and of our country.
Museum of History
Since 1994, we have travelled the world through HomeLink enriching our lives with each exchange and establishing incredibly special 'links' in many of the exchanges. In Canada, we have been to Victoria twice (the farthest point west) to Newfoundland (the farthest point east) to St Catherines, Ontario, near Niagara Falls and twice in Québec City, the same house as the owner loved our first exchange so much. In the United States, Arizona, and San Diego.
In France, our very first exchange was in St Michel l'Observatoire, I fell in love with France and have since had 9 more exchanges: Pertuis, Perpignan (we exchanged with Albert and Gisèle, the February blog, Ghislaine is their daughter). We remained friends and spent a few days with them on many of our exchanges. Then Pertuis, Uzès, Toulouse, Dax, Manduel, Archamps, La Salvetat Peyrales and Ascain in the Basque region. In France, we were welcomed as their 'petits cousins français' and enjoyed comparing the French from France with 'le français québécois'!
La Rhune Basque Region
Top of La Rhune between France & Spain
We cherish all the 'links' created through our twenty-nine exchanges: Holland, Germany, England, Sardinia and then we discovered New Zealand where we stayed on a kiwi estate, Tasmania and finally, Wilfrid's coup de coeur Australia: Maroochydore, Perth, Mt Eliza near Melbourne, Yeppoon.
Kiwi Estate New Zealand
But the most memorable link is with Claudette and Daniel from the small village of La Salvetat-Peyrales in the Aveyron region of France. Their little 'Château' close to the village center is still in our hearts as the area is surrounded by what is known as the 'Most beautiful villages of France': Saint Cirq Lapopie, Sauveterre de Rouergue, Najac, Auvillar, all so rich in architecture, history, and delicious food.
In the Vineyards
We became dear friends with Daniel and Claudette and two years after our exchange, they wanted to experiment a Canadian winter. Yes, you read right! So, they organized an exchange a few kilometers from our house, and we spent two weeks introducing them to a Québec winter: their first hockey game, the Ottawa Winterlude with ice skating on the longest rink in the world, Omega Park, a 12 km Safari trail where you can witness all the Canadian animals in their environment. Then just before the pandemic, they had an exchange in Vancouver, BC so we secured one in Victoria, and we shared both exchanges. Now in July 2023, we will join them on their exchange in Calgary, Alberta during the Calgary Stampede. This link is not over!
Our story would not be complete without sharing how we now have a ‘second family’ in Australia. I hope it will not be too confusing, but I think you will appreciate our adventures down under. We had our first exchange in Queensland in the pretty village of Maroochydore and our exchangers Ken and Margaret recommended we go to Fraser Island from Hervey Bay. As their best friends Vic and Betty lived in Hervey Bay, we were to contact them so they would book a facility in a trailer park for our stay. We arrived in Hervey Bay to find them waiting outside their house and they informed us, with no arguments, that we would stay with them. The rest is history! We became long lasting friends not only with them but with their entire family. Vic and Betty came back to Canada on their way to visit their son in Toronto. We took them to the Governor General for a guided tour where Vic met the head gardener and had a wonderful exchange on gardening habits in our two countries and of course to Omega Park. Their daughter Pam met us on our exchange in Yeppoon and guided us on walking trails and later came to us in Québec. Their other daughter Robyn met us at the airport in Mt Eliza and she and her husband Rob organized golf games, took us to outdoor markets and to Phillip Island where they have the smallest penguins in the world who come out of the sea at night to nest. Melbourne is a most interesting city, and this is where the two Robs introduced us to their friends, Robyn and Stan, who took us under their wing. We stayed with them, and they surprised us with an overnight stay at the Werribee Open Range Zoo where we slept in a tent and experienced an Aboriginal dance and meal as well as a safari!
Overnight safari at Werribee Zoo
Both couples joined us on our exchange in Perth and together we went down the Margaret River to the farthest point southwest to explore the Valley of the Giants and the men climbed the Karri Giant trees which can grow up to eighty-five meters (honest), no they did not climb to the top! Since this adventure, both couples have visited us, even coming to our home for my 65th birthday. We have a lasting friendship with all of them thanks to Betty and Vic, Betty is now ninety-six and as bright as ever and our extended family has enriched our lives. Our adventures have influenced our friends and family to join HomeLink, our daughter from El Paso, friends from the University of Ottawa and from Chelsea
Yes, we hope to continue this wonderful way of travelling, perhaps not as far away but this summer in Calgary and who knows in the future...Wilfrid and I are always open to interesting offers!
Our adventures continue!
More of our anecdotes are in a book I wrote: 'Before it's too late' and the French version 'Avant qu'il soit trop tard':