Moving to Montreal

Our decision to move to Montreal starts a few years ago with our move to the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.

I've told the story of our move to Quebec a few times on the blog, but a recap never hurts.

Four years ago we left our life in the United States and our home in Maine in a move we called Life 3.0. This was the "big move".

We went through this significant change because we needed to live in a place that gave us the freedom to follow our dreams and enabled us to create the life we wanted to live as a family.

We chose the Gaspe Peninsula originally because it met two very important criteria: it has mountains and it is within a day's drive of my parents in Nova Scotia.

Living on the Gaspe, with its mountains, breathtaking natural beauty, and low cost of housing positioned us to move forward in some important goals and dreams we had for Life 3.0.

When we left Maine we had some specific employment and lifestyle goals, we wanted:

  • to shift Damien from a salaried office job to location-independent self-employment. We wanted to be able to work and live wherever.
  • to explore the possibility of shifting Damien's career from computers to the outdoors; and the two of us wanted to work together at the intersection of our interests, skills and experience.
  • to live in a naturally beautiful place that supported an outdoors-based lifestyle as well as a possible career shift to outdoors-based work.
  • to have grand adventures with our kids.

And it was our long-term dream to have a debt-free home from which we could work, live, and launch our adventures.

Living on the peninsula met all these goals very well and had the potential to fulfill our housing dream also.

One of the big reasons we wanted location-independent work was because we really value freedom in our lives. We want freedom to pursue our work and life goals, to travel and have adventures.

Since leaving Maine we've had a bunch of adventures and pursued outdoor activities together - hiking, backpacking trips and backcountry skiing.

Our location independence enabled us to have take our first working road trip and to live in Montreal for one month. And most significantly, we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail as a family. That was a working road trip also in that we produced a video series while hiking, about our hike to help fund our trip.

We don't own a house on the peninsula, we're renters. Moving a lot, which was not our first choice, but was a necessity in some cases, is one of the things that has enabled all of our adventuring.

Here's a very brief rundown of all the places we've lived in the past four years.

  1. My parents house in Nova Scotia. Living with my parents for five months after we left Maine helped us re-start our life in Canada.
  2. The 750 sq ft. chalet. This was vacation rental property and a temporary housing solution. We arrived in November and we knew we had to leave by the end of the following May.
  3. A month in Montreal. This was a fabulous opportunity to live in the city for one month while our next rental was being renovated.
  4. The ski chalet. What a dream location. A bit out of the way to be sure but I've never lived this deep in the woods before and at the base of a ski hill no less.
  5. Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Our six month adventure through the appalachian mountains of the the eastern US.
  6. Housesitting for friends. What a blessing to come off the trail, completely broke, with a safe haven to live in and take care of for ten months till our friend's return.

I'll help you do the math. I've moved six times in the past four years and lived in six distinct places, and we're moving again in June when our friends return from their round-the-world trip.

Living in these variety of situations, and moving often, was the best choice at the time to reach our goals. We've had inexpensive and sometimes free housing which has helped with getting our feet off the ground with self employment. And being homeless during our hike was a key piece to affording that adventure.

We did the best we could with what we had. And we've been able to pull off a lot of amazing adventures on a lower middle class income, but we paid in other ways. And the cost to me personally has been high. (Hello breakdown.)

They say moving is right up there in the top five most stressful life events, along with divorce, death, job loss and major illness. I don't doubt that. In which case, I've experienced a fairly high level of stress for the last four years.

The re-evaluation

We've learned that as much as we value freedom, I also need security.

In our marriage these are opposite sides of the same coin. It turns out we need a somewhat equal measure of both in our lives for us to be happy, as individuals, and as a couple.

When we came off the trail we both knew I needed more security. One of my basic needs was not adequately being met and I was crumbling. And so Damien made the very difficult decision to move all his career eggs to his technology basket to help stabilize our lives with an increased and reliable source of income.

Damien had been carrying two baskets for a while, building outdoors-related communications and media sources of income while continuing his computer programming. We were working together and it was a slow build that unfortunately was tearing me down.

This was a heartbreaking revelation for both of us. We had dreamed of working together, combining our interests and talents to financially support our family. It was part of the vision for Life 3.0, but the inherent unknowns and insecurity of launching self-employment while affecting a career change for Damien, along with our constant moving, eroded the foundation beneath me.

It's not surprising then that somewhere on the trail I lost vision and enthusiasm for working together and when we came home I wanted nothing to do with building our online business. I felt like I had lost myself and Damien felt like he lost a partner. Like I said, heartbreaking.

You live and learn, right?

This is something I wish I hadn't gone through.

We both wish that my security had not been eroded so significantly and wonder how things might have played out differently if it hadn't, if we had paid attention to the signs earlier. We saw the signs, and to Damien's credit he questioned at each major junction if I was ok, he knows me really well. I reassured him I was because I wanted it to be true. I am loyal and committed (sometimes to a fault), and so we kept pressing forward.

The grand irony is that I have appreciated having these diverse experiences and living in these unique places. I have grown so much.

My life has been enriched because I took risks and stepped outside my comfort zone. And yet these very experiences, which I appreciate for their individual merit, when put all together, just wore me out.

In early December, when everything seemed to fall down around our feet and we knew we had to rebuild it, we looked honestly at everything. Our work, where we live, the stage of life our family is in, our kids' needs, our individual needs, our core values, our financial needs, all of it.

This was the point where Damien decided to shift his career back to technology, a field he still loves and work he's very talented at.

As we looked ahead to the summer, knowing that when our friends return from their trip we needed to move, again, it was obvious to us that I needed to move to a home and stay there for a while. I still want to travel and adventure but I need a "permanent" (we're not prepared to buy yet) home.

So then the question was, "do we feel ok making the peninsula semi-permanent?" If you had asked me one year ago, I would have said yes, absolutely. In fact we talked about it on our hike, home was the Gaspe, and when we got off the trail I couldn't have imagined moving.

I have started to feel rooted here and part of the community.

But when we looked closely at the needs and interests of our anglophone homeschooled teens, and looked ahead a bit to what's coming down the pipe for them, it became clear that our rural, largely-francophone Quebec community isn't the best fit for this stage of life.

There are limited opportunities here for our kids and there is no homeschool community. The small pool of local resources to support our kids' educational, spiritual, and social needs was starting to become an emotional burden for me, because I feel responsible for providing the resources to help meet these needs.

The kids haven't expressed "too much" frustration with the situation, yet. We just finished a six month hike, we travel lots, we're willing to drive long distances to support their interests, we make an effort to do fun and challenging stuff together, and we have tapped into whatever is available locally to support them. But we can see that we're maxing out our options here and our kids will probably feel constrained by this shortly.

For better or for worse, as a family, our happiness and satisfaction in life is all tied up in each other and the ability to provide for each other's needs. 

My happiness as a homeschooler of young adults, the satisfaction I get from doing a good job, is directly connected to feeling I can provide opportunities and resources for my kids. And my husband's happiness is directly connected to feeling that he can provide security for his wife. 

We moved to the Gaspe for very specific reasons, most notably, its beauty, outdoor opportunities, and relative-remoteness supported our family goals at the time. But our goals have shifted, and our needs are different now.

At this stage of the game, our family doesn't need more nature, we need more city.

Moving to Montreal

Full-time technology work (Damien is still self-employed, working at home) has increased our income and this means we can afford Montreal housing costs, which are actually lower than most other major North American cities.

Living in Montreal, we'll still be a day's drive from my parents, we'll be closer to my brother in Ontario, and we'll live in a city with an international airport. The Laurentians will be less than two hours to the north, and just to the southeast lies the Appalachian mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We won't live in the mountains but we'll be close enough to them.

We won't be skiing out our door, or going for walks on the beach but we'll have a homeschool support group and access to all the city things our kids are interested in and want to explore - art, technology, media, fashion, design, and theatre to name a few.

Our kids are artsy, creative teenagers. They want to attend comic conventions and regularly visit art supply stores. They want to go to movies and progressive rock concerts (so does Damien). They want to try theatre (in English) and participate in gaming or larping communities.

In a few short years they may want to attend design school, or university.

And then there's our faith.

Something I don't talk about much on the blog is that our family are evangelical Christians. As much we eschew religious labels, this one is the easiest to slap on in a pinch to explain how we interpret the Bible and understand and live out our faith.

Quebec is the most secular society in North America (churches send missionaries here) and the number of evangelical Christians in rural Quebec is extremely small. And in our experience, the number of anglophone, evangelical Christian, homeschooled teens, outside our family, is exactly zero.

We had hoped when moving here that we could start a house church, as we had done in Maine. But the population of believers is so small where we live that local churches are essentially house churches in terms of their numbers, but very hierarchical and traditional in structure and practice.

Congregations of evangelical Christians on the peninsula are few and far between. And the ways of "doing church" and the styles of worship here remind me of what church was like when I was five years old.

We want our kids to know that our faith, and the Church, is dynamic and relevant to modern life, relevant to their lives.

Our own faith as parents is well rooted, it is the foundation of our marriage and our family life. Damien and I don't need to be in a community of "people like us" to carry on in the faith. (To be with people like us would be a bonus, it would be an answer to our heart's desires but it's not going to make or break us.)

The same is not necessarily true for our kids. They are at a crucial age in their faith journey, an age in which they will decide if this is the path they will continue to follow. And as they investigate the options, ask questions and seek answers, and look to hang out with "people like them", we want to live in a place where it will be easier for them to find their faith tribe.

We want to be in place where it's physically possible to find a community of believers whose structure and expressions of faith through worship and service are dynamic and current, and where the gatherings and church services engage our kids' hearts, minds, and spirits.

Moving to Montreal is very much about parenting the teen years with as many resources as possible - community resources, educational resources, and spiritual resources.

This move is about about helping our children transition to their early adult years and helping them meet their goals for the future, while still providing Damien and I access to the resources and relationships we need to live according to our values and interests.

And incredibly, in this move we will start to prepare for the life we'll live together without the responsibility of raising our children. Incroyable!

Looking Ahead

I am hoping Montreal will be home for our family till we’ve finished actively raising our kids. No more of this moving every six months business.

Damien intends to grow his business and pursue interesting technology projects that can adequately pay the bills of raising teenagers and fund an adventurous lifestyle. Increasing our income is one of Damien's primary objectives. Graduating our kids with the resources, experiences and credentials they need for the next stage of their lives is my primary objective.

In the next couple years we hope to start saving for our post-child-raising-years dream home, all 500 sq. feet of it, or some other small-house square footage.

Even with this forward thinking, our hopes and dreams, it has been hard for me to think about leaving the peninsula. I love living by the ocean and near the mountains. What a privilege it's been to ski out my door and walk to the beach, to watch the sun set over the bay, and to fall asleep under the twinkling stars of the un-obscured night sky.

But this is not all there is to life.

I am looking forward to shopping at the Jean-Talon market in our Rosemont neighborhood, and joining another choir.

I can't wait to get back on a bike to cycle around the city. I am looking forward to decorating and furnishing our apartment. I am already investigating free lectures at McGill, art exhibits, and knitting groups. And I know I will enjoy regularly hanging out with other homeschool moms.

On our recent trip to Montreal we spent a day at the Communidee. Within minutes Brienne was welcomed into the preteen girl group (she was so delighted and felt right at home with this homeschool gang) and I sat down with the multi-racial, mixed-citizenship moms.

Our conversation wove through home birth, extended nursing, interest-led learning, mothering challenges, whole food recipes, gardening, knitting, lifelong education, learning to speech French and understanding Quebec culture, "finding ourselves", and more; and I thought, "these are my people".

I am looking forward to feeling settled for a season, having access to the resources I need to support my learners and reclaiming my creative, mental and physical energies to invest in my online work and interests.

Damien's looking forward to living in one Canada's prime technology, innovation, and media hubs while still being close to the mountains. And we will all appreciate easier access to flight travel, and travel in general.

We're not buying a house in Montreal. We want to live on the island of Montreal in one of the "distinctly" Montreal neighborhoods near the city's core. We still own our house in Maine and once we sell that we want the next home we buy to be small and/or portable, and to have a very low mortgage that can be paid within five years or less. That ain't happening in Montreal, not yet.

We found a sweet apartment. A completely renovated main floor of a fourplex in a great neighborhood. It has everything we hoped for and more - a private yard with southern exposure garden space, (and a pool!), a garage, storage, private parking space (nearly unheard of in Montreal), 1,100 sq. feet of living space with a bright spacious kitchen. I love it. I hope to be there for a few years.

It's definitely urban, but that's what we wanted. We're not moving to Montreal to live in the suburbs. We're moving to Montreal to live in Montreal.

It's another adventure, but it's an adventure where security is as important as freedom. It's an adventure with the purpose of supporting each member of the Tougas tribe, enabling all of us to grow and develop in this next stage of family life.

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  • Nancy

    Nancy on May 6, 2015, 3:47 p.m.

    I don't comment very often (maybe this is my first comment?) but I did want to say that as I read this post, I'm really struck by your ability to analyze all that has happened to you and your family over the past few years, especially the parts having to do with your marriage and your mental health. Being honest with oneself is so so so difficult and painful and mortifiying--it takes a real strength of character to be able to do that; not just to admit it to yourself but to then turn around, and voice it out loud to your partner, to others. I've become better at this as I've gotten older but I still am not able to turn it outward. I really admire your ability to do this. 


    • renee

      renee on May 6, 2015, 4:01 p.m.

      Hi Nancy, Both Damien and I are "thinkers" (it's the only personality trait in Myers-Briggs that we share, though the way it's expressed in each of us is very different) and when we need to solve problems we analyze things. And then, personally, I need to take it a step further and write it out and because I blog, then I publish it. 

      Sometimes I think it's weird of me to publish these inner workings of our marriage and family life and my thought processes, but I find it useful (if time consuming) and these are actually the kind of details I appreciate reading about. (I'm very detail orientated). 

      I totally hear you on the mortifying nature of honesty. It takes so much courage and the healing processes I've gone through in the last nine months (more on that coming in my next Kitchen Table essay) have taught me more about learning to love myself (in the face of that honesty) than any other reflective/introspective/spiritual growth I've gone through. 


    • Lacey

      Lacey on May 6, 2015, 10:53 p.m.

      I'm with you there, Nancy. Your thoughtfulness and ability to pinpoint the larger patterns and influences at work in your entire family's lives is not only impressive, it's inspiring. I don't use that word lightly. I'm reading through all of this, marvelling at the way you've dug down deep and sorted through, and feeling that I need to be doing more of this myself. I am a 'thinker' as well, but my husband is not, so I tend to default to his mode because I hate being 'that weird overthinker' (my words) - but reading this is reminding me of how powerful that is, and how God-glorifying it is to take our natural bents and run within them. I love it! Thank you for publishing this. 

      And ... it sounds as though this next chapter is going to be just perfect! All the best to you in the transition, may this move be filled with possibility and joy! 


      • renee

        renee on May 6, 2015, 11:07 p.m.

        Lacey, you ain't seen nothing yet in terms of the digging deep into marriage to, in your words, "pinpoint the larger patterns and influences at work". And also defaulting to someone else's way of thinking, processing, managing, etc. Oh my goodness. That has been a huge theme in our marriage for the past few years. With me defaulting to Damien's mode of doing things. 

        This post touched on some of that but there's a lot more where this came from, in terms of analyzing our relationship to see why we ended up where we did at the end of our hike. It was scary to dig into those places but so very necessary. And I do plan to write and share that here :)


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on May 6, 2015, 3:56 p.m.

    So happy for this new adventure for your family - and you! I love that you can specifically identify all the reasons you are moving. Praying for your family...


  • Jen Farrant

    Jen Farrant on May 6, 2015, 3:58 p.m.

    wow you are so brave in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your story so honestly as usual Renee. You really inspire me to do the same! 

    I am living in suburbs and I hate it - it is neither one thing or the other. But we can't afford to move and I don't know what would best suit the two of us either. I wish we could have family goal conversations, but I just  can't see that happening!


  • Lisa Zahn

    Lisa Zahn on May 6, 2015, 4:58 p.m.

    Thank you for taking us along on your path of changes and decisions. It's inspiring to read, and helpful since we also want/need to move in the next few years. Moving with older kids is so much harder than moving with young ones. They are nearly to the age when they can make their own decisions, so it's hard for us to still make some big ones for them! But we're slowly feeling things out, and seeing how other people do it is so helpful. I am so so so looking forward to your posts from Montreal and your new life! (Just as I've enjoyed your posts from all these various places you've been.) Here's to another (stable) adventure!


    • renee

      renee on May 6, 2015, 5:11 p.m.

      Totally hear you on moving with older kids. It's a different game. In our case, the kids have not formed a deep attachment to the peninsula or the people here, which is a significant factor in our move.

      Yes, here's to a stable adventure!


  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on May 6, 2015, 5:33 p.m.

    I am so happy for you reading this post! One of my favorites, I think, because I can relate to it as well. We have recently had 3 moves in the last 2 years (in nearly 10 years of marriage, 7) and just these past two I have realized--I can't DO this anymore. The international one wore me out clean to the bone. I felt I was out of comission for about 3 months, just taking care of switching things over (all the administrative stuff of moving four people over and all the tasks we need to complete just to have things like basic insurance, etc.) and homeschooling the kids in a new system, and then starting over with trying to find a church and meet new people. You've helped me see with this post that no, it's not normal what we've done, and what I went through was not me thinking I just can't get it together. 

    I think you and your family will be so suited for Montreal! We went there on our honeymoon, and even though we were too young to rent a car (!) we walked everywhere and explored every nook and cranny of the city in a week. We were luckily there over the jazz festival and that was fun, too. I'm so glad you've found stability, a great home (that so helps, doesn't it?!), and you're all on the same page. I pray your family would really thrive here in the next number of years--all of you!

    We recently found a place that is "pinch me" perfect and we're saving $500/month from our last situation. We're renting a basement suite below two retired teachers who love kids (our children have a playhouse, a garden, a yard, and a swing set at their complete disposal) and who have been so generous and kind to us. We have a fireplace, a great kitchen, plenty of light (even though it's in the basement) and it's one of the cutest little hubs in the lower mainland (Ft. Langley--if you're ever over here, we'd love to host you!). It's rural and a cute small town but a 5 minute drive from anything we could need. My husband and I agreed we will stay here for years--5-10, God willing, and I can't emphasize how much that makes me happy. I'm assuming you get it!

    Best wishes to you guys in your new (long-term) adventure. Can't wait to hear more about the city!

    Sarah M


  • Alaina

    Alaina on May 6, 2015, 6:19 p.m.

    This all sounds sound like you have found some peace in all of this.  I hope the move goes well.  I know what you mean about finding resources and people "like you".  I have struggled with this over the years and although where I am currently there are at least a small handful of somewhat like-minded people (compared to zero in other smaller places I've lived) I still feel very much the strange person.  However I also wouldn't trade the different ways that I do things.  I'm glad that you can focus on enjoying the good parts about your move.  


  • Rana

    Rana on May 6, 2015, 7:10 p.m.

    Wow!!! You packed a lot into this post.  I'm excited for you all.  The next step on your journey sounds amazing and exactly what you have been looking for.  I had to smile when you said you found your people.  There is nothing like feeling like you are home with a group of people you have just met and already know you have the same values.  I wish you all well and I can't wait to read about all of your new adventures in Montreal.  Oh I love the picture of your space in your apartment. 


  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on May 6, 2015, 8:04 p.m.

    Your vulnerability and honesty always inspires me. We are currently in the planning stages of a move in the next 1-1.5 years, from our current desert home to the town where my parents live in the mountains (not where I grew up but where they've been for the last 20 years and where my husband and I met). I actually think of your family a lot when I'm trying to analyze and tease out all the pluses and minuses of this move and get it all straight in my head. It feels scary. I like stability and security too and we really love the place we live now. But for many reasons we also think this move will be good for us and our kids. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to reading about this next adventure of yours and how your family adapts to city life. 


  • Sarah

    Sarah on May 6, 2015, 8:24 p.m.

    Congratulations! I am so excited for you all on this new adventure! 

    I'm sorry I never replied to your email but I would so love to visit you all sometime in the next for years... or perhaps welcome you/adventure with you here "down South" (I am attending school at Middlebury, in the Champlain Valley of Vermont).

    Many good wishes, Sarah








  • Cari

    Cari on May 6, 2015, 9:46 p.m.

    Hi Renee.

    I continue to appreciate your courage in sharing this journey with the rest of us. I found myself resonating on so many levels. You are leading and inspiriing even in the midst of your valleys and I am grateful. I wish your family well as you step into this new urban chapter. I will enjoy looking on as you feel like sharing. 

    Much admiration,



  • Amelia

    Amelia on May 8, 2015, 2:38 a.m.

    What I like about these life experiences, especially as parents, is the chance of showing our children: "look, this was hard but I did it." Personally, seeing my parents go through challenging times and come out the other end better for their hard work was an essential lesson for me. Adults aren't static. We all continue to change and adapt in order to keep living fully.


  • Jennifer

    Jennifer on May 9, 2015, 10:29 p.m.


    I wish you much luck on your move.  I admire the way your family has figured out what is not working for you and actively made difficult decisions to move through those.  I think you are doing a great job of teaching your kids, giving them adventures, showing them that you can live in different places that meet different needs at different phases and how to acknowledge your self, your needs and accept them even if they are not what you would like them to be.  And your new apartment sounds charming.  I look forward to hearing about your new adventures in the city!


  • Leonard

    Leonard on May 17, 2015, 1:46 p.m.

    Hi Renee Amazing post! Sorry my english, but i must say: your blog is the best in the world. An inspiration to me. I Identify a lot with your train of thought, i'm also a believer and i love the freedom, nature,family, art , handcraft .. tech (i'm a software developer) , gardening. ... 

    My family and i ,we are moving to other place (Gramado ,Brazil's south) searching new experiences, nature ...time together  . So i'm thankfull by your posts. They have helped me a lot in this plan! Amazing that nowadays we have people that value the family and creativity! Your parents did a good job in your life.!


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