When it comes to Nanaimo, I’ve long been in Bob Bossin’s camp. It truly is so nice not to be there.
In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s always so nice not to be anywhere that isn’t here. If you’re being honest with yourself, you agree with me.
None of us wound up here by accident. We’re not passing through on our way to another destination. We traveled here and stayed here for reasons Nanaimo and the rest of the Island couldn’t offer us.
It’s a sinking feeling to see the back of the Tla-o-qui-aht welcome sign Hjalmer Wenstob carved to let those heading in the right direction know they had entered paradise.
A harshly itchy blanket knit with emotional unease drapes over me, and I presume most of you, whenever I pass it heading the wrong direction. Whenever we leave, we are no longer home.
Tourists likely share this sensation. I imagine the front of that beautiful sign brings them a breathe of relief as they realize their journey is almost through and their vacation is about to start. They probably share our despair when they drive past the back of it heading to hometowns less amazing than ours’.
I reflected on that as I sat in my passed out mini-van on a Nanaimo side street earlier this month. My chariot had begun convulsing on the highway and let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it wanted to be parked and left alone for a while.
Nanaimo, I found out, isn’t within walking distance of the Crofton ferry I needed to catch. I was on my way to Salt Spring Island for my family’s one annual tradition. Thankfully, my kids were already there. The three of them had arrived the day before to delightfully terrorize their grandparents.
We have spent Thanksgiving on Salt Spring Island for as long as I can remember. It’s a tradition that has only been broken once, when we opted for lake Cowichan instead. I cursed that outlier for not waiting until this year to occur.
Carrying everything I own—I never think to bring a bag when I’m forced to pack for myself—I abandoned my beloved mini-van and, like any proper tourist, began wandering around aimlessly looking for answers. There were none of course; it’s Nanaimo.
There was no bus available limiting my options to a taxi or a motel room.
Unwilling to miss the weekend’s first day of Thanksgiving revelry, I found a cab driver willing to carry me the rest of the way. We left at 8 p.m. and managed to find Crofton early enough to just miss the 9:55 sailing; the last of the day.
During our ill-fated voyage we became friends. We found similarities in each other beyond our hopeless unawareness of how to get where we were going.
My chauffeur had found the Island while vacationing from Alberta. Like us, he’d fallen in love with a place and done everything he could to make it his home and, like us, he’d accomplished his goal.
His stoke on the place was contagious. Maybe Bossin was wrong I thought quietly. While I had written the rest of the Island off, my driver loved where he was as much as I love where I am and, like me, had found every reason he needed to be there.
I was stranded on the wrong side of Sutton Pass as I exited his cab but my new friend had shaken the itchy blanket of unease off of me.
A pub crawl is the only answer to being stranded and that’s how I found out Croftonites, they call themselves that, share a welcoming warmth I didn’t know existed outside of this Coast.
Maybe, in small doses and on purely temporary terms, the other side of the Pass isn’t such a scary place after all.