An Airdrie resident’s autobiography depicting her journey to achieving the Canadian dream – including the ups and downs of becoming a Canadian citizen – is being considered for a big-time production.
Born and raised in Belgium, Veronique Dewilde grew up during the 1960s and 1970s when “California Dreamin’” (an anthem for the hippie and surfer subcultures of the time) was all the rage. As a result of her longing to be stateside, she resolved to travel to America one day.
“We all grew up [thinking] that America was the country to be because of the American dream – anyone can do anything if you work hard enough,” she explained.
Dewilde grew up in an orphanage house and had big dreams of making something of herself when she got older. She had heard travelling to North America was the best way to make it big.
“I always dreamed about having my own business and I heard in America [you can make it]. You see America was for us, Canada and the United States,” she said. “Everybody wants to be rich when they’re young.”
In 1989, the young hopeful flew for the first time to the U.S. to see for herself if all the rumours she had heard about the continent were true.
“I wanted to find out more and so I booked a trip to America. For three months we traveled the western U.S. - the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, California, because everybody was dreaming about the California beach boys and I was infatuated by all that stuff,” she shared.
After approximately three weeks, the jetsetter was “totally and hopelessly in love” with North America and wholly committed to the idea of staying indefinitely.
“I heard in Canada they have polar bears, and they have skiing and the mountains, so I’m like, ‘I want to live in those countries,’” she said.
In 1990, Dewilde graduated with a communications degree and saved up enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to New York from Belgium, to travel the world and serve in Christian missions owing to her upbringing in a Catholic orphanage.
It is at this stage of her life that she begins her autobiography entitled Papilio: A journal of travels, love and adventures based on her diary entries from her adventures across the globe.
“I was keeping a diary for myself because I wanted to read it back for myself and especially when I get older... for my kids and my grandchildren,” she said.
For 14 months she travelled and explored North America, crossing wide expanses of terrain, though she wasn’t altogether prepared for what she faced along the way.
“The distances in this country are massive. As Europeans we bike everywhere or we take the train,” she said. “Well, that’s not possible [here], so I was extremely ill prepared for the trip and that’s what the book talks about.”
Her autobiography documents the ups and downs of her journey to becoming a Canadian citizen including obtaining a social insurance number, getting her first job, experiencing bouts of homelessness, and falling in love.
“I fell in love with a border patrol agent after I became illegal in the States and he helped me out. He called me a butterfly because I’m a very colourful character,” she shared, adding the book is named after her old beau.
“But then also it’s like you’re so fragile because you’re a butterfly – you touch it and you need to be careful not to break it. You bring all this life and positiveness and dreams in the world and the world just smacks you down.”
She said a common theme throughout the book is the constant pursuit of her dreams despite the adversity she faced along the way. She hopes to encourage others with her story of the challenges she faced to becoming a Canadian citizen.
“You have a person who is naïve with big, huge dreams thinking everything is possible and getting smacked down over and over again... yet I never gave up. I kept going,” she said.
In 1999, Dewilde finally moved to Canada and began living the “Canadian dream.” After years of humming and hawing over publishing her stories that captivated all those whom she shared them with, she self-published her autobiography on Oct. 17, 2022
She said the COVID-19 pandemic spurred her on to finally do it.
“Over the years you get kids, you never have time. They take priority, and then during COVID-19, it was like you can’t go anywhere, do anything,” she shared. “My kids moved out so I had all the time [to write].”
She said those who have read the book have suggested it would make a good movie as it is very relatable and readable. The book is currently being considered by a production house in Los Angeles, as well as a company in Vancouver whose employees are also reading the book for consideration.
“They’re reading the book to see if they could do a series or whoever wants to pick it up, because you first have to film it and get the money,” she said.
Though nothing is set in stone, Dewilde said seeing her life story on the big screen would be a great accomplishment. She hopes the exposure would help to inspire more people with her story.
“The book is about a young person with ideas growing up... life is not the way we expect it, and we have two choices: we can become a victim and disillusioned and depressed or you could try to overcome the challenge,” she shared. “And that was my approach.”
She added if an on-screen rendition of her story were to ever come to fruition, she hopes people would watch it to inspire themselves to “never give up.”
“Even though you come from nothing, you can still make something as long as you believe and dream about it you can do it,” she said. “I just hope it would inspire enough people... especially young people these days.
She said the book – an easy read – is suited to all ages and demographics and noted that both men and women and young and old have purchased the book.
Currently, Dewilde is well known in the Airdrie community as a tax preparer and financial advisor. Her book is available for purchase on Amazon and Indigo. Those that are interested in purchasing a signed copy from Dewilde directly can contact her at [email protected]