How the pandemic put excuses in perspective and pushed these people to make positive life changes


The pandemic has been tough, but some have used it to explore new ventures, businesses and personal experiences.

Some Saskatchewan people were inspired to make positive life changes when the global pandemic hit. (Submitted by (clockwise from top left) Jess Gibson, Leah Knibbs, Life Outdoors and Maddie Ouellette)

It's been one year since the global COVID-19 pandemic started changing people's lives in Saskatchewan and throughout Canada.

There have been deaths, illnesses and more, but the sudden change has also inspired some people to look inward and make positive life changes.

CBC Saskatchewan spoke with four Saskatchewan residents about their new experiences: a business, a hobby, a city and a pet.

Alex Miles has been coping with the pandemic by trying something new: walking for fun.

The 89-year-old used to fill his days playing games and visiting with his wife at the long-term care home where she lives in Weyburn, Sask. When the pandemic closed down visitation, Miles was confined to his condo, unsure of what to do.

"We talk on the phone three or four times a day … I read to her every noon out of a book and at night I sing to her," Miles said. "We've been married 65 years. And so for 65 years, I was able to hold her hand and kiss her good night. Suddenly, that's gone."

Alex Miles and his wife Irene used to live together until she needed more care and had to be moved to a long-term care facility in Weyburn, Sask. (Submitted by Leah Knibbs)

Miles said it has affected him a few ways. He said he sometimes feels lonesome, discouraged and a little depressed.

"So I thought 'OK, I'll do something about this.' I bought a pair of ski pants," he said.

Miles used to swim, ski and sail but was never excited about walking. He gave it a try in April 2020 and now walks about a mile a day, five days a week.

"It feels great. You're alive," Miles said. "I can go out in the cold and I'm not cold. Wind is the only problem I have. I have to use a walker and the wind sometimes catches a walker … but it works."

Alex Miles decided to do something after feeling discouraged about being separated from his wife of 65 years due to pandemic restrictions. He decided to go walking and now walks about a mile a day. (Submitted by Leah Knibbs)

Miles said he's grateful that people in the city are usually good at clearing their sidewalks and motorists are patient when he needs to cross a street.

Miles suggests that people facing similar isolation focus on what they can control.

"It's hard at this age to predict or suggest what might happen, anything can happen tomorrow. But I've made up my mind that I've got to be happy, as happy as I can be," Miles said. "Look toward the future. There's going to be a future. Enjoy it."

Pandemic makes family reassess their life-long city

A former Regina family decided to re-evaluate their living situation during the pandemic. It led to a move and some unexpected positive changes.

Jessica Gibson was working in an architectural firm in Regina. Her husband Marc Fuller was a massage therapist. Their daughter was in elementary school. They had sold their house in 2019 and were renting in hopes of a future change.

"There was always something kind of holding us back from really making the leap … and then when the pandemic hit, everything just kind of came to a grinding halt," she said. "It really put a lot of our excuses into perspective."

Marc Fuller, Jess Gibson and Anique Fuller found that once they moved cities and had a fresh start they were spending more time as a family going for walks, even in the winter. (Submitted by Jess Gibson)

Fuller's massage therapy clinic was closed and Gibson's firm cut everyone to 80 per cent of regular hours. The family decided it was time. In May 2020, Gibson accepted a job offer in Saskatoon. The family officially took the leap and moved in June.

"A part of it is the lifestyle of the city. Marc and I, we're very committed to being a one-car family," Gibson said.

They also had a brother and sister-in-law moving back to Saskatoon from Newfoundland.

"So there was a real opportunity for us to be a little bit closer to his family."

From left: Marc Fuller, Anique Fuller and Jess Gibson. The family decided during the pandemic and it was time to make a change and moved to Saskatoon, Sask. (Submitted by Jess Gibson)

The move meant leaving Gibson's parents behind in Regina, but they've stayed in touch online. Looking back, Gibson said the last eight months have been fantastic for the family.

"We really worked out ways to spend more time with each other. We spend more time reading and playing games and going for a walk as a family than we ever really did in Regina," she said. "It's been a really great change, and I think great in ways that we never really expected."

Gibson said that if other families are considering taking the plunge, it's important to just do it, even if it seems difficult.

"Everybody talks about going back to life as usual pre-pandemic and I think in a lot of ways, the pandemic made us really evaluate what is life as usual," she said. "If a move or a big change is going to give you the opportunity to spend that time with those that you love, then it's absolutely worth it."

Outdoors consignment store giving the chance to try something new at low cost

Nancy Broten and Matthew Johnson decided the pandemic was the right time for a different type of risk. The Saskatoon couple opened a new business after having no entrepreneurial experience.

The two had been planning to open an outdoors consignment store in Saskatoon before the pandemic. Broten started planning in 2019 while on maternity leave from teaching. When the pandemic hit, they weren't sure if they should continue, but decided to go for it. They opened Life Outdoors on October 10, 2020.

Matthew Johnson and Nancy Broten are behind Life Outdoors, an outdoors equipment consignment store in Saskatoon, Sask. (Chanss Lanagan/CBC)

"It was crazy. We actually made the deposit for the space in April when everything was still shut down," Broten said.

The store's inventory is on consignment, which Broten said makes it a real group effort.

"We're really grateful for those initial consignors. We had 63 initial consignors before we opened the doors and we had enough stuff for it to open."

Matthew Johnson and Nancy Broten opened Life Outdoors in October 2020. (Chanss Lanagan/CBC)

The store Saskatoon now has 300 consignors. Johnson said he knew there would still be a market, as he had heard coworkers talking about their new summer plans during the pandemic.

"Getting outside gave people a break from their indoor lives," Johnson said. "Just embracing where we live and making the best of it."

He said the risk of opening the business was well worth it.

"You won't regret if you failed at something necessarily, but you'll have my regrets if you don't try it," Broten said.

Pandemic puppy lifting spirits in Regina

Maddie Ouellette was working at an agricultural company in Regina when the pandemic began.

She said that at first, no one truly knew what was happening as the business tried to figure out the new protocols. Then layoff notices started.

"I thought I would have a job," she said. "I was like, 'I'm going to get a dog because that's what mid-20s females that are single go and do.' I need a companion."

Memphis was a seven-month-old farm dog when Maddie Ouellette adopted her. (Submitted by Maddie Ouellette)

She was fresh out of a relationship and living on her own for the first time. She found Memphis, a seven-month-old Border Collie, living on a farm near the Swift Current area.

Ouellette was laid off the week she was supposed to pick Memphis up. She had to decide if she should go through with the adoption.

"Spending those three days at home alone, doing nothing and not having anybody, really solidified my decision," she said. "The biggest thing was just making sure that I stayed on track, not only for the possibility of going back to work, but also for my mental health."

Ouellette had money saved up in case any unexpected vet bills popped up.

Memphis created a daily routine for Oulette. She said the time together helped with training and getting the pup used to the city versus the farm. She said she's not sure Memphis would be the same without those months together.

"She gave me a companion, a lot of laughs. She still to this day cannot figure out how to walk on hardwood floors. It's hilarious. I had to buy a carpet in my living room just to make it a little bit easier for her," she said. "A lot of joy and just somebody to do things with."

Maddie Ouellette got Memphis during the pandemic. Oullette was laid off from her job the same week she was supposed to pick up the seven-month-old dog. After six months job hunting, she was called back into work. (Submitted by Maddie Ouellette)

Ouellette said others need to remember to think things through, do their research and save money before getting a pandemic puppy.

"Pandemic or not, getting a puppy is a big decision and it's something you need to commit to for 10 to 15, sometimes even 20 years," she said. "They're family, too."

About the Author

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Regina. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email

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