“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”– Anthony Bourdain
It’s July 1st—Canada Day. Not how one would picture it. The weather is gloomy, and an uneasy sombreness fills the air. It seems an appropriate time to write about a journey I won’t soon forget. Unfortunately, it was a tragedy that had me return to Calgary. It was the first time I traveled outside of Vancouver since restrictions were put in place.
I bought a one-way ticket on WestJet, while they still had the middle seats blocked off to adhere to physical distancing. Masks were mandatory, most restaurants were closed at YVR, and everyone got their temperature checked at the gate just before onboarding. This was all prior to WestJet and Air Canada announcing they were starting to drop these safety precautions, because the airplanes now have HEPA filters installed to “clean recirculated air”, and disinfectant wipes in place of peanuts. As COVID-19 cripples the airline industry, WestJet was forced to lay off over 3,300 employees. It’s hard to know what to believe these days.
I’m glad the flight was only one hour, but it was good to get closer to the countryside. As I’ve mentioned before, and as some data shows, there is indication of an exodus from cities—notably from affluent neighborhoods. Perhaps it was more heresay at the height of the pandemic, but I don’t believe we’ll see the real effect until several months or years from now. Conversely, a report by the City Observer shows the “young and restless” (between the ages of 25 and 34) have increasingly become fans of city life. Fitting, seeing as how I am already out the other side of that age range, having lived in the Downtown core since 2010 (all too coincidental).
For me, if I were to move away from an urban center to the countryside, I know for certain it would be somewhere we passed on our journey back to Vancouver through the Okanagan Desert.
I met up with my girlfriend in Calgary after she drove there from Vancouver, as I had to stay behind to prepare for an interview. We had a lot weighing on our minds, and were looking forward to the long, gruelling 15-hour drive back to ruminate. Instead of taking the quickest route along the Trans-Canada Highway (one we’ve taken many a time before), we took Highway 3 traversing southern British Columbia, dubbed the “Scenic Route”:
“A path meant to relax the soul and introduce you to the smaller, more quaint mountain towns.”– Narcity
It is also filled with treacherous declines, wildlife, road construction, and debris to be wary of while careening at speeds up to (and above) 120 km/hr.
The 1,200+km route (officially named Crowsnest Highway) was preceded by a long descent to southern Alberta, and then through Crowsnest Pass. Along the way is the massive rockslide, Frank Slide, which buried part of the mining town of Frank in 1903, and remains the deadliest landslide in Canadian history. The area is now a Provincial Historic Site receiving 100,000 visitors annually.
With me being a real estate fanatic, and confirmation bias in full effect, I was on the lookout for a new paradise. We had been yearning for an escape, or anything to put our minds at ease. There were moments when we had no cellphone service, no agenda, and not a care in the world. True freedom, if not ephemeral.
Then we came across a slice of heaven: Sierra West Cabins. If it’s the countryside you are looking for, this is quintessential. Like a scene out of a western movie. Prairies rising up to meet the rolling foothills on to pristine mountains.
A small trading post sits off in the distance, acting as a decoy to an entire resort beyond the hills you would never know existed. I later looked this place up, and it was listed for $2.15 million. The expansive vacation ranch was operated by a couple that decided it was time for them to retire. The 150 acre property comes with calf shelters, roping and riding arena, cabins, barn, tack room, hot tub, and commercial kitchen. Home to horseback rides, saloon shindigs, rodeos, fishing and sight seeing. It was picture perfect.
The drive was filled with these types of unique properties. All with one thing in common. For Sale By Owner (FSBO). Surely, no one would be more knowledgeable about these properties than the owners themselves. There is reduced demand for realtors and appraisers ’round these parts. One company I kept on seeing, was Property Guys—North America’s largest private home sale network with over 10,000 listings on their site. I suspect a large percentage from outside city centers.
It’s interesting how your perception changes, when what you dreamed of is right in front of you. Practicality and logic start to chip away at it, and you come to the realization that it may not be within arm’s reach. Or is it? Have we become too confined in our way of thinking? If I can feel as free as I did out in the middle of nowhere, should I not make that a priority?
I can confidently say I have taken the right steps toward that level of freedom. I chose to work remotely as I have nomadic tendencies. Having traveled the world, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in one place. The freedom of mobility is one I cannot go without…so long as there is an internet connection. There is no disputing that the future is distributed. It will be interesting to see how migration patterns alter over time, as dependence on location is reduced.
Which brings us to paradise on earth: Okanagan Wine Country.
After hearing of places like Napa Valley, I think to myself, why am I not living amongst lush vineyards and bountiful orchards? So the search was on…
Over halfway along Highway 3, coming around the bend, we approached the small town of Osoyoos, just as the sunset was blanketing it in a golden hue. Vineyards for miles, an abundance of fruit trees, windy roads built for exotics, a pristine village at the foothills of desert mountains, all surrounding a lake that crosses over the Canada/United States border.
It’s the southernmost town in the Okanagan Valley, just north of the Washington state border. Osoyoos translates to “narrowing of the waters”, and has a population of just over 5,000 that swells in the summer months with seasonal visitors. The land is on Indian Reserve, thus timeshares are in abundance for occupancy during the winter months, also called SnowBird, which takes place from October to May. From what I can tell, the title to land is predominantely leasehold, but with the transient nature of accommodation in this day and age, that may not be a factor for some.
Looking up places to live in Osoyoos, it’s no wonder that it is a popular destination among retirees, reflected in the average age of 55 compared to 40 for the rest of the province.
If there was ever a case for why Airbnb is still such a gem, try finding a place to stay in the Okanagan. Not Craigslist, not Kijiji, not Zumper, only Airbnb had listings that gave me a feel for what type of residential real estate was available and in what capacity.
So maybe Osoyoos can be a great place to live…for a while. But sometimes a taste is all you need to point you in the right direction. There are so many incredible places in this country to explore and live in, and I’m grateful that I have a chance to do that.
It is after all, Canada Day.
If there is any light to be found in the darkest of places, it is that we live in the best place on earth. Free to explore this beautiful country we are proud to call home. As it turns out, we don’t have to travel far to find that level of peace.