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Tough City

By Erin Flanagan

“You wouldn’t last a day in Vancouver. It’s a tough city, you gotta be tough there.”

My nine year old self looked at my twenty year old sister as she streaked dark blue shimmering powder across her eyelid. She had been to Vancouver and she knew first-hand about how the city was just waiting to tear naïve new comers to pieces…unless you were tough, like her.

I nodded gravely at her warning and felt a small swell of sadness inside. I thought I would have liked Vancouver.

Over twenty years later this memory makes me giggle on the inside. Vancouver is now my home.

The beautiful glass heart of Vancouver houses so much art, business and life that I sometimes feel I might burst with gratitude to be able to call this place my own. It’s an ambitious city that insists on bike lanes and world class green spaces.

Vancouver is often grey and wet during its rests, feeding the concrete and trees alike so they can both shine on brighter days.

It’s also a heartbreaking city. Our warm climate means many of our brothers and sisters’ sad state of homelessness and suffering is visible at any time of the year. Vancouver quickly teaches you a sort of functional callousness that is frustrating and useful all at once.

The ethnic divide is palpable at times but is always broken with a warm smile and a nod. We are all Vancouverites and we are all waiting for someone to say hello, and to tell us where to find the best curry, pasta or sushi.

My nine year old self called Grande Prairie home. Visiting there now is shocking. Where are my mountains, my canopy of trees, my beautiful ocean? Where can I find bubble tea? Vancouver is home to everyone and everything. It is truly a global city and leaving it, even for short vacations, leaves me feeling disconnected until I plant my feet back down on this West Coast gem.

And the gratitude that I feel to be able to live here is not unique. Working as a nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital, I meet people in the most challenging and stressful times of their lives. I often make small talk, using their view of the city as an icebreaker. Isn’t it a beautiful city? I ask. Even through their pain, their fright and their frustration, they all say yes, it is so beautiful.

I’m glad my nine year old self didn’t grow up here. I’m glad I had intense, glistening prairie winters and windy, short summers to shape my childhood. The lack of symmetry and of vast openness in Vancouver is a sharp contrast to Canadian prairies, and to recognize the truly unique beauty of this place is something I am grateful for. Familiarity breeds indifference. I never want to be indifferent to Vancouver.

Every time I see a harbor seal, cherry blossoms in full joyous bloom or a stunning Vancouver sunset, I want to pause and relish the moment. I want to ensure the memory is tightly woven into my neurons. I want to breathe it in and hold it. These stunning gifts are everywhere for the taking in this city.

Vancouver is a dynamic city. It is a passionate city. It is even a tough city.

It is my home.

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