Peter & Julie McKenna

November 2019

In 1988, when he was in his late-twenties, Peter McKenna spent a year travelling the world on his bicycle. He had graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from Lakehead University two years prior. For three months, Peter cycled through New Zealand before arriving in Sydney, Australia. While in Sydney, Peter stayed with a friend and was invited on a 3 day “bush walk” (a hike), which is where he first met Julie.

“I happened to be on the walk,” Julie tells me, “because I always said I’d come when my friends invited me and I usually wouldn’t go, but this time I actually went.”

Peter and Julie hit it off instantly; they spent the first night of the camping trip talking into the wee hours of the morning. Their first date was two days after the hike.

“Peter was wearing royal blue pants and a red, skin tight polo shirt,” says Julie, laughing fondly at the memory. “He was holding a single red rose and when he saw me he said, ‘A beautiful flower for a beautiful lady.’”

Only six weeks later the two were engaged. Peter continued his cycling tour, heading to Tasmania, but he returned to Australia to work for three months during that first year that they met.
Peter introduced Julie to bicycle touring while they were in Australia, which has been a big part of their lives.

Peter returned to Canada in December of 1988 to work that winter in Hearst on pipeline construction, so he and Julie did long-distance for several months. In April of 1989, a year after they met, Julie arrived in Canada.

“The first thing I said when I got to Thunder Bay was, ‘when can we leave?’” says Julie with another laugh. “It was the beginning of spring, so it was smelly, it was dirty, and I had just come from Sydney, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. That was my first impression.”

Peter, who was born in Montreal, moved to Thunder Bay when he was 14 and attended high school and university here.

So why did they decide to live in Thunder Bay instead of Australia?

“Honestly, one of the big reasons was the weather,” says Julie. “Australia is so hot. And we like the more laid-back lifestyle that Thunder Bay offers. It’s more affordable here and that has allowed us to be able to travel, which has always been very important to us. We love the seasons here. Plus, we don’t have to worry about tsunamis or earthquakes or other natural disasters.”

“When you go to a bigger city even in Canada, it’s a lot more competitive and you just feel more stressed out,” adds Peter.

The two were married in August of 1989 at St. Mark’s Chapel on Lakeshore Drive.

Julie had been teaching high school in Australia, but when she first arrived in Thunder Bay she did a brief stint as a pizza delivery driver.

“It didn’t last too long because I kept getting lost, and this was when they had the fifteen minute delivery guarantee!”

She also worked as a waitress, but she managed to land a teaching job within about six months of arriving in the city.

Julie was a teacher for twenty-five years, mainly at Hammarskjold High School in Family Studies. Peter is a Senior Project Engineer with Hatch. They have two sons – Steven and David. The family spent about thirteen years living in Castlegreen Co-operative.

“We lived there until the kids were teenagers,” says Julie. “We loved it. It was great for the boys because my family was far away and they always had a lot of friends around in Castlegreen. We’d use the bike trails all the time.”

Now, on her second career, Julie works at NorthWind Counselling Services as a counsellor. She completed a Masters in Counselling while she was teaching part-time. Julie has also just completed training in using the expressive arts in therapy.

In their free time, the couple enjoy bonfires on the shores of Lake Superior, volunteering, attending Redwood Park Church, and playing pickleball, which Julie explains as a “combination of badminton, table tennis, and tennis.”

“It’s played on a badminton court, with a tennis net, a large paddle, and a Wiffle ball,” she says. “It’s the fastest-growing sport in North America. It started as an activity for seniors but younger people are really taking to it. It can be really fun and competitive.”

Julie and Peter are involved in the newly formed Thunder Bay Pickleball Association, representing the 200 + players in Thunder Bay and surrounding areas. There is Pickleball play available at different places and times most days of the week. (see TBPA Facebook page / website for more information)

Peter emphasizes that Pickleball has an easy learning curve and that it’s a great recreational activity for all ages.

Julie gets back to visit her parents and siblings in Australia as often as she can, but her and Peter have made a good life for themselves in Thunder Bay.

“We basically went from Julie not wanting to stay here to loving it here and not wanting to live anywhere else,” says Peter.

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

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