The short story of how Julie Bertram and Chris Fisher wound up hosting River & Sky seven years ago is that the festival needed a new home, and they had the space.
The long story is considerably more interesting.
River & Sky returns for its 11th year this weekend, and while you might be familiar with the festival, chances are you don’t know much about its home on the sandy banks of the Sturgeon River: Fishers’ Paradise.
Bertram and Fisher’s story starts around 2006, when they met in Toronto. Bertram was a local, while Fisher had grown up in England, and moved to Canada at the age of 12.
“I was 33, a musician, and Chris was working at a bank,” explained Bertram. “We were total opposites, and if we had met in our 20s, we never would have clicked, but it was really just this nice cooking of energies.”
One of the things that brought them together from the very start was music. After gigs at the Kensington Market bar where they’d met, Fisher would host afterparties at his place.
They called these parties Club Fisher — they were a sort of urban predecessor of Fishers’ Paradise.
But then, life threw them a little surprise.
“We were just doing our thing and then a couple years later, we got pregnant, so we were like, ‘Oh, what are we going to do now?’” laughed Bertram. “We didn’t really want to raise kids in a city environment, so we just sort of looked online for possibilities.”
Late one night, Fisher was browsing properties when he found the perfect place.
“We’re getting this, we’re totally getting this,” he told Bertram, to which she replied “I don’t really have any money to pay for this …”
But, with a combination of a good job on his part and excellent credit on her part, they got the rugged, sprawling, riverside property.
“We came up to see it and the house was crooked and falling apart, but the land was the thing. Within a couple months we bailed on everything in Toronto and quit what we were doing and moved up in a pickup truck.”
It didn’t happen overnight, though. It took a year of driving back and forth, and on one of those rides, their first daughter, Linden, decided to make her grand entrance. Well, almost.
Bertram’s water broke six weeks early as they were working on the property, so they jumped in the truck and drove into Sturgeon Falls, only to find out they don’t deliver babies. So, they continued on to North Bay, where a nurse reassured them they’d make it to Toronto.
12 hours, one flat tire, and an on-the-spot CAA membership later, they made it to Toronto. After all that, Linden came a full week later.
A few months after Linden’s arrival, Bertram and Fisher moved their last truckload of stuff up north and settled into their new digs. In the years that followed, Linden was joined by two more siblings: Paul and Willow.
Today, the family consists of Bertram, Fisher, their three children, three dogs and four cats. And while they escaped the big city, things are still busy for the Fishers.
“Everybody was like ‘What are you going to do when you move up there?’” said Bertram. “We’d just sort of resigned to that we’d be loners by ourselves in the wildness and it did not turn out that way.”
They wound up friends with all the neighbours, and in 2012, one of these friends introduced them to a friend of his — Peter Zwarich — who was looking for a new home for his festival, River & Sky.
“Peter showed up and he and Chris went for a walk; we were open to it, and we really wanted to share the land sustainably,” said Bertram. “I think Peter really appreciated the untouched thing of it.”
That summer, the festival made its home on the Sturgeon River, and it hasn’t left. Mud pizza ovens pop up to support it each year, there are semi-permanent prospectors tents built for the festival, and two saunas live down by the river for year-round use.
Neither the festival nor the campground are the same as they were when they first joined forces: it’s a prime example of a sum that’s greater than the parts.
“The amount of hands involved in the creation of the space is really apparent when you’re walking around now,” said Bertram. “We’ve grown together.”
River and Sky starts Thursday, July 18 and runs till Sunday, July 21. Tickets and the full lineup for this year’s festival are available at www.riverandsky.ca. For more information about booking Fishers’ Paradise for private events, visit their www.fishersparadise.ca.