A portrait of Heather

Heather’s Story

A portrait of Heather"I'm unsure that Vancouver is my forever home, but circumstances that have recently unfolded in my life tell me that this is the right place to be, right now."

My latest BC Brit is Heather. We met at the studio for a chat and portrait session just after Heather had finished work for the day. 

Although Heather has lived in Canada since 2015, working as an outdoor educator and guide, she's only been in BC for around 18 months. I was curious about the change of location.

"The work is often seasonal and requires a lot of flexibility as it leads to living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle!

I wanted to come out to BC for quite some time as there are many opportunities to work in the outdoor industries here and, being based in Vancouver has the added benefit of incredible recreational opportunities that are a stones' throw away."

I've spent time in conversation with many relocated Brits during this project. Most of them came knowing that the outdoor recreation would be second to none. Heather is the first person I've spoken to that actually works in the sector, so is definitely here for the outdoors. So, is this the place to be for Heather?

"How does anyone ever really know for sure where they should 'be'? I think you have to take risks and seize opportunities and gut feeling definitely plays a part. Outdoor education often comprises working short contracts and seasonal positions, and I found myself moving around a lot for a few years. At the time I loved it! Yet, I found that after a few years living that lifestyle, some things were amiss. A sense of community, connection and grounding to one place became something I needed to search out."

"However, you still moved from Ontario to be here, Heather."

"I resolved to stay in one place for an extended period and to find a connection to that place. Several factors led me to choose Vancouver as a jumping-off point, from job opportunities for both teachers and outdoor educators, to access to the outdoors and green spaces, to nicer weather (yes, I said it! Have you ever tried living in the Scottish Highlands in the winter? It gives you some perspective on inclement weather, believe me!)"

It seems that a mix of better weather, more opportunities and maybe, looking for a more rooted existence led Heather here.

"This is home then?"

"I'm unsure that Vancouver is my forever home, but circumstances that have recently unfolded in my life tell me that this is the right place to be, right now."

A portrait of HeatherAlthough the Coronavirus complicated life, I wanted to know how Heather filled her days.

"Pre-Covid, I was working in a few different jobs which occupied a lot of my time; as an outdoor educator, teacher-on-call and cooking school instructor. I am working to rebuild my work schedule but trying to balance work and time outside right now. 

In my free time, it's essential that I get outdoors and also exercise to keep a good balance - I cycle across the lower mainland and around UBC every morning, I enjoy running and was training for the BMO half before its cancellation, and I do yoga in the garden when I'm able. Forest walks and quiet beach hangouts are a weekend staple, whatever the weather."

Even though Heather seems to be rooted in energetic activities, for the most part, she also has other creative outlets. Having inherited a camera from her dad, she's gotten into the habit of taking pictures every day. Then there's the guitar and experimental cookery to add into the mix. As socialising is now a thing again (sort of), Heather also tries to set aside time to be with friends. There's never a dull moment in Heather's day!

It seems that Heather can bring together her career and free time as she is learning about local plant life, including edible berries and fungi. Hikes and foraging paired with knowledge, lead to "some interesting dinners!"

Although pre-Covid, Heather also has some great recommendations for live music venues around the city. I'm hoping that this part of humans gathering and of shared cultural experience survives these challenging times. 

"I love spending time in good live music venues, Guilt and Co was a regular spot for me, pre-Covid, and SoFar Sounds' small venue performances led to a few surprise nights throughout the year. I'm still getting to know other places for seeing affordable local musicians, as I lack the resources to fund a fully-fledged live music habit in a city like Vancouver - it can be very expensive to see bands play here! 

I enjoy playing open-mic nights and have been looking forward to exploring this interest again when I am able. Right now I'm playing from home!"

Having mentioned the expense of seeing bands play here, I wondered what other culture shocks Heather had experienced.

"The cost of cheese! I grew up in Scotland and took for granted having European cheese on my doorstep. I baulk at the price tags here and have had to tailor my cheese habits accordingly!"

A portrait of HeatherAh yes, the Canadian dairy supply management approach has its downsides. Supermarket cheese choice and prices tags help reduce my cholesterol levels. Even knowing of places like Les Amis du Fromage', not that far from where I live, is unable to tempt me into parting with my cash.

Although cheese prices were a shock and a tongue-in-cheek response, Heather recognises that there are more significant issues to living in Vancouver.  

"The disparity between the luxury homes and manicured streets of wealthy suburbs and the deprivation in the Downtown East Side. I don't like seeing members of our community looked at like second-class citizens when they board the bus, whatever social norms they're seemingly failing to comply to. I don't know the solution, but I'm trying to educate myself further, as this stark contrast leaves me asking a lot of hard questions about our beautiful city."

The Downtown East Side (DTES) has been a growing issue for decades. If you're not familiar with the history of DTES, read this article from 604now. It's a helpful backgrounder to the history of the area.

Returning to Heather, she'd previously mentioned that Vancouver might not be her forever home, but would it be a longer-term base?

"I have some family and friends here now that I didn't have when I arrived, and I'm reluctant to pull up my newly-grown roots as soon as they've started to grow."

It appears that Heather will be spending more time in and around Vancouver. If she was to move elsewhere in Canada, she told me it would likely be back to Ontario. Ontario is more than Toronto.

"Don't let people's opinions here shape your impression of the place if you haven't been there – I love Ontario in a way I struggle to articulate. It just isn't my time to be there right now."

I moved on to ask Heather's advice for anyone considering moving to Vancouver from the UK

"I'd suggest that it's the best city in Canada for outdoor access, but not necessarily the best city for nightlife and live music. So if you'd rather be outside, this is the place to be!

I'd suggest you need a bit of time to get to know the city before you decide which area you wish to live in – would you rather be in Kits, or in East Van, or Yaletown, for example. Get an Airbnb and explore a bit before you commit yourself.

I think things here are more expensive than many people expect, so I'd recommend having some savings and trying to buy from thrift shops, Kijiji, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace wherever possible when furnishing a new apartment. 

A portrait of HeatherAlso, buy a bike. You'll never see the city better than on two wheels!"

The collective wisdom gathered from the Brits I've spoken to is first class. I've found everyone so open to helping others. I'd suggest that's part of being, in this case, a Brit abroad. I also like to think that the same applies to anyone from other countries that settle here. Any immigrant is looking to begin a new life and, words of wisdom from those that have made the transition can be helpful.

Returning to more recent times. It's something that's still front of mind for many people; Covid. I feel that we all have our own coronavirus story and, I wanted to know Heather's.

"I lost all my jobs in March. It was a tough time, as I pride myself on balancing multiple jobs at once, in education, working with children and young people. I opted to isolate with family in the city and was very fortunate to do so. I spent a lot of time outside, seeing the city in a new way, and a lot of time in my own head. I think we all have a lot to be grateful for, living here at this time. I truly hope people look back on 2020 with a renewed sense of gratitude in the years to come.”

 

Work is starting to trickle back now, and I count myself lucky I had some work to return to. I'm still spending a lot more time outside, albeit in less company than I'm used to, but, I'm optimistic for the future although I'm realistic about the fact things will not return to 'normal' – I can see things continuing to change for a long time to come."

I agree with Heather's thoughts on the possibility of ongoing, long-term changes to how we live our lives. I do refuse to refer to this period as the new normal as it's anything but. I prefer to think of us in a time of transition. Testing out how we want society to be in future years. I'll side with Heather's optimism as let's face it, the alternatives are not appealing.

My final questions to all the Brits in Vancouver I speak to revolve around what's being missed. People's answers reveal so much about who they are. How about Heather? "Other than family and friends, what do you miss about the UK? What would you have brought with you if you could?"

"Skye. My hometown. I have grown to love it in a way that only increases over time, and with each return visit home. There's nowhere else like it and, I wish I had appreciated it more when I grew up there.

Affordable Scotch Whisky. Someone tried to charge me $20 for a dram of Famous Grouse a few months ago. I actually laughed at them. 

M&S Percy Pigs. Robinsons Fruit Squash. Jaffa Cakes: It's the little things!

A Highland pub, good free live music, a proper pub quiz and a really good cream tea."

Heather's thoughts about where she grew up say a lot about how we re-evaluate our past as we grow. Wherever we originate from, we'll always bring part of that place with us on our life adventure. It might be a physical thing or, it could be in our heart. Whatever the case, our experiences help shape who we are.

Heather, thank you so much for your time and being open to sharing your story. It was a real pleasure to chat and make portraits with you. Welcome to the Tardis.

You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.

A portrait of Heather with the Tardis

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