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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

Ah Vancouver

By Shannon Braithwaite

Though I’ve spent most of my life in Langley, I feel a connectedness to Vancouver that transcends these invisible boundaries dividing that side from this side. Vancouver will always be my home and the direction into which my soul leans, in yearning. My roots are there. My heart loved there. My work was honed there. It is where I am revived, refreshed, and renewed. It is a magical place of hope for me, where I dream and feel alive.

I grew up hearing stories about Vancouver and the many generations that abided in and affected this great city. My great-grandmother was a singer and performed in the likes of The Orpheum; my great-grandfather was a watchmaker at Birks. My great-uncle was an architect whose hand touched and shaped some of the city. My great-great and two more greats grandfather was in the infamous city hall photo following the Great Fire and was part of rebuilding the city of Vancouver. My heritage there runs deep.

I remember hearing about the time my nana, as a young woman, came home on the streetcar, getting off at 41st and Balsam to make the two-block trek home to 43rd. Upon stepping out on to the road she was overcome with the sweet yet faint waft of jazz rolling down the street. As she pressed on the music grew louder and fuller until she arrived at her own home where she discovered it to be the source of such glorious music. She opened the door to find her brother, a local jazz musician, jamming with members of the Tommy Dorsey band who were in town for a gig. And just like that, an ordinary night became extraordinary, as they do, and part of our family story.

When I was young, my dad lost his job and my grandfather passed away. Following those two major events, it was a natural decision for my parents to move back home to North Van from Alberta. I was seven. We moved in with my grandmother and I went from never seeing my dad (who was always working) to seeing him every day during his unemployment. It was strange and unnerving, even though I was a daddy’s girl. I didn’t know how to connect with him because he was always there, suddenly. One day he asked me – just me – to go with him into the city. Having three other siblings, this was a rarity and instantly reeked of awkward opportunity. I remember taking the seabus with him into Waterfront station. I remember feeling awed by the grandiosity of it all yet somehow my attention was diverted to a little vendor’s window where there was a great display of erasers. I had an eraser collection (this was the 80’s after all) and longingly looked to add to it. My dad, though unemployed, saw the look in my eye and without batting his, bought me the eraser I was drooling over. That day, he took me through the streets of Gastown, pointing here and there, telling me story after fact after story. I held his hand with one hand and the eraser in the other as we wove in and out of stores and streets. That day was the first time I was able to bond with my dad and it began for us a beautiful father/daughter relationship. It was such a special day – a gift – one that I treasure deeply.

Of course, growing up, my parents ensured that Vancouver was a special place to go. There were beach days and zoo trips, Stanley Park treks and Expo adventures, Science World and skytrains and bike trips around the seawall – how could this city not be a place of wonderment for this childish soul?!

As a young adult, every opportunity for work came out of Vancouver. I drove and drove and never once found it burdensome. I found a rhythm in the commute and came alive in the city. I breathed in the salt misted air and found excuses to sit and watch the sunset. Sometimes, I’d drive into Vancouver just to see the city at sunset and witness that sunkissed, shimmering, mountain-hugged landscape. One day, I drove in to say goodbye. I was going overseas for an unknown length of time and I simply drove to the city to take it all in – to take as much of it in to me to abide in me, to carry me through however long I was gone. While I was away, I bragged about the beautiful city I came from, and created a legend out of my memories. I told of a city of glass, surrounded by such natural beauty. It made me both proud and heart sick and I couldn’t wait to see it again.

Luckily I wasn’t gone forever. And upon my return, I made sure I got into the city to refill my tank and find my lifeline once more.

When the Olympics came to town, like most, I spent as many days there as possible. It was simply where I needed to be when Canada won hockey gold, in amidst the celebrating and fêting. What a glorious night that was. Vancouver is where I got engaged, and it’s where I chose to get married. It’s where we spent the first couple of days of our married life, and where we go to celebrate that marriage.

As my children grow up, to be sure, they will experience the special magic that is Vancouver. I hope they feel the same connectedness to this city as I do, for their history is also there, and it’s where their mom hoped and their parents loved, and where this soul goes to dream and breathe and renew.

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