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Two women realize their travelling dreams by working overseas

September 2011

Come with me to meet Donna Davidson and Gay Grannary, unique adventurers who usually travel alone and who have visited more countries in their lifetimes than most foreign ministers in theirs. Their destination lists read like the glossary from the Lonely Planet library.

Now semi-retired, these two women have come up with imaginative ways to sustain their passion.

Donna has always lived in Montreal, but a stint working with Canadian University Services Overseas in the early ’70s, teaching adults and refugees in a technical school in Zambia, sealed her destiny.

Gay grew up in an isolated community of 30 souls—10 were her siblings—in the Eastern Townships.

She was 40 when she became a single mom of four; she had been an elementary school teacher and, by the time she was 50, the farthest she had been was Mexico. She started exploring the world when the youngest of her brood left home for CEGEP.

“I always wanted to understand the world. Growing up, you can’t imagine yourself as a world traveler. It was something way beyond your reach.”

Donna returned from Africa in the ’70s and began a career as a high-school teacher.

She added a number of specializations, including guiding gifted kids in a McGill program.

She teaches English as a second language at McGill’s School of Continuing Education.

Fourteen years ago, Gay came up with a bold way to change her life. She gathered $1,000 to apply to the International School Service, an organization that operates a for-profit system of private schools throughout the world and acts a recruitment agency for top-notch educators.

Her first posting was in Shako, China, “a ferry ride from Hong Kong,” where she was stationed for two years at an elementary school.

“It was a bit tough,” she says. “But also a feeling of welcoming new friends, new home, renewed zest and the chance to get my mind around the wonder of the world.”

Donna calls upon a large network of enduring friends established while teaching.

Her former students are a repository for in-depth knowledge of culture and current events and, when possible, host her in their homes.

It is not unusual for students to bring her to meet their extended families.

Gay’s stay in a country lasted at least the length of a teaching contract—two years.

Her first stay, in China, profoundly affected her life. She also took contracts in Yemen, Jordan, Japan and Togo, touring farther afield during school breaks.

She nurtured close relationships with Arab women, gaining a rare perspective on their lives. “The women I met became my sisters, gracious, kind and loving,” she says.

Now, however, the high cost of travel and their reduced incomes in semi-retirement are putting a dent in their pursuits.

So Gay and Donna are raising capital by doing something they love: shopping.

“When I first traveled,” Donna says, “I would buy unique handicrafts and lug them home for gifts for family and friends. Then people asked me to buy specific items for them.”

Their response was so positive Donna brought home more things. Her out-of-her-apartment “boutique” business was launched.

At each posting, Gay would develop relationships with local market vendors and schlep home boxes of handmade items.

She brought back from China a container-load of fairly old cabinets, jewelry, furniture, handicrafts and rugs and dispersed her collection for safekeeping among her friends, giving rise to some of the most eclectically furnished homes in the Eastern Townships.

Today, she operates from a small retail space in Dunham, about 100 kilometres southeast of Montreal. She’s slowly returning her friends’ décor to their natural order.

Both women, trailblazers in their own way, use their imaginations and hard work to sustain an adventurer’s way of life.

Gay’s store is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. or by request, 450-295-2865, 3806 Principale, Dunham. Donna can be reached at



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