How I Got Here
This is the first post from Alfred DePew's new blog, "Between Us: Notes of a Migrant Cultural Worker." It will cover a variety of topics from relationships to culture to personalities in Vancouver.
By Alfred DePew
My first trip to Vancouver was in 1992 as part of a book tour. When I got back home to Maine, people asked me what it was like. “Oz,” I said, as in Wizard of, not Australia.
That was the only way I could describe a place that was unlike anywhere I’d ever been. I’d grown up in St. Louis, lived in Colorado, Wisconsin, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
I’d lived in England, France, Spain, and I had visited Russia and New Mexico. But I’d never seen anything like Vancouver. It was towering, bright, gleaming and brand new. And yet that wasn’t really it, somehow. There was something about the land, the spirit of the place, that got my attention.
I didn’t think much about it when I got back East. I’d hear from friends on Gabriola and downtown; from time to time they’d urge me to visit.
Then I found myself in a break-out session at a professional conference in Quebec City in November of 2004, sitting face to face with a man who had one of the oddest haircuts I’d ever seen. He was from Vancouver.
I asked him if he knew my friend in the West End, and it turned out they’d dated the year before. We talked a bit more and debriefed the exercises we’d been asked to do, when he stared at me hard and said: “You have to move to Vancouver.”
It had the ring of oracular truth. I was startled. I thought: nonsense. I live in Maine. I own a house. I’m a responsible person. The West Coast is flaky. (Really, you should have seen his haircut.)
And yet something had touched me that I couldn’t ignore.
I had left my teaching job and started coaching and consulting full time. After 23 years in Maine, I was coming to a sense of completion. There seemed less and less reason for me to stay in Maine or anywhere else in the East for that matter. And it struck me that if I were going to make a move, I’d better do it now.
Why not Vancouver?
I began a long process of self-examination. I created an informal version of what Quakers call a Clearness Committee. I wanted to make sure that I was not acting in any way out of fear—my own or that of my fellow citizens. I wanted to be fully aware of my motives.
By March of 2006, I was ready to begin the immigration process and hired a lawyer in Montreal who, as it happened, had gone to law school with one of the first Canadians I’d become friends with in Paris in the 1970s. Another sign to go ahead. There were many of them, often small, but unmistakable, and so I continued. One act of faith after another, guided by intuition.
And here I am.
So my perspective is that of a newcomer. When Linda Solomon suggested I start writing for the Vancouver Observer, I thought: but I’ve only lived here for 2 years. Then I thought: what better way to get to know the city? Besides, in the time I’ve been here, I keep seeing stories that I wish people would write. Now I have an excuse to write them myself.
What to expect? Not sure, really. I used to tell my students at the Salt Center for Documentary Studies that the only real requirement is insatiable curiosity. That I’ve got. So expect to find out more about Vancouver’s artists, shopkeepers, business owners and street philosophers, as well as what it’s like for me to become Canadian. I intend to report on what I observe and experience and to stay curious to what’s possible between us.