What does it mean to be a West Coaster?

We asked five Vancouverites to offer up their most formative experiences

August 30, 2016

By Stephanie Orford

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(Photo: John Sinal)

Scott Sampson

CEO of Science World, paleontologist and former host of PBS Kids’ Dinosaur Train

“When I was four, my mother took me into the University Endowment Lands, now known as Pacific Spirit Regional Park. We walked through the forest. It had been raining, and it was overcast, and the trees were dripping.

“I looked at the pond and she said, ‘Well, go look’—because I couldn’t see any tadpoles. So I went up to the pond. I had those big, black rubber boots that kids had back then, and I waded into the pond.

“Then I could see that there were these little things swimming around. I scooped up some in my hands, and I could feel them squirming around, and I looked at my mother and she just smiled. So I put down that handful of tadpoles and picked up another set. I stepped out farther and my boot flooded, and then the other boot flooded. I was just thinking about these little tadpoles swimming around in my boots, because they had to be.

“And my mother just smiled at me and let me wade into this pond until it was above my waist, almost to my chest. And I had this moment where I thought there was no difference between me and the pond. Those are the kinds of experiences that can be foundational for a child in forming a deep emotional bond with a place.”

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Dylan Thomas

Operations manager and chief pilot of the helicopter division for London Air Services, flying out of Vancouver

“In the summertime we fly to Sonora Resort in Desolation Sound, and oftentimes we have a lot of tourists. On one particular day, I was flying a group of Swiss visitors up to the resort. It was a beautiful clear day, and we were able to fly over the mountains directly to Sonora.

“As we were standing on the helipad at Sonora, looking out across the water, a guest asked me the name of the island across from the resort. I said to him, ‘That’s actually not an island across the strait. It’s the mainland.’ And he said, ‘If that’s the mainland, why does no one live there?’

“I’ve had the luxury of flying over Switzerland, and every valley is terraced and there are houses up to the treeline. They just don’t see the wilderness that we get to experience. I said to him that the nearest town to that piece of property is about 125 miles away and to get there you have to cross a mountain range. And if you started walking today, we would find your body sometime later, and you would never get to that town. It’s inaccessible, inhospitable and beautiful. But that’s the nature of it.”

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Chan Hon Goh

Director of the Goh Ballet Academy in Vancouver and former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada

“Vancouverites embrace the warmth and the sunshine. It’s quite widely accepted that flip-flops and shorts come out whenever possible.

“I toured across the country in February, teaching my master class series, and I’ve been doing that for the past three years now. When I’m in Saskatoon or Winnipeg or Toronto, it’s still very, very cold.

“Coming back to Vancouver from my trip this year, it was about 15 degrees but sunny. It was my first weekend back, and I went out to get groceries, and I was still in my down coat because it was winter. I saw someone on the street walking their dog, and they were wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

“It’s not like it was in the 20s or anything. But when it’s sunny, the temperature goes up and people are ready to come out in their summer gear. It takes you by surprise.”

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Mary Mackay

Director of product innovation and development, and co-owner of Terra Breads

“I’ve lived here for 48 years. I’m a Vancouverite, born and raised. Two years ago, my husband, my two daughters and I went over to Cortes Island, and we had to hop several ferries to get there. That was the first day I’ve ever seen an orca in the wild. You know when you’re on BC Ferries going across and they announce the orcas are on the port side? I was always on the starboard side. I would always miss them.

“We were on this tiny little drive-on, single-deck ferry, and there was this beautiful pod that was just right there, and I got to see them come up and breach.

“On that same day on Cortes, there was a little festival that we stopped by, and it was a real hippie experience. Drums, a small park. It was something we hadn’t even planned on going to. There were girls hula-hooping, and it was just this really West-Coast vibe.

“Then we grabbed some oyster shuckers and walked down to the beach and literally just picked oysters up off the sand and popped them open and ate them. That was a pretty monumental day.”

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(Photo: Mark Montgomery)

Renae Morriseau

Aboriginal storyteller in residence at the Vancouver Public Library and former star of North of 60 on CBC

“When the City of Vancouver started its Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013, it held an opening ceremony. There were hundreds of canoes in the water that went up to Science World. There were people from all over Canada, some from the States, some from Africa, talking about reconciliation. The gathering was open to the public, and people could listen to stories of residential school experiences.

“It was a rainy day and there was a reconciliation walk. More than 10,000 people showed up and walked, native and non-native people, in the rain.

“I felt deep pride. Vancouver completely opened its arms. In fact, the City of Vancouver now recognizes it’s on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples—the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. There’s no other city that does that. That’s pretty profound for a huge city like Vancouver. I feel really proud to be here. We’re in a place of change.”

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