‘In Canada, I’m a couch potato. By Irish standards, I’m active’
I sometimes wonder why I live in BC when I don’t ski or bike, and I miss Irish culture so much
‘I live in the mountains of British Columbia, in a place of 10,000 people.’
This spring, back in the land of sarcasm and flat roads, I took the train from Dublin to Tipperary. People were reading. As a reader, it bothers me that this is a thing I notice, a kind of anomaly I am no longer familiar with.
The young man next to me had an e-reader. He may have forgotten the sensation of a paperback between his hands, but at least his attention span extends the length of a book. To my left was a man in his sixties with a tweed jacket and a hardcover. There was an Irish Independent or two further down the aisle. No sign of The Irish Times.
I live in the mountains of British Columbia, in a place of 10,000 people. Officially, it is labelled a city, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to call it anything other than a town. You won’t find any rules about Cathedrals and cities in Justin Trudeau’s multicultural Canada.
I like to refer to where I live as a “lifestyle town”. People ski in the winter and mountain bike in summer. I do neither. Sometimes I wonder why I live there. Sometimes people ask me why. I don’t have a tidy answer for them. When I left Ireland, my boyfriend of the time had already done a year in Australia. Canada was a compromise.
When we arrived in Vancouver it was December and it was raining. The moisture felt a lot like what we then called home. We wanted different, so we bought an old Astro Chevy van on day three, and ventured further inland.
When I first arrived, I was stunned that people would drive the 659km to Vancouver for the weekend
I sometimes feel caught in a geographical limbo. The nearest city is Spokane in Washington state, but I’m not a fan of crossing the border. For non-Canadian citizens (I am a permanent resident now), a retina scan and fingerprints are required every time, not to mention the serious foreheaded border officer you have to contend with.
Nelson is half way between Vancouver and Calgary, approximately an eight-hour drive to each. When I first arrived, I was stunned that people would drive the 659km to Vancouver for the weekend. As a child, if we ever went more than an hour’s drive there would be an obligatory tea break. There is an airport 45km down the road, but in winter less than half the flights get out because of pesky cloud cover. You have to get above the clouds to see the sunlight. Or so the skiers tell me.
Escape to Vancouver
I try to escape to Vancouver for a dose of city every now and again. Mostly, I get a rideshare. Eight hours in a car with strangers is better than the 12 hours the bus takes. In 2008, a man was beheaded on the Greyhound, which didn’t do much good for public confidence in the transport system. I was on the bus once when it broke down in a mountain pass in the middle of winter. It was snowing and well below zero.
Ireland might be where I need to be after all. Even the six-year-olds are in the know
In the three months I was back in Ireland this spring, not a single day went by without someone remarking how cold it was. Often the same people said it repeatedly, on the same day. There was a time I would have agreed with them, but this time, I smiled indulgently. Much of the past winter in my ski town has seen highs of -10 which is mild by Canadian standards.
The people from Ontario laugh when I say -10 is freezing. Temperature is relative to what you are accustomed to. We can get into wind chill and the damp factor on another occasion.
I spent half my time in Dublin in Hodges Figgis. Since I first started going to Vancouver, the bigger bookshops have closed down. You would be more likely to find an outdoors store. Part of me is looking for this balance between culture and an active lifestyle. In Canada, I am a relative couch potato and positively cultured. By Irish standards, I am active, and – I hope – moderately cultured. I can’t decide if these are push or pull factors, though increasingly I can’t see myself in Canada long term.
In the know
The day after Trump announced his immigration ban, I was sitting on the Dart opposite a young girl who couldn’t have been more than six. “Do you know Donald Trump is fired?” she asked me chirpily. One can only hope, I thought, saying nothing, a smile escaping across my lips. Ireland might be where I need to be after all. Even the six-year-olds are in the know.
I caught a glimpse of the cover of Mr Tweed’s book. The Twelve Apostles by historian Tim Pat Coogan. I got enough of the civil war in school to last me a lifetime, so I turned back to my friend’s copy of Beatlebone. I just might be in love with Kevin Barry. Now what part of the island does he live in?