Submitted by Justin Garant
As I study on Google the map for this unexpected, unexplained, remarkable, probably once-in-a-life-chance-of-setting-foot-on island that is also a smile in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I am in awe that I won – yes won! – the chance to walk on Sable Island.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the story. Within the first few weeks of working at Spikes Indoor Rock Climbing Gym (in London, Ontario) I met this woman – let’s call her K. She was someone I knew I needed in my life and, lo and behold, we had the opportunity to work together. I was at photography school and had a partner at the time, but K and I still became close friends and would hang out at parties together, go mountain biking around Fanshawe Lake and, of course, rock climb. We both loved the outdoors and were always seeking new adventures.
As the years passed by, so did our paths. My climbing partner and I seldom stayed in touch, and only here and there using the anchor of Facebook. We’d send a check-in message asking how things were or “like” a random photo of the outdoors. We stayed connected but mostly from a distance. And as the years passed, so did the relationship I had while at photography school – that chapter came to a close.
Not having heard K’s voice in quite some time, I called her to catch up. We grew closer and eventually were walking hand in hand. I continued out to the west coast for some schooling and as K had finished her nursing degree and was employed in Vancouver we decided to move in together. At one point in time, the phone rang and she asked if I wanted to go backpacking in Jasper – I pretty much fell in love with her from that time on.
As things progressed, we started missing home. We worked on the west coast of Canada for some time but we needed the familiarity of the great north of Ontario – the lakes that link together like a jigsaw puzzle – and to be closer to family.
When we arrived home, broke, and each living out of our parent’s home while we searched for a place of our own to rent, I came across a contest. It was a photography contest through Canadian Geographic to win a fully paid all-inclusive cruise with Adventure Canada. As a graduate of photography I decided, “What the heck, I’ll enter a few shots”. One of the categories was a “Pet Portrait“ and I chose an image of a puppy I had posed in front of a canoe. Click!, and I won the cruise!
It took a couple of read-throughs of the email to believe it was legit. I knew the only person I would be taking was my soon-to-be fiancée. Being broke and with no chance at all of obtaining the ring I wished I could afford, I found myself sitting beside my mother-in-law – with a scotch in our hands – when she offered her grandmother’s ring. I was unbelievably grateful, and with watery eyes and a closing hug I had a ring.
Within a day or so, I said to K, “Hey – you wanna go on a cruise?” K was shocked, and I believe excited, that we were heading to the other end of the country to depart from St. John’s harbour in Newfoundland. Neither of us had really heard of Sable Island or its history, and didn’t know what to expect. We both started doing some research into what makes their home on this beautiful piece of land. We were pumped! I, myself, as a landscape/wildlife photographer, was overloaded with anxiety and determination to capture some beautiful images and to bring home some amazing memories – and to make one memory that would last my lifetime.
The night in St. John’s, before the cruise, was quick but we had the late afternoon for a rainy walk of the streets before stopping at a restaurant to grab a beer and a bite and then finding our hotel. There were definitely parts of the trip we had to ask for a parent loan, but hey, we were sailing over to Sable Island!
We had a great morning with sunny skies before it was time to board and start the engines for a sail in the Atlantic Ocean. Now for myself, I’ve been on boats and I’ve had the great pleasure of growing up with Lake Erie in my backyard. Water and me have usually always been friends, but for K, not so much. I’m more of the adrenaline, need-for-speed kinda person, and K is much more calculated and more easily perceives the risks of a certain situation – so she was slower to acquire her sea legs.
Once we were anchored off Sable Island, the view was remarkable. It was like opening up a story book. There is so much more to this adventure that I could tell but to keep it short – once we were on land, after jumping out of the zodiacs that carried us ashore, we were guided by Parks Canada staff on daily walks with descriptive discussions about the flora and fauna. It was awesome.
The proposal. Before leaving Ontario, I knew this was the time – it was either here on this trip, or in the seclusion of the forest.
There was a restaurant/dinner hall on both the interior and exterior of the ship but the weather usually kept most people enjoying a meal inside – away from the chill in the air. Knowing this, I talked to some of the head staff and found a very helpful and kind person who – after I told him I was going to propose to my girlfriend – offered to have a wicker table set up with a view of the smiling island in the background. He was onboard (lol), and even somehow found some flowers for the beautiful table.
The stage was set – beautiful scenery, beautiful flowers, beautifully quiet – but my beautiful to-be wife was head down in bed with the spins. Crap.
Well, I had some quiet time on my hands and had my fingers crossed that at the dinner time chime she would be ready to rock. It was touch and go, but as we neared the dinner hall I surprised her by continuing past the door to the main deck, saying we were eating outside – alone.
As soon as we strolled out to our private table, tears started in her eyes – a bit of confusion or maybe it was the sea-sickness – but nonetheless, it was time. We had our very own server (I wish I had his name) who brought us our food and drink. We wore our puffy jackets to fight the chill, and I only had one of the most important questions in my life to ask.
I believe by this time she had figured it out, but I went down on a knee and took the ring from my pocket and asked her to marry me. And with a smile and a bunch of tears we were engaged with Sable Island smiling in the background.
That trip to Sable Island will be with us forever and, as wild as it may seem, we now live on the east coast in the town of Kentville. So maybe, some day, we’ll make it back onto the smile.