Two years ago my wife and I made the decision to move to Vernon, in the absolutely stunning Okanagan Valley, from North Vancouver. (Both are in British Columbia.) The move was motivated by a number of different factors: the cost of living in the Lower Mainland; our inability to feasibly enter the housing market in Vancouver any time this century; the desire for our children to have a more comfortable upbringing; mounting burnout on both our parts in trying to secure the first three; and a genuine love of the Okanagan. Aubry has family in Kelowna and living here made sense financially and practically, and it afforded us a lot of the same opportunities for exploring the outdoors as we were able to enjoy in North Vancouver. Albeit in a semi-arid climate instead of the coastal rainforest we had both become accustomed to.
I grew up in Alberta and am used to endless horizon. Moving to North Vancouver from Edmonton was a transformative experience for me, a decision I made after some painful soul-searching in 2005. I was twenty five, married but separated, miserable, and lacking opportunities for advancement at work and in my personal-professional self. I was a young father, and the experiences of my child’s first years taught me that I wanted to be able to get myself into a place where I would be able to offer a happy, stable, safe home in the future. I sensed I couldn’t do that on the path I was on in Edmonton, so I enrolled in North Vancouver’s Capilano College (now Capilano University) and moved 1,200 km to Canada’s West Coast.
Leaving my child in Edmonton with my ex was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. In my four years of university I was able to keep up a regular correspondence and travel back to Alberta during the summers to spend the warm months with them, but over winters I found it became increasingly difficult as school and family intervened – on both our parts. In the interceding time I met my wife, had an amazing dog, got married (my son came to the wedding), and we had a child together. David is 19, now, and in July of 2020 I drove 26 hours round-trip to Gibsons, AB, to bring him home to BC. In retrospect, I imagine that one of the only regrets I will take to my grave is not going back to Alberta to bring my child to BC sooner.
Things appear to come full-circle pretty frequently in my life. Just as moving to North Vancouver was a new start for me in 2005, so too has moving to the Okanagan in 2017 with my family been. Both situations were precipitated by an overwhelming emotional and intellectual exhaustion and a perceived lack of options; rather than succumbing to depression and indecision I opted for door number 3, and adventures elsewhere.
The place I was in, emotionally and psychologically, in Vancouver was largely one of my own making. I had been working two full-time jobs in IT – working at Capilano University in the helpdesk during the days, and running the Australian expansion of a legal software company in the evenings (Brisbane daytime) – and it routinely added up to 90-to-96 hour weeks. With Aubry’s full-time income from the dance studio we were able to afford a comfortable, but not luxurious, apartment in North Vancouver mid-way between our two workplaces. It was still a struggle to make ends meet, and we struggled to keep our heads above water while trying to pay down our collective debt. We were doing it, though. I had paid my student loan burden down from forty-five thousand to just over thirty thousand in three years, we had begun paying off Aubry’s credit cards, and I had been able to secure a card for myself.
To keep myself emotionally engaged in my creative facilities, I started a YouTube channel to share my love of the video game EVE Online, I wrote about EVE for a gaming news site, and I worked on a novel I conceptualized in 2005. All this while working two full-time jobs. I also consulted, creating infrastructure documentation for a former employer on contract, and writing freelance where I could.
Looking back on it, I can freely admit I was doing too much. I had been reaching deep in the pursuit of “the hustle”; that lie we millenials have sold ourselves and been sold by our elders – overwork and exploitation in sheep’s clothing. I discovered, in the writing of an article I am still proud of, that the inescapable truth was that housing will be affordable when we decide it’s a right and not a commodity, and employers can afford to pay their people more if they only decide to. Since it was unlikely to change in Vancouver very soon, I had inadvertently painted the writing on the wall myself: we couldn’t stay in Vancouver if we ever hoped to have a semblance of normalcy.
Moving to Vernon was in many ways a breath of fresh air. People in the Okanagan are generally friendly, welcoming, and happy people. At least, that’s been my experience. Contrasted against the standoffish and sometimes cliqueish demeanour of Vancouverites, the Okanagan has felt like a happy milieu between the social openness I experienced in Alberta with some of the progressive views I had found so refreshing in Vancouver. People here care about the local environment, eating local, taking care of family first, and supporting the community in everything from social engagement to shopping at local stores first.
Moving to Vernon was also really hard. Neither Aubry nor I had been here before, and we chose our accommodations site-unseen except for a video-walkthrough with our friend Danielle, who agreed to help us house-hunt. Immediately after moving here, I had to fly to Edmonton for a week with my new employer for training, leaving Aubry alone at home with no local friends or support and a 5-month old daughter. Then, within a couple of weeks, work shipped me off to Nelson – a six hour drive to the south – for a work project and I essentially lived there three weeks out of four; for four months. If that had been the end of it, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been terrible, but travel became the norm. I had originally been told my travel would be approximately 25% of my work time. In the first six months of work for the company, I spent sixteen weeks on the road.
How Aubry managed to make herself at home in town without support, other than the times her mother could come and stay with her, or she could go to Vancouver to be with her, is sort of beyond me. Yet, somehow, through her inexorable and irrepressable spirit she made friends, introduced our daughter to play groups, and developed a routine for herself while building a home for us. I cannot express in words the pride I feel in writing those words. My wife is a goddess. Still, the long work commitments and being away from home as long as I was nearly cost me our marriage and I can only worship at the feet of my wife’s patience and benevolence that she still puts up with me. Yet, here we are, two years later to the day (today!) since we moved to Vernon and made our home here.
We walk trails, we hike hills, we play in the snow in winter and we camp in the summer and we watch as our children grow into beautiful people in this beautiful place, and we are happy. Aubry has found rewarding work as an early childhood educator, and I have recently switched companies to work for an employer that values my contributions and supports my desire to grow myself professionally. We are in a good place, and so, I have decided that it’s worthwhile to tell you about our little history in getting here.
If you’re looking for a meaningful change, perhaps the Okanagan can be that for you. It may mean finding, or making, work that you can bring with you or setup once you’re here, but the rewards are worth it. From Osoyoos to Salmon Arm, there is a lot of the Okanagan to love, and every imaginable kind of lifestyle to live. Embrace it.