Live and Learn in Powtown
Sunshine Coast road trip travel series: Real estate bargains draw retirees, young families and educational entrepreneurs to Powell River
With Vancouver’s rise as a film-making venue, Powtown boosters can aspire to establish “Pollywood,” as a credible steppingstone to a career in Vollywood.
Or not. Kieran Fogarty is one native son who made the journey to the “big time” media-production world of Vancouver and then, at age 31, decided to come back home to Powell River. I run into him on an evening stroll down by The Hulks, just enjoying the gloaming and the seal-song.
That’s exactly the kind of dalliance he could rarely afford back in the creative incubator of East Van’s videogame production studios, where he “made a bit of a mark,” he modestly avers, but felt he was “always scrambling.” Now that he’s found a romantic partner, he’s thinking about having children. “But who wants to raise them in a pressured space like the city?”
So he came back to Powtown, grew out his flaming red beard and leonine mane (“a kind of signature look”) and set himself up as an independent imagineer. That entails a combination of self-directed projects and occasional commissions. One recent gig: lighting and special effects for a touring magician (“I had to sign a seven-year non-disclosure agreement”).
“Working on my own, I can afford to take risks,” he says. “Even to fail at a venture, if it comes to that, and still pick up and try again.”
Among his risky ventures at the moment is helping to mentor the Powell River “makerspace,” a kind of hi-tech bullpen of versatile do-it-yourself tools and toys: 3D printers, a laser cutter and (soon, he hopes) CNC machinery. It’s co-funded, in part, by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, a local credit union, a coffee house and the Government of Canada’s Youth Initiative programme.
“There’s no shortage of makerspaces in East Van,” he admits. “But it’s a proof-of-concept thing to set one up here.” At $20-35 monthly fees, the space has so far attracted a dozen or so paying members, plus a retinue of curious kibitzers.
Fogarty hopes to increase makerspace enrolment by tacking on a video gaming parlour and virtual reality salon. “That ought to get some of these moneyed Chinese kids into our front door and interacting with locals,” he predicts. Besides, it would provide a ready-made focus group for him to Beta-test his own VR creations and his telecommuting collaborations with some of his erstwhile Vancouver colleagues.
Telecommutation offers a promising avenue for tech-savvy young families to enjoy Sunshine Coast amenities without sacrificing too much of a professional income. But it helps to have a back-up adjunct revenue stream, as Mohinder Singh and Janmeet Kaur discovered when they migrated here from Saskatchewan a decade ago.
Having established himself, over decades, as a water quality engineer, first in his native India and then in Canada, Singh realized that he could land enough consultancy work to support his family pretty much anywhere they chose.
They took their time checking out lifestyle options up and down the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
"Curry shooters" at sunset. Photo: Hsu Mei-lang
Powell River filled the bill. Neighbours made them welcome. Word soon spread about Kaur’s home cooking – Punjabi Sikh fare with an extra dash of sweetness and delicacy from the couple’s Kashmiri hometown of Srinagar. Before long she found herself in demand to cater local functions and, when a bungalow became available on Marine Avenue, they were able to open a boutique bistro, Little Hut Curry.
Empty nesters now that their Powtown-raised daughter has gone off to college, the restaurant still keeps them busy. Its intimate seating fills up with locals most nights even in the winter off-season. In summer, when the tourists return, you might want to phone ahead for a reservation.
We head there to sample “four corners” thali – the set menu varies daily, but on our visit it’s murgh makhani, paneer jalfrezi, rogan josh and tadka dal. All wonderfully satisfying.
But for us the best part is the couple’s saga of self-reinvention. Not to mention the savoury “curry shooter” hors d’oeuvres against the picture window backdrop of a spectacular Powell River sunset.