Cord Cross Canada: Reporting from the West Coast

Blueprint for adventure

A year ago, I was taking a photography class at Laurier Brantford. It was one of those three-hour classes where you get a 20-minute break in the middle. I’d always go for a cigarette with an older man who was a retired freelance photographer. Regardless of whether or not he was lying, he told me the most interesting stories about his travels.

“We were almost at the top of Machu Picchu,” he said. “I had some really good pictures, then I tripped over a rock and dropped my camera about 20 feet down. I was getting these sherpas to hold a flashlight while I tried to find all the pieces in the dark.”

He told me about cold in Russia, heat in Brazil and marijuana in Amsterdam. I told him that I was envious of all his trips and that I wish I could get away right then and see the other side of the world.

“See Canada first, while you’re young,” he said. My friend recommended I go west as far as I could to British Columbia, likening it to California.

But I was in Brantford in the middle of a long winter and Pacific sunshine didn’t seem very realistic.

My last semester of second year was a little rough-and-tumble. I was halfway through a degree I wasn’t sure about and various elements of my life seemed to be dropping off in different directions. I was stuck in a small southern Ontario town and the real world felt very far away.

Then, as fate would have it, everything changed when I was sitting in a bar – the Huether Hotel in Waterloo.

Get ready

My phone rang:

“Hello?” I practically yelled into my Nokia handset because of all the noise.

“Hi, is this David Goldberg? This is Karen Clout from CanWest Global.”

I had applied for an internship with the media conglomerate back in March.

I got a job working at one of their TV stations, and they were going to send me somewhere in Canada to do it. I requested to go as far as I could and I found my plane touching down in British Columbia.

So here I was, six months later, sitting at a beach on the Burard Inlet in BC’s lower mainland. It was a rocky beach with driftwood and shards of shale, not ideal for swimming but perfect for relaxing. A sea breeze was flooding my nose and a VIA Rail train roared down the tracks right behind me. I was staring down mountains while I stood in the Pacific Ocean.

Two sides to every story

The first few weeks I was there it felt like I was on vacation and I didn’t mind exploring by myself. A few weeks in, I got a little lonely as I hadn’t met any good friends yet, so I’d take trips from my home in Burnaby into downtown Vancouver to be around all the noise, smells and people.

Vancouver is infamous for its homeless population on the east side. It’s not unusual to see people shooting heroin and smoking crack in parks. I wanted to see it all, just for the experience, and as it was the middle of the day I figured it was relatively safe.

I was walking down Seymour to Water St. near a place called Gas Town, which is the oldest part of the city.

I saw a guy sitting up against a garbage can and he asked me for some money. I was going to walk by but I thought a conversation could be interesting.

I took a $5 bill out of my pocket and held it out towards him.

“Do you have any pot?” I asked him.

He threw the few coins from his hat into his pocket and pulled a joint out from underneath one of the hat’s seams. He passed the joint for me to light and we began walking through an alleyway.

He told me that his name was Raven; he was an escaped convict from Alaska and he’d been addicted to crack for 23 years.

He asked me if I wanted some more marijuana and said that he knew some people close by. He told me to give him $40 and he’d be right back. I handed him two $20 bills. I knew it was dumb but part of me wanted to see if this guy would actually come back.

He left me in a park sitting on a bench. 10 minutes later, he came back and sat beside me. Then he pulled out a small bag of crack and a pipe. He offered me the slender glass tube and I declined. I realized that he had bought his own drugs with my money. After he took a few tokes he said he’d be back with my weed, so when he disappeared around the corner, I left as well.

Poverty and drug abuse are serious problems in Vancouver because there is very little hope for people in these situations. They wake up and the first thing they think about is where they’ll get their fix. All their interactions with other human beings are cons while they try to manipulate every situation for a little money.

However, all that is just one side of an amazing place.

Vancouver is known as one of the healthiest cities in Canada, mainly because of the warmer weather they have all year. One of the best things to do is go to Stanley Park on the weekend when hundreds of people are out rollerblading, cycling, walking and running.

My favourite thing to do was bike the sea wall. It’s a bike path more than 10 kilometres long that takes you along the coast beside Vancouver, all the way around Stanley Park and back. It’s some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen.

I worked for Global BC for the three months I was out west. I fell in love with TV very quickly. I was an intern for Global National with some amazing producers and talent like Jason Keel, Kevin Newman and Carolyn Jarvis.

Kevin Newman turned out to be great because he was very involved with the scripts he was reading. Some anchors are more like “meat puppets,” but Newman took his editorial job seriously.

Newman was born in Canada but ended up working for high profile networks like ABC in the United States. When Global launched their national newscast in 2001, he was excited to be in Canada again. Even though he had money and fame in a much larger market in the U.S., his country stayed with him.

I’ll be back

I e-mailed my friend from the photography class when I was in BC and told him that I had made it and that maybe I’d be back one day.

Some older people I meet who’ve never been to another province always baffle me. Canada has much to offer; so much that you could not see it all in one lifetime.

Canadians are very similar wherever you go; they love hockey, they’re nice to tourists, they like poking fun at Yankees. But as patriotic as we are, we are divided by our own borders. If nationalism is strong, provincialism is even stronger.

I was in Vancouver when Coors Light unveiled a new campaign: “Coors Light. Colder than most people from Toronto.”

It’s no secret that the Western provinces like to hassle Ontario; obviously the brewing company knew this too.

But Vancouverites will give you a chance no matter where you come from. How could they not? The city is such a giant mix of stories. BC seemed to be the place where Canada and the rest of the world went to get away.

Art students trying to find themselves, ski bums living out their dream and immigrants trying to live a better life without constraint can all be found there.

Go and see your country. Go west when your mind is clearest. Explore crazy places and talk to as many Canadians as you can. You’ll find they’re all not that different.

British Columbia is certainly one of the most beautiful places on earth. But no matter where I end up in Canada, I know I’ll be happy.

I love Waterloo, but it’s comforting to know that there are other magnificent places waiting to welcome me back one day.