five years on: reflections on the big life change

The Port Hardy skyline
Since starting this blog in 2004, I've experienced three Big Life Changes. 

The first, of course, was emigrating to Canada. 

The second was becoming a librarian. More than a career change, this was a huge shift in lifestyle and identity. 

The third Big Life Change was moving west, to a small, remote community on Vancouver Island.

So this feels significant: five years ago today, we arrived in Port Hardy.

27 November 2018

We started the day in Delta, took the ferry, then drove north, the final day of our seven-day road trip. We were driving our little Kia, our big boy Diego in the back seat. Behind us, my brother was driving the truck; my sister-in-law had joined us in Calgary. (They travelled from Oregon to do this with us!)

As we left Campbell River, it was dark, and it was raining, and it felt like we were driving forever. Every time we passed a sign showing kilometres to Port Hardy, we cheered. And then: the welcome sign, and some lights. And finally, our rental home, which we thought would be our permanent home for many years, and turned out to be a brief pitstop.

Professionally, a rocky start

Only days later, I drove down to Nanaimo, for two weeks in both Nanaimo, my employer's headquarters, and Campbell River. I always say, "I had a rocky start", but that's a euphemism. My first few days were a disaster. When I finally started working in Port Hardy, my confidence was in shreds.

My job was a newly-created position; I was (am) the only professional librarian in all five of my branches. Early on, I had many good experiences, but for every one of those, there were two or three (or five or ten) uncomfortable or disturbing ones. 

I had never seen such under-resourced libraries. The conditions that were accepted as normal were shocking to me. I had to fight the bureaucracy just to get basic supplies. Most of my tech didn't work. 

Managing people remotely, by phone and email, was a new challenge. Some of my staff were unaccustomed to being supervised. Some were suspicious of outsiders and sought to undermine me whenever possible. Much of my experience didn't translate easily, or at all. I made many wrong turns, hit many dead ends.

In addition, and unbeknownst to me, there was a systemic barrier between the library and the local Indigenous communities, and between the library and the public schools. Both had suffered dismal, disrespectful experiences with our library, and wanted nothing to do with us. 

There was much reason to be hopeful

Luckily for me, sprinkled amid all that frustration, there were lovely exchanges with customers, and some staff who welcomed me and were eager to work together. My professional colleagues, although geographically distant, were incredibly welcoming and supportive, and so engaged with our union -- far more so than I had experienced in Ontario. 

There was also an upside to things being in such bad shape: I was making improvements all the time. There was so much room for growth.

Personally, a magical beginning

While the professional situation was challenging and frustrating, the personal end was simply wonderful. We instantly loved the quiet, simple life. Allan loved working from home, and I loved my five-minute "commute".

There was so much natural beauty all around us. Down the street we could see the bay, fringed by distant snow-capped mountains. Driving anywhere meant winding "country roads" (known here as a highway) through the rainforest. We saw eagles every day. Ten minutes away, we could take the dogs to a magnificent beach, mountains on the horizon, eagles overhead.

Diego needed surgery, and was near the end of his life. That was as horrible as we knew it would be, but we very quickly found a whole new pack. Then we did something completely unexpected, another massive change: we bought our home. About ten minutes later, housing prices skyrocketed. Timing is everything!

Five years on

Fully understanding my new library role and the organization I work for took longer than I expected. It's been extremely rewarding. It's never boring -- which is fortunate, since I intend to stay in this job until I retire.

Becoming part of the community of service providers took much longer. When I share this observation with other professionals in our town, everyone remembers the same experience. Working in the North Island region is often a career stepping-stone; people come for two or three years, then move on. Because of this, whether consciously or no, locals are reluctant to invest. People are waiting to see if you mean business. It took the better part of three years to get past this. 

It's wonderful to feel at home, both personally and professionally.

Of course there are limitations and annoyances of living in a remote region, but everything's a trade-off. There are plenty of annoyances about living in New York City, but I wouldn't have traded my years there for the world. It's great to feel that way again.


My moving to BC post are here. Allan was sharing his reflections and observations in comments on those posts -- now lost.

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