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As Jack Twist says to Ennis Del Mar in the film Brokeback Mountain, I wish I knew how to quit you. I’ve left five times in the last 17 years, twice for good. But I keep coming back. To work, to friends, to the beaches and killer Westside views. Every time I close my eyes and breathe you in, Vancouver, I’m hooked.
I’m sitting at my desk in Winnipeg on an overcast day, feeling nostalgic yet again. All it takes is a Facebook post of some cerulean view across Burrard Bridge while the snow shutters us in on the prairies. Every day I wonder what future job might catapult me back, this time with my husband and baby in tow.
When I first moved out west in 1997, I had left Ontario to study at UBC. My friends and family thought it was a bad decision—going so far from home. Why would I leave a province that already had 18 universities? Even our guidance counselor refused to order an application package for me, arguing that the school didn’t encourage out-of-province moves. By the end of the year, the decision was easy. UBC had offered me the best scholarship.
It didn’t take long to find a place for myself in the damp-bark calling of Pacific Spirit Park. I took comfort in the pebbles of Acadia Beach and among the awkward, semi-flamboyant friends I met in my introductory creative writing class. I would often detour from my dorm room to the Buchanan Building through the small, forested quadrangles on campus, slowing or stopping completely to inhale the trees. Back in Mississauga, our front yard foliage was never older than one human generation. Here, the lichen-draped evergreens were as tall as my high school gymnasium and lined the roads into UBC, giving every bus trip a slightly transformational quality.
As with many things in life, why I decided to stay in Vancouver was both a mystery and a compulsion. I went home for a few summers but always rebounded. Once I moved off campus, I sampled several neighbourhoods before settling on a cute cottage-like house in Little Mountain. Degree in hand, I worked as an office temp, took up mountain biking and met a guy who accompanied me on weeknight bike rides and weekend camping trips. I toured the Gulf Islands, biked the Sunshine Coast, hiked to the western approach of the Stein Valley and became as enthralled by the outer rings of the city as I was by my first years at UBC.
It didn’t take long to adopt the cliché West Coast lifestyle. I joined a morning meditation group, became a vegetarian, put on a hemp necklace and danced to a drum circle at the folk festival. The guy and I bought a house on the east side, near Commercial Drive, and rented the basement to family.
Fast-forward two years and one inclement breakup later. We split our earnings on the house and I moved into a one-bedroom suite in Point Grey. I spent the next 18 months taking soothing baths, cooking healthy meals for one and listening to Enya and Brett Dennen.
Then, a bit out of nowhere, I quit my job and took off for Squamish. I had just two friends there, plus my cat, but gradually decided I didn’t just want to look at the mountains, I wanted to be in the mountains. Call it a quarter-life crisis. After pulling everything out of the moving truck in the pouring rain, I stood on the back deck of my new digs and stared at the granite denizen that towers over town. It rained straight for three weeks, but I was a sapling shooting up out of deadfall.
Everything fell decently into place after that. I went for a second degree at UBC and, during a summer teaching workshop, happened across the curious smile of a man who would later become my husband. Eventually, I took a U-Haul back down the highway. Back in Kitsilano: kitty, him and me. We married in 2012.
Before my husband could finish his doctorate, however, a university in Manitoba wooed him into a tenure-track position. I had come to grips with the fact that his academic career might force us to leave the province one day, but I never thought it would be so soon. I was in Kenya doing a story for a magazine when the decision had to be made. How could I say no?
That was Move-Away-From-Vancouver Number Two. He left in July and I followed at the end of the year. I was teaching in the fall and had to finish up my term. We bought a house and started a family. We are living the 30-something cliché now.
My soul is still somewhere in those big, old UBC trees and in the alpine north of Vancouver. I’m hoping my return, once again, is just a matter of time. Despite the fact that people in Winnipeg drive like maniacs, I’ve been known to walk into a crosswalk with the baby in the stroller, stretch out my hand and insist they stop, as Vancouver drivers (mostly) do. Walking along the Red River on the other side of St. Mary’s, I still picture that million-dollar west side view. I hope you’ll still take me back one day, Vancouver. Regards, Left-Coastie-at-Heart.