West vs East: Our Coastal Conundrum.

I’m a west-coast native, born and raised in beautiful central California, where cold means days of 50 Fahrenheit (10 c) with some drizzle even at the heart of “winter”. Hollister was warmer than San Juan Bautista, but San Juan was far prettier and you could walk the town at midnight without issue or hike right out into the hills. As a fairly introverted, contemplative teen, I really loved the quiet, the beauty of the hills through the seasons, the ability to wander freely without my parents being worried (not possible in a lot of places in California, sadly).

Looking down the main street of San Juan Bautista (3rd Street), it’s about a 15 minute walk from one end to the other for downtown. There are more chickens then residents and lots of little knick-knacks to peruse. You cross the highway and are in the hills on the way to Fremont Peak, one of my favorite places.

Now, I’m obviously no where near the Bay Area, Santa Cruz or my hometown any more and am missing it quite a bit. Montreal is a full day of airplane rides from anywhere I have childhood memories of. But I’ve lived on (and miss) the west coast even here in Canada. When you’ve done both East and West multiple times, you really notice the cultural and meteorological disconnect. The Vancouver (BC) area still felt a lot like parts of San Francisco and San Jose, with hint of Portland thrown in. A little more constrained perhaps, a little more serious, but still casual, direct, and hippie-esque. Like central California, there was a huge mix of people from all over, a focus on local/craft/eco-friendly/tech lifestyles, an enormous selection of delicious foods, and beautiful scenery. The cedars aren’t redwoods, but they’re far more similar than the ity-bity pine and birch forests surrounding Montreal. And Montreal is equally different in culture, food, and climate (duh).

2011: Took the hubs to see California, here’s some coastline on our way to Bodega Bay, coming down from the hills. He found it impressive.

Why ever move? The same reason you don’t see kids picking up nice places in Mountain View; it’s all about them $$$ signs. Vancouver has waaay too many for pretty much anything you might want. Our ugly-yet-somewhat-affordable apartment building got slated for demolition (to make way for fancy condos we could never afford…) and we started looking around for something we could afford. HA! A myth only seen on scam sites or heard about in legends from friends of friends who got this sweet deal one time… There’s even a website dedicated to getting you to guess how much houses go for in Vancouver, compared to crack shacks from other places

We might have been able to make it work, but living in a place where you have no hope of ever renting, not to mention the possibility of owning, more than a tiny apartment (or commuting 2 hours one-way) simply in order to get by seemed depressing. Even with both of us working full-time, prospects would have been tight. Despite the natural beauty and culture, paying 50% or more of our income on rent just seemed (and still seems) risky in the long-term. How much exactly? Well, you can get a one-bedroom for something like $1,200.00 if you’re willing to live in a suburb basement apartment from the 80s. Go a bit farther out and you get slightly lower prices, but now we’ve got a super 3-bed apartment for $950.00. Had we wanted something similar there? Looking at $2,300.00 and up. And we certainly weren’t going to be paid double our current salaries… Daycare here also costs us less than $300.00 monthly. There, we were looking at $1,000.00-1,500.00. Car insurance halves when we got here too. So overall, Vancouver is an expensive city. So a job opportunity popped up here and reluctantly, we took it.

Coal Harbour in Vancouver, BC, was always fun to visit with friends and family. Looking out on Stanley Park here. Miss those views. =(

We said bye-bye to dramatic mountains and ocean beaches and living in a city that often still smelled like a forest. We said goodbye to an ever-expanding line-up of new breweries (and our professional/home-brewing buddies) and super-fresh food options. We said goodbye to snow on the mountains and rain on the streets and Sky Train trips looking out on everything from above. We said bye to a huge number of really cool people. I said goodbye to SFU and any option of spending a few weeks at Bamfield’s marine research station. We said goodbye to West Coast style (endless athleisure, where formal leggings are kind of a thing) and mild temperatures and all the rain.

And we said hello to affordable apartments in commuting distance to real jobs. We said hello to daycare that doesn’t make one of our jobs almost obsolete. We said hello to speaking French and eating poutine and spending a little more time looking nice every day. We said hello to hot, humid summers and freezing winters and beautiful fall foliage and spring’s riot of flowers in May rather than March. We said hello to new people, more warm in their initial greetings but a little more homogeneous in their origins, and sometimes a little wary of outsiders. We said hello to remaking our lives for the second time together and sixth time for me.

The view from the top of Mont Royal, looking down over Montreal. A good hike for when the weather is warm, but not too warm…

And this is the issue we still have – we’re torn. Where to live, forever and ever and ever? Where to buy a home, or not, and where to spend our days? Work and play and fight and make up, raise our little girl and perhaps even add on; do we do those here, or somewhere else? Where do we make friends and sink down roots? Because even after being here for two years, we’re still not sure “this is it” for us. Vancouver calls us back, even as its screaming prices drove, and keep, us away.

Heading to Mont Royal with friends visiting from BC made us both happy and sad.

Montreal is great, because:

  • The suburbs are cheap and still close enough for fun/commuting if you’re not ready to spend 50% of your income on rent.
  • Daycare is easily accessible and affordable. It makes a huge difference.
  • There are tons of jobs for me and the hubs. IT and ESL are both big here.
  • Houses are affordable, even downtown isn’t soooo bad. We could also get a place in the woods if the hubs can swing a telecommute-style job, like me. Being a boss and all.
  • There’s a lot of culture, an odd fusion of European and North American rural stuff, with spatterings of Caribbean, First Nations, and South American.
  • The music scene is HOPPING! It’s got a great heavy-style fan-base, so we get some pretty killer shows in these cool little clubs where you can both hear the music and SEE the musicians without binoculars. I’ve got tickets for a show next week, and the one after that, and no doubt we’ll do a bunch more.
  • Jazz Festival, Heavy Montreal… a continuation of the last point, but hell yea.
  • It’s pretty! Mostly. The city itself blends old and new in really cool ways, and while there are plenty of boring flat farmlands nearby, there are also pretty little forests and lakes and gentle aging mountains.
  • You can actually get a camping spot without waking up at 5AM the day reservations open. We managed to camp once in BC, not for lack of interest. And we’ve done one big camping here, without a reservation! It was so quiet at night, and you could see all the stars. We caught some of the August meteor showers too. =D
By McGill University, Montreal.

But it’s not great for:

  • Medical – spending 16 hours in the ER (because you can’t get an appointment at a clinic) for a potentially serious issue and never actually seeing the doctor is pretty miserable.
  • The culture is rooted in traditionalism in many ways, and Quebec’s culture tends to recycle and stay very closed. There’s also a serious time-lapse between what the rest of North America is embracing, and when Quebec gets it.
  • If you like variety, don’t really step outside of Montreal. It is a land of tiny towns and deeply rooted identity. Individualism is a limited commodity in rural communities.
  • Winter. It’s long, it’s cold, and even a few days from June I’m wearing a sweater in my house. I miss long, warm summers at the beach. You live your entire life in 3 months.
  • Sand beaches are rare and usually packed on nice days. They’re also on lakes and rivers, so there are no big waves or salty smells or ocean life to admire. The ocean is pretty far from here. Public pools be pretty nasty.
  • Food tends to be a little less fresh, a little less healthy and there’s a serious disconnect between what I mean when I say spicy, and what they think I mean. Pepper is not “spicy”.
  • We don’t have our friends here. We had so many cool, fun, interesting people who shared our values and passion (and put up with or snobby weirdness at times). We still miss them all. =(
On a boat out from Bamfield Marine Research Center, British Columbia.

Why move back to Vancouver? Perhaps because..:

  • Our friends!
  • Mountains you really have to work to top, trees that make you say “wow” when you see them, and you can take a simple city bus to places like this without issue.
  • The food! The beer! The home-brew community that keeps giving the craft beer scene its edge and talent! When all your buddies are comparing notes on a triple decoction (who managed in under 9 hours?) and how to cultivate wild yeast from fruits, you’re going to be having a blast.
  • Our friends!
  • A climate that only mists you to death!
  • The island – real waves, amazing sea-life to see, feeling like you’re on the edge of the world.
Unexpected March storm iced up Anjou near Montreal, QC.

An yet..:

  • It’s so expensive to rent.
  • Don’t even think about buying.
  • Job-wise, it’s a little weak for us there…
  • Car insurance is also super expensive.
  • Daycare is the same cost as an apartment at times.
  • The music scene is weaker.
  • I just don’t have that kind of income right now…
Lac Des Sables, Mont Tremblant, QC – great camping for the monster girl.

So we toss and turn on this one, but the money thing keeps rearing its ugly, realism-based head. Until one of us gets lucky on the job front, we’re rather stuck here. It’s not bad, it’s pretty nice, but the west coast is an entirely different level of beautiful. It really gets under your skin and you can never get it out again.

Or we’ll just move to Thailand. I would be pretty OK with that.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.