Last week the Independent caught up with some 20-somethings who had formerly called St. Marys home but who had since gone west and settled down in the Greater Vancouver area. They had decided that the career options available in British Columbia’s action sports and hospitality industries, paired with Vancouver’s climate and atmosphere made it more appealing than Central Canada. But quite a number of other former Stonetown inhabitants have also gone west to B.C. and settled in its rural locales.
Living just up the Sea-to-Sky Highway in Whistler is Alannah Tybik, 24. She came to BC after hearing about the fun her best friends from Fanshawe had been having there. She has now been there for two years, and currently works at a liquor store in the resort town. She said that, while Ontario would be “much better career-wise” for her, she would “rather be happy with where I live and work a mediocre job then stuck in some place I’m not that happy doing something that I slightly enjoy.”
She has relished meeting people from around the world that share her interests in an active lifestyle. “I miss my family but other then that I wouldn’t trade being here for anything else,” she said. “Even though Whistler is small, it’s different because people are constantly filtering in and out of the town – so it still has a city vibe in the mountains.”
Then, in what was a refrain from all our expat responders: “At this moment in time, I can’t see myself ever coming back to Ontario.”
About four hours northeast of Vancouver, in Kelowna, is David Sproat, 21, who is 16 months into his studies at UBC-Okanagan. He still has his Ontario driver’s license and hasn’t locked down a full-time job yet, but after spending a winter in the Okanagan Valley, he could see himself settling down out west. “The only thing holding me back is family and friends,” he said. “It’s tough not being able to see your family very often.”
Sproat has a hard time naming any aspects of Ontario that B.C. doesn’t out-do. “Hiking and biking is far superior,” he said. “The Okanagan lakes are unbelievable, and cottage country – although westerners call them ‘Cabins’ – is amazing on the lakes. It could be compared to the Muskokas in Ontario, but for pure scenic pleasure, B.C. wins again.”
Sproat said he loves his home province of Ontario, but thinks it will be easier to find a higher-paying summer job out west than here at home. These might be some of the reasons he’s noticed that people he meets from B.C. and Alberta seem “far more proud of where they come from” than his friends in Southwestern Ontario. “B.C. or Calgary kids are very passionate about where they live, and have a very powerful connection to their home, because of what it offers,” he said. “St. Marys is the best place to grow up, but at 21 years old, I am not as passionate about staying there or saying how amazing St. Marys is. It doesn’t offer me anything anymore. British Columbia offers so much in the way of new experiences.”
Then, just when you think you can’t go any further inland into British Columbia before you reach Alberta, you come to Revelstoke. Revelstoke is a town of comparable size to St. Marys – just two traffic lights – but due to its being situated along the Columbia River, between the Selkirk Mountains to the east and the Monashee Mountains to the west, it’s a growing winter resort town, attracting visitors from around the world. It’s also the home to a high percentage of St. Marys natives.
Andrew Schneider has lived there for about five years, working most of that time at a saw mill, and currently resides in a house with his two younger brothers Josh and Jason and cousin Brett Hemstock. His brother Jason, a B.C. resident for just about as long as Andrew, is a maintenance man for the Revelstoke School District.
“If it’s not work or sleep, it’s usually packing up some sort of gear and heading out for some adventure,” Jason said. Often joining him on those adventures, and another tenant in that home-away-from-home for St. Marys expats is Jason’s girlfriend Rachel Petrie.
She has lived permanently in the town for two years herself, working as a graphics designer and doing screen printing and sales for a number of apparel companies. “In my field of work, there weren’t any better job opportunities in B.C.,” she said. “I moved out to experience something different and the job followed. I’ve picked up hobbies here that I wouldn’t have back home.”
Andrew said Revelstoke drew him for its geography, weather, and the fact that, at the time, Revelstoke Mountain Resort was the newest, best ski resort in North America. “Everything Ontario has to offer, it’s just bigger here. Skiing, snowboarding, biking, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, it’s just a huge mecca for outdoor activities,” he said. “I’m a full British Columbian. I’m still having a great time.”
Just down the road is another cousin of his, Jake Hemstock, and at least three other friends Andrew has known since he was a teenager in St. Marys; but the number frequently fluctuates as more friends visit and get swept away by the scenery.
“A lot of people who move here also love the outdoors, so there’s a lot going on outside all the time, which is amazing,” said Jake, 18, Andrew’s youngest relative in the town. “There wasn’t really anything in particular about St. Marys that made me want to leave. I’ve planned on coming here since I was in Grade 11.”
Andrew said he has also recently noticed more people from the Alberta oil operations coming through looking for work. “We’ve been getting lots of resumes at the saw mill from oil workers,” Andrew said. “They’re not really too keen to hire them because they know if they get called back to work in Alberta they’ll be gone.”
Items in the grocery store may be a little higher-priced than they are in bigger cities, or back here, but Andrew said it’s a worthy sacrifice if it means good snowboarding and good snowmobile possibilities to late April every year.
Since their three children moved there, parents Bill and Diane Schneider have visited them in Revelstoke about twice a year, staying in touch with them the rest of the time through marvels of modern technology like FaceTime and Skype. “For being boys, they’re all very good at keeping in touch,” Diane said.
She knows that it was the outdoors, particularly the snow and the mountains, that drew her three boys there, but says (with a wrinkle of her nose) “We’ve only been once in the winter. I don’t know… I’m not so into that.”
Bill, who’s been in the computer business here in town for the past 10 years, said he wouldn’t mind being able to hand off the business to one of his sons when he retires, but doesn’t “think any of them are really interested in it.”
“There’s so much in Ontario – of course there’s lots to do,” said Diane. “But, in Revelstoke it’s all right there at their fingertips. They have so much to do. They’re surrounded by it.”