Tree planting date turns into a long lasting relationship

March 2018

Eighteen years ago, powerhouse activist and singer-songwriter Shy-Anne Hovorka met her husband Ben Bartlett while they were working on a tree plant in Red Lake. Shy-Anne was a tree planter and Ben was a checker. Checkers, as described by Sydney Jones in a Vice article about tree planting, are “equivalent to the dreaded parking police.” So, unsurprisingly, the two endured some ribbing from their respective tree planting and checking peer groups once they began to spend more time together.

Shy-Anne and Ben dated for a while during their tree planting days and hung out in Nipigon (where Ben is from), but she had plans to go to Seoul, South Korea to teach and he had plans to head to Thailand. The two lost contact for some years. Upon returning from South Korea and earning her second degree from Lakehead University (HBA Music, BEd), Shy-Anne went to Red Lake to teach Ojibwe and music.

“I kept coming back to Northwestern Ontario,” says Shy-Anne, who was born in Matachewan but grew up in Red Lake. She moved across various regions of Northern Ontario and into Manitoba, but, as she tells me, “I wanted to make Thunder Bay my home and my base when I was focusing on my music career. Coming from Red Lake, Thunder Bay always felt like a big city centre to me. As for Ben, you can’t pull him out of Northern Ontario.”

It was during the 2010 Thunder Bay Miles with the Giant Marathon that Ben and Shy-Anne’s paths crossed again. By that time, Shy-Anne had released two albums and Ben was working in forestry. Ben was a participant in the marathon while Shy-Anne was a performer at the event. Ben was inspired to reach out, so he sent a message to Shy-Anne via her website asking her if she remembered him.

“I sent a message back that said, ‘Of course I remember you, you’re the one that got away!’”

Right after the marathon, the two went to the Cascades for a hike.

“I didn’t realize he hadn’t trained for the marathon or how sore he was because of it. I probably wouldn’t have had him hiking all over the Cascades with me if I knew!” says Shy-Anne.

They exchanged phone numbers and ended up picking up where they left off.  

They were married three and a half years ago in a joyous backyard wedding that involved bonfires, a pig roast, and a canoe full of beer.

“It didn’t end for three days,” says Shy-Anne of the wedding celebration.

Music, of course, is very prevalent in the Hovorka-Bartlett household. It is also at the core of Shy-Anne’s activism and her humanitarian work. She has been at the helm of an extensive list of empowering social campaigns, including movements against bullying, racism, texting and driving. As a teacher, Shy-Anne’s greatest passion is engaging with youth through music and music education. She has traveled far and wide throughout her career to spread messages of hope through her music.

Shy-Anne has guided the students at George O’Neill Public School in Nipigon, where she teaches, through several music-based projects aimed at raising awareness about important social issues, including the recent release of a video for a song written by the students called “Homeless”, which seeks to bring attention to youth homelessness.

Shy-Anne is also working with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra for an upcoming Fort William First Nation Indigenous concert called Noondaagotoon. The two night event will take place at Mountain Bingo in Fort William First Nation on April 9th and at the Da Vinci Centre on April 10th. It will feature Shy-Anne along with several other Indigenous performers.

“I’m not the only musical one in the family,” Shy-Anne tells me. “Ben has a grade 8 in piano and he likes to write and play little diddies. His songs are more requested around the campfire than mine are!”
In their downtime, the couple take full advantage of the easy access to the great outdoors.

"I enjoy the outdoors and what Northern Ontario has to offer,” says Ben, who works as a Far North Planner for the Ministry of Natural Resources. “From skiing to canoeing, camping and hiking, and the freedom it offers.”

“We are avid hikers,” adds Shy-Anne. “We love to hike at the Sleeping Giant. I also often go up Mount McKay and feel that the mountain has always been a pivotal point for me here as an Indigenous person.”

Shy-Anne, Ben, and their 2-year-old son are happy to spend their downtime embracing the wonderful natural landscape of Northwestern Ontario.

Cassandra Blair has a Masters of Arts in English Literature and is a regular contributor to Bayview.

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