“I’m a firm believer in working with what you’ve got,” says France Benoit as she drives across a wood-plank bridge and up a modest gravel driveway, winding around the pine trees that lead to her house. “Agriculture is not just big, hundred acres of land—big, flat land with lush soil,” she says. “We can design and develop our own system to feed what we have and work with that.”
Benoit’s home ‘Le Refuge’ sits on the shore of Madeline Lake outside Yellowknife. Her quaint wooden cabin is surrounded by rows of greenery and homemade planter boxes perched on top of the sharp Canadian Shield rock. Benoit has carefully constructed everything on the land in order to feed herself throughout the year. Whatever is left over is lovingly picked, washed and driven the 30 kilometres back into town for the weekly summer-time Yellowknife Farmers Market, of which Benoit is a founding member.
“If you are to die, it’s a beautiful spot to realize
that you’ve done all you can do. You wish there
was more time—but you did it anyway.”
Rows of seedlings sit on windowsills around the house in the dead of winter until they are ready to be transported to the beds and boxes come spring. In a world of its own, nestled in the trees, sits her magnificent centerpiece: the greenhouse. In summer, a canopy of tomato plants hang from the roof in handcrafted planters, green fingers reaching down toward the lettuce, spicy greens and radishes that grow below.
Benoit bought the home in 1992 and began to build the gardens and greenhouse with her husband Doug Ritchie, a local environmental activist, known in Yellowknife as “the gentle giant” for his tall stature and kind demeanour. Ritchie passed away in January 2015, mere weeks after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. “I don’t want to keep this place as a shrine to him—but we had a vision, of what the world could be. He used to say that he was the ideas person and I was the implementer,” says Benoit. “So, I’m implementing the vision we had. Of trying to live a simple life.”