“It's beauty. Every time I fly into the city, I see the mountains and instantly know that I'm home.”
Katie arrived in Canada in 2011, loves Burnaby Central Park , an oasis of tranquility surrounded by a bustling urban environment and that’s where we met for our photo-session and conversation. Was it the lifestyle or maybe quality of life that attracted her to the area? Katie gave me an unexpected answer. “On the face of things, it was romance, as I was dating someone in California at the time. But our very quick breakup showed me that wasn't the true reason, it was escaping all the things I disliked about England, and being in a place where I felt safe coming out as a queer, trans person.” As we’re both from the UK I was disappointed to hear that Katie found it necessary to leave our country of birth for that reason and, a reminder that the LGBTQ community still endure prejudices that I don’t have to face. It’s pleasing and evident that she feels comfortable here. Nowhere is perfect, yet the Metro Vancouver area with its diverse community feels to me like an open and accepting place to be.
July 1st 2011 was Katie’s arrival date and when she landed, she had no idea it was Canada day. It brought back memories of when I landed with my family shortly before the Labour Day weekend. I too had no idea that it was a public holiday and it made the first few days a challenge as we’d only arranged accommodation for the period up to the weekend. It proved difficult to find somewhere to stay at short notice. That’s another story. What we both experienced was the outcome from incomplete planning and, as other Brits in Vancouver have pointed out, when one relocates, extensive planning helps smooth out the transition bumps.
Vancouver was an unknown quantity to Katie when she arrived and, like other immigrants she has steadily built her life here. Now she manages a coffee shop and also runs her own video game development studio. I was intrigued about the games studio and wanted to know more. “ It's a nice way to earn some extra cash in an expensive city! In my free time I love to read, play music and video games.” It appears that gaming is part fun and part creative outlet for her. That’s not the only outlet for fun. When asked about places to socialise she replied “Usually, New Westminster. For me, it's the most awesome collection of bars and breweries, with a great crowd of local people who are super friendly.” Bear that in mind, there is life outside downtown Vancouver.
With Vancouver offering such amazing access to the outdoors, I asked if she ventured out of the urban environment. “I was never much of an outdoorsy person, but after nearly ten years, Vancouver is starting to wear me down. I've been for a few hikes around Whistler and Squamish now, as well as the North Shore, and I really enjoy it!” Seems that this place can have that effect on people, even if they didn’t come here for the natural environment.
Changes and benefits
When people relocate there are invariably things that catch them off-guard, the unexpected culture shock. I was curious about what caught Katie out. “I remember one time, at my very first job here, I asked the people around me in the office if they fancied a pint after work? One guy slowly span around in his office chair, with a blank look on his face and asked "What for?" It was then that I knew socialising would be very different here.” When one experiences those ‘oh’ moments we can either embrace the difference and figure out how to make it work, complain about it not being the same as, or look for the same experience with one’s own national community. From her previous responses, Katie has made this particular culture shock work for her.
I also want to know more about what was great and not-so-great about being here. Katie was clear on the best part. “It's beauty. Every time I fly into the city, I see the mountains and instantly know that I'm home.” And the flip-side? “It has to be the cost. The cost of living here really is no joke, and at times I've really struggled.” Through determination, talent and hard work, Katie has moved from ‘rabbit in headlights’ newcomer to fully comfortable in her new home, would she ever move elsewhere or return to the UK? I asked where else she’d consider living “Probably Montreal. I've heard so many wonderful things about the arts scene out there, it seems like such a vibrant place.” And the UK? “I'm excited to show my partner where I grew up, so I'm sure I'll head back in the next couple of years or so!” For me, that’s more of a holiday than a return to the past. Yet there are still things that Katie misses about the UK. I enjoy asking my Brits in Vancouver what they’d bring with them outside of family and friends. “I'd bring the Tate Modern art gallery with me. I visit every time I go to London, and I simply love it.” Was Katie’s reply and I get that. Even though Vancouver Art Gallery has many interesting exhibits, it’s difficult to match the majesty of the Tate.
Joining the travellers
Thank you, Katie for being part of this project. When I set out to tell people’s stories, I hoped to meet-up and photograph a wide range of people and it’s turning out to be the case. Katie has such a can-do attitude and I’m really pleased that she’s joined me in the TARDIS and this adventure in time and place.
You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.