One Valentine’s Day in Amsterdam

November 2018

In 2007, both Matthew and Heleena Stephens found themselves working in the same hotel in Amsterdam. They made their way to Amsterdam from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, he coming from Nottingham, England, and she from Thunder Bay.

“We were working in the same department, but we didn’t really know each other,” says Heleena. “Then our mutual friend was looking for two people to move into the house that they were moving into, so we each got a bedroom. That’s how we became closer acquaintances and roommates. We were roommates for 3 or 4 months.”

“So we already took the major step, we lived together straightaway,” Matt jokes.

They realized they wanted to start dating over one Valentine’s Day weekend in Amsterdam. Heleena invited some friends over to a place she was house-sitting at, but everyone was paired off and off on dates except Matt.

“And it wasn’t close by, it took me an hour and a half by public transport to get to the house. I walked in and was the only one there,” Matt remembers.

“Maybe it was the atmosphere of Valentine’s Day that influenced us,” says Heleena.

After they had been dating for a while, they decided to travel to Thunder Bay together for a 6 month stay so that Heleena could show Matt the city and introduce him to her family. Afterwards, they moved to England for some time with the intention that Matt would apply for Canadian permanent residency.

Heleena and Matt also spent a summer living in Spain with friends and did some backpacking together before they decided to return to Thunder Bay to live and work.

Why did they decide to come back to Thunder Bay?

“For me, what I find about it is Toronto and Vancouver are just so busy, and here I don’t have an hour commute,” says Matt. “The seasons here are great too, there’s always something to do. Winter is brutally cold, but it’s part of the culture here so you can still find a lot of things to do. The city doesn’t just shut down.”

“It’s also easier to make connections here,” adds Heleena. “You talk to one person and that person might know someone you know, or have attended the same event as you, and then there’s a sense of community from that.”

Their wedding took place here in 2012.

They bought a house in town, but have since moved to Lappe, and country living is a new thing for both of them.

“I grew up in the city, walking distance from everything, and Matt grew up close to a big city. But one day Matt said, ‘I want to live in the country and I want to have chickens,’” Heleena tells me. “For three years now we’ve lived in the country on well water with a wood stove, and we have twelve chickens. It’s definitely been a learning curve, but this was the kind of lifestyle that we wanted and if you can do it, then why not?”

After moving here, Matt decided to leave the service industry and pursue a career in the trades. He started his own business, Sherwood Carpentry, in May of 2017 after receiving his red-seal certification (if you’re in the market for a contractor, you can check out his website at The name of his business offers a nod to his hometown of Nottingham.

Heleena works as a Conference Services Coordinator at Lakehead, and in her free time she puts her skills in this arena to good use in the volunteer work that she does within the city’s Finnish community. She sits on the Events Committee for the Finlandia Hall and has previously been on the Board of Directors.

“I also volunteer teach at the Finnish language school here, which is run through the Lakehead Public School Board and is for kids from JK to Grade 8. It’s a good way to teach them about Finnish culture and keeps some of the traditions alive.”

“You meet everyone in Thunder Bay,” says Matt. “Even though I’m not in England anymore, I still feel at home.

I feel like I meet someone from a different cultural background every day.”

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

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