Valentine’s Day is more of a low-key celebration for Dale and Jeanette Hillis than their accustomed practices during the nearly two decades they spent on the road until recently.
But they’ll be enjoying a relatively new tradition started after their extended trips ended by attending the Chemainus Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music.
“We always go on the preview night,” said Jeanette. “We go to Bonnie Martin’s for supper.”
Dale, 79, and Jeanette, 78, have been married 58 years and are still getting settled into a more relaxed lifestyle compared to their constant adventures through Canada, the United States and Mexico that all began after Dale retired in March of 1999.
“By mid-June we were on the road,” noted Jeanette.
“We probably talked about it off and on for eight years,” she added. “We thought we’d do it for 1-3 years. We’d do it for one year even if we hated it. It went for 18 years.”
They had a 2,700 square foot house that included the basement.
“We went from that to a 250 square foot trailer – a fifth wheel,” Jeanette indicated.
“We bought one before we retired,” Dale added.
Once they made the decision, there was no turning back – unless they wanted to end it prematurely. But that didn’t happen, with trips running throughout much of each year from 1999 through 2017.
“Our first big foray was to Mexico,” Jeanette pointed out.
Dale noted they’d visit “relatives on the Prairies” in between some of their early jaunts since they were both from Saskatchewan originally.
“We were usually in someone’s driveway when we were on the Prairies,” Jeanette said.
They enjoyed their numerous experiences together and just kept going. There were so many memorable times it’s hard to recount them all.
Overall, they’ve been to “every province and territory in Canada and about 34-37 States,” Jeanette noted.
Dale added their vehicle, bought brand new, had 588,000 miles on it when they sold it.
Their relationship stood the test of time and they enjoyed every minute within the confines of that fifth wheel.
“We must have, we’re still together,” joked Dale. “You learn to have patience and look the other way when something’s bothering you.”
They went seven years without a TV.
Their connection began when they met at a dance. Dale was living in Nipawin, Saskatchewan at the time and Jeanette (nee MacDonald, later changed to McDonald) in Snowden.
“In our day, I think a lot of people met at a dance because there was a lot of dances,” reasoned Jeanette.
“I was on the road working for highways,” noted Dale.
There was a lapse from the time they first got together, but they eventually married on July 2, 1960. They moved here in 1963, starting with a place in Duncan and then other residences in Chemainus, Saltair and Crofton before embarking on their gypsy lifestyle.
Dale officiated and coached minor hockey during the infancy of the Fuller Lake Arena. He worked at the Youbou, Chemainus and Crofton mills for varying lengths of time before retirement.
They have a daughter Jackie, 57, and son Brad, 54, along with two grandchildren and a great grandchild.
“They have an incredible story,” said granddaughter Christa Howard of Chemainus, who nominated them for this newspaper feature. “I am so blessed to be their granddaughter. They are an inspiration to me.”
They have common interests like dancing, gardening, their family, faith and friends, but “health is the main thing,” said Dale.
They’ve been fortunate with their health, other than a broken foot Jeanette suffered in 1997.
In 2017, they sold their R.V. and are renting a place in the Country Maples Campground on the Trans Canada Highway outside Chemainus.
“We thought we needed a bit of a permanent spot,” said Jeanette. “We still do a bit of travelling, a bit of camping. We’re going to stay here for a while. Dale works in the park quite a bit.”
People often wonder how the couple managed to survive. There’s no magic formula, but theirs has worked for them.
“We did a lot of our living outside,” explained Jeanette. “We each had individual interests that keeps the interest going.”