[Joie De Vivre]

The Wind in the Trees

Beloved CBC radio host Gill Deacon doesn’t mind living in two different worlds. Although she’ll never give up her city digs, there’s a magical mix of people and place that lures her to her country property.

Owning a piece of country paradise can be as much a salve for the soul as it is a sound investment. And for a busy media personality who can’t always get away from the hustle of the city, just knowing there’s a quiet haven she can call her own is a special comfort. And so it is for beloved CBC radio host Gill Deacon. The Toronto native, who’s also a best-selling author, environmentalist and singer, first fell in love with Northumberland about 14 years ago. She and her husband, Grant Gordon, who owns an advertising and design firm, had originally looked at Prince Edward County as a possible country escape, but didn’t feel a connection with its topography. “I didn’t know this part of Ontario,” she says. “But we had this intuition that there was something to explore.”

So they explored. And the piece of paradise Gill and Grant discovered and eventually bought was a 100-acre managed forest, complete with a stream trickling through it, near Dartford in Trent Hills. The couple blazed new trails through the woods for cross-country skiing and hiking with their dog, Hugo. “We just kind of let everything else in the world fall away. And being surrounded by the wind and the trees really does wonders for the soul,” says Gill.

The purchase of this Northumberland property also came at a serendipitous time for the 56-year-old mother of three: The year was 2008 – and Gill was first diagnosed with breast cancer. (She faced a second bout in 2018.) While it was a mere piece of land – albeit one with great potential – Gill claims the property was a godsend during her treatments. “I went out there one time during my first round of cancer when I was in a scary, scared place. I remember just lying there and the view that I had just looking up, with swaying tall grasses in the foreground, and the blue sky and the branches of some trees were the background of my view. And I just hung onto that image when I was in whatever dark scary hospital kind of place. I carry that image with me for whenever else I need it. It’s so nourishing to be here.”

There were also countless dreams and schemes that Gill and Grant shared when it came to their new surroundings, which helped keep Gill positive and focused on a bright future. “Dreams of settling down eventually and really connecting and getting more established … those dreams helped me through my journey in 2009,” Gill reflects. Since then, she and her husband have worked at putting down more substantial roots by laying a road and clearing trails. They even put in a small bunkie and are now building a bigger place.

While pursuing a high-pressure media career would have been reason enough for a country retreat, the real impetus for purchasing the piece of land was the way Gill wanted her three boys to grow up. “There was just a general desire for our kids to have a connection with nature and an escape from the city,” she says. Her sons were 5, 8 and 10 when they first bought the land, and they delighted in exploring the terrain on their little mountain bikes. “And everybody had little clippers and saws and we would clear our trails. My friends were like, ‘What? Your little boys are playing with saws?!’” Gills laughs. “But we’d have picnics and we’d pitch a tent…” Nostalgic memories about those early days with her young family abound, but her sons, now 19, 21 and 24, aren’t around much anymore, busy with their own lives. Gill laments that they couldn’t have built their country dream home 15 years ago when they first bought the land. “Then our boys would have a sense of home here,” she muses. “They’re all outdoor nature lovers in their own right, so I know they do love it here. But the bunkie is pretty tiny. And they’re giants! They’re like six-foot-three humans, so we can’t really squeeze in there now,” she laughs.

“One of the benefits of spending time in nature is that it slows you down. It gives you perspective but it also reminds you to take care of it.” GILL DEACON

While the couple can’t provide running water and electricity yet, they regularly invite intrepid friends to visit, as long as they’re up for a little glamping. And they relish going for hikes, having campfires and cross-country skiing.

For the past nine years, Gill has been shining bright on her CBC Radio show, “Here and Now.” She feels that amid the chaos and stress of news programming and the weight of the world that journalists seem to bear these days, “Here and Now” is a special treasure. “While being true to the mandate of a public broadcaster, I also think afternoon radio listeners want some companionship and levity and they want to feel good about their community and hear stories of kindness and connection. So I feel really lucky that although, yes, we have to talk about the heavy, hard stuff that’s going on in the world, we can find equally true and important positive and amazing stories. So yeah – I feel really lucky that I get to do that every day.”

It’s obvious that community is important to Gill, and she’s looking forward to building on the connections she’s made in this area, where she’s found people to be extremely helpful. “We’ve had some lovely experiences, like when the snow plow left behind a big snow bank that prevented us from getting into our property; the guy across the road came to help us with his tractor, and we got to know him and became friends. Then a tree fell down and somebody came along with a chainsaw and helped. We’ve just had these amazing encounters that while they do happen in the city, I don’t think they happen enough. Ironically, although we’re physically closer to our neighbours in the city, we don’t always have the same sense of them having our backs.”

An avid environmentalist – her books Green for Life and There’s Lead in Your Lipstick were both acclaimed bestsellers – Gill believes it’s easy to take things for granted in the city and forget simple things like where the water is coming from. “In the city it just comes out of a tap, from some invisible place. One of the many benefits of spending time in nature is that it slows you down. It gives you perspective but it also reminds you to take care of it and why that’s important. So I lie in bed, dreaming and thinking about our precious country spot whenever I’m not there.”

But striking a balance will always be key for Gill. There’s still lots she appreciates about big city life – including her regular gigs singing with her cover band, “The Circumstantialists” – and she can’t imagine ever abandoning the urban jungle completely, even though the lure of the country is becoming increasingly powerful. Still, it’s authenticity that Gill is ultimately after, and part of her unmistakable charm is her determination to straddle both sides of her lifestyle with grace, passion and honesty. “That ‘city mouse/country mouse’ thing is a divide that I hope to be able to blur because I don’t ever want to be somebody who doesn’t fit in or who doesn’t respect the more rural ways of thinking,” she says. “Obviously we all bring our differences too. But I don’t want to just ‘take’ on the weekend and then forget about it. I really want to integrate into the way of being in the country. Like when I go into the Warkworth Farm Supply, I’m sure I stick out like a sore thumb but I wish that I didn’t. I want to ask, ‘Can I just work here and hang out?’ (laughs) I just love the community. And I want to listen and know how everybody thinks and I look at the equipment in there and go, ‘What is this stuff ???’ I just want to know more. I love everything going on there.”

Story by:
Jeanne Beker

Photography by:
Kirsten Scollie

[Fall 2022 departments]