York student travelling across Canada by horse

York fine arts student Kimber Sider (BA Hons ‘06) is out to make history and prove Canadians are just as warm, inviting and generous today as they were half a century ago. Sider, similar to her inspiration Barbara Kingscote, who travelled by horse from Quebec to British Columbia in 1949, is riding her horse Kat from Nova Scotia to Vancouver.

Having set out on her solo journey in mid-April, Sider plans to arrive at the Pacific Ocean sometime in October. Currently, she is close to the New Brunswick and Quebec border. Like Kingscote, Sider hopes to stay at the homes of strangers, people she meets along the way.

It is a journey that connects her passion for storytelling and film with her love of adventure and horses. Not only is Sider an avid horse rider, teacher, jumper and even a wrangler (a cowboy), she is also a York theatre graduate and, this June, will graduate from York with a specialized honours BFA in film as well. Her equestrian and film interests will come together in the feature-length documentary she is creating of her experience, titled Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History. It is about two women from different generations and how their stories entwine with their shared love of adventure, travel and discovery.

Left: Kimber Sider with her horse Kat. Photo by Trason Fernandes

"I have always been divided by parallel lives, one half the storyteller immersed in film and theatre and the other the equestrian. With this journey my worlds combine making this project no longer merely a film ride or experience, but who I am," writes Sider on her Web site Ride Canada West.

This is not the first adventure for this York graduate. In 2004, she worked as head wrangler at a working cattle and guest ranch near Kamloops, British Columbia, where she taught riding, cared for 25 horses and chased cattle for branding. After that, she spent five months in Ireland looking after more than 30 horses, teaching riding and improving her show jumping. She also started her own film production company – Dawde Productions.

Emulating some of Canada’s earliest pioneering women, Sider chose to explore Canada and its people close up while documenting her travels – Agnes Dean Cameron traveled from Chicago to the Arctic in 1908 writing about her journey in The New North: An Account of a Woman’s 1908 Journey to the Arctic (Western Producer Prairie, 1986) and Mina Hubbard mapped and explored Labrador in 1905, after which she wrote A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004).

Sider came across Kingscote’s cross-country story in an issue of Maclean’s magazine and was immediately drawn to it. Kingscote wrote about her journey as a 20-year-old woman travelling by horse in Ride the Riding Wind: One Woman’s Journey Across Canada (Newest Press, 2006). Kingscote, now 80, was there to wish Sider well at the beginning of her journey.

So far, Canadians have happily flung open their homes to Sider, as they did for Kingscote so many years earlier, confirming Sider’s sense that Canadians sare still a welcoming people. If Canadians didn’t come through, Sider was prepared to pitch a tent and camp out just like the cowboys in the movies.

"Canadians have gone a lot further than just opening their doors," says Sider. "A lot of the time they will go as far as arranging accommodation for us, whatever the distance that we are planning on going that day, down the road and this is always without any prompting, since we never ask."

The "we" Sider refers to is herself and her horse Kat, who is her lone companion on the journey. "Many people have driven out to check on us in the following days and sometimes even to scout out the road ahead and make sure that there are places that they consider suitable for me and Kat. Pretty well everyone has given us their numbers to call if we need anything and the few times we have used them, the people we have called are always there for us 100 per cent."

Right: Kimber Sider ready to ride across the country. Photo by Kimber Sider

Lesley and Rhonas of Sumac Farms in Nova Scotia continually went out to check on the duo during their first day and built a pen for Kat at the end of the day when no stall was available. The Cock family of Cinnabar farm in Nova Scotia was the first family "to really invite us in with open arms immediately", while Sherry Brooks and family of New Brunswick watched over them. Sherry even rode through wet, cold miserable conditions with the pair the next a day. These types of experiences with people have been plentiful, says Sider.

Her journey, however, has not been trouble free. The biggest problem has been inconsiderate drivers who tailgated her and Kat and passed them at full speed. Other than the drivers, Sider says she is ready for just about anything, including black fly season in northern Quebec and Ontario, long, hot, dry days in the prairie provinces and an early winter in the Rocky Mountains. She is travelling on average about 30 to 40 kilometres a day.

"On a journey like this everyday has its ups and downs, but it is all the people we have met and lives and stories we have shared that keep us going," Sider says. "That is one of the interesting things about all this that keeps us sane and positive. We are always moving forward, so if things aren’t so good or weather is pissing on us, there is the hope that it will be better over the next hill or that we will meet some really great people tonight. It is something to focus on."

Having something to focus on is a good thing when traveling long days with little companionship and an "opinionated" horse. According to Sider, Kat is not exactly compliant. "This journey is always brilliant and difficult all at once," says Sider.

It’s just her, Kat and the open road.

To donate funds to help Sider on her mission to cross Canada by horse, visit her Ride Canada West Web site.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer.