Kate Strange and Rob Habjan

November 2021

Rob Habjan first noticed Kate Strange in a coffee shop in Gold Coast, Australia.

“I had a big beard at the time. I had seen Kate before, but she would look right through me, probably because of the big, bushy beard,” says Rob. “It was after I shaved that she gave me any notice.”

“I like beards, but not to the point his was at,” adds Kate.

Kate’s sister is a florist, and Kate would help her sell bouquets at the coffee shop. Rob and Kate began chatting only five weeks before he was set to head back to Thunder Bay. He was finishing up his law degree at Bond University. “Gold Coast is kind of like a big Thunder Bay meets Miami,” Rob tells me. “It’s really a lifestyle town.”

After Rob left, the couple was long-distance for over two years. Both Rob and Kate say that if Kate had not been working as a flight attendant for the Australian airline Qantas at the time, things probably would not have worked out as they have. “I would get two to three weeks off, and I would fly to Thunder Bay to hang out with Rob,” explains Kate. “If I wasn’t flying for a living, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”

Ultimately, Kate made the move to Thunder Bay in the summer of 2018. “I’m a free-spirit and I was used to living out of a suitcase as that point,” says Kate. “Rob was not going to be able to move to Australia any time soon, so I decided to move to Canada.”

“It was an adventure for Kate,” adds Rob. When I ask Kate if it’s been a difficult adjustment to live across the world from her hometown, she says both yes and no. “I think the coldest temperature I’d ever experienced was -5 degrees Celsius,” she says. “The first winter here was fun, because it was all new to me and a white Christmas was a foreign concept to me. The last two winters have been tough, just because of COVID and not being able to get back home to visit family.”

The couple added a Goldendoodle puppy to their family last August and that has helped them both take breaks from their busy work lives to get outside more.

“We love to take her to Trowbridge ­and do the trails there,” says Rob. “Winter is long, and I get why people need to have hobbies in the winter, but my business is my hobby right now,” says Kate.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the local, small business community in the city, or you’re a fan of candles, you will likely have seen or heard of Waxxed Candle Co., Kate’s candle business which she started on a small-scale not long after she arrived in Thunder Bay. Upon her arrival in the city, she was taking a Business Fundamentals course at Confederation College and working part time at Sleeping Giant Brewing Co.

In early 2020, Kate, along with Hailey and Bree Hollinsworth of Ungalli, organized a fundraiser that took place at Sleeping Giant Brewery for the Australian wildfires that raised over $12,000.
In terms of candle-making, Kate had some experience with this back in Australia with her sister, so she decided to try it out again in Thunder Bay as a hobby. “She went from making candles in our kitchen, to making candles in our living room, to making candles in my parents’ guesthouse, to a rented space downtown, to her own 1500 square-foot storefront on Cumberland Street,” explains Rob. She now has a staff of five working with her.

“She used to do these hand-cut fabric lids for every single candle,” says Rob. “I got carpal-tunnel from it, and she kept me on a very tight work schedule.” Rob, who is a lawyer at De Bakker & De Bakker, is able to help Kate and stop in at the storefront frequently as his office is also located downtown.

“Kate and I both feel grateful for how well-embraced she has been into the Thunder Bay community on both a personal and professional level. She continuously tells me how amazed she
is by the community spirit in the city.”

“When people ask me why I would move to Thunder Bay, I tell them that I would never have had the same opportunity back home as I do here in terms of the business,” Kate says. “Back home, it’s very competitive and it’s oversaturated. And we just don’t support local the same way this community does.”

Rob and Kate got engaged in early 2020, but due to the pandemic, their wedding plans have been delayed until Kate can ensure that she can celebrate with her family. Fingers crossed, the couple can fly to Australia in the early New Year so Kate can see her family after many long pandemic months.

From a few chance encounters at a coffee shop on a different continent, Rob and Kate have come a long way, and found a welcoming home in Thunder Bay. And, since this is the winter issue, it’s the perfect time to light a Waxxed candle and get cozy.

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

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