J.P. Obbagy traded his Gastown office for a simpler life in the Comox Valley

A big part of J.P.’s life in the Comox Valley takes place in the mountains—either on a pair of skis or wearing runners. A big part of J.P.’s life in the Comox Valley takes place in the mountains—either on a pair of skis or wearing runners.

This is the second in a series of interviews with creative/knowledge workers who left Vancouver. Today’s guest is J.P. Obbagy, a marketer who decided that he needed somewhere more affordable to raise his family. He talks about what he loves, what he dislikes, and what he misses—as a result of this move.

Tell me about your time in Vancouver:

I moved there in the early 2000’s from Canmore, AB, so my (then) spouse could attend university. I didn’t go particularly willingly, as Canmore was a pretty cool place to live. Plus, I was embedded in the community with a business, friends, lifestyle, et cetera. However, it quickly grew on me and—as we didn’t have kids yet—was a great place to be.

I opened a second office to expand my business. We bought a small boat. We lived in Kits and enjoyed all the diversity, food and outdoor lifestyle that Vancouver offers. I spent a ton of time running on the North Shore trails. We made some great friends and took in a bunch of live music. I also enjoyed working in a Gastown office.

We were fortunate to be able to afford a nice condo in a great location in which a car was not a big part of life (I dislike commuting intensely). Life was good.

When did you decide it was no longer for you?

When we started having kids in 2008. Things were still OK with my son, as we had a two bedroom place. However, when my daughter was born, 2 years later, it wasn’t so good.

J.P. and his kids enjoy a pristine waterfront experience, without another soul in sight. J.P. and his kids enjoy a pristine waterfront experience, without another soul in sight.

Our small condo got really small. Daycare became a struggle with my spouse in grad school. The cost of living in the city began to increase dramatically—especially now that we had kids in the picture. The crash of 2008 hit my business hard and I had to shut it down. (Fortunately, I found consulting work quickly.)

We wanted a bigger home, though. Prices were getting crazier and we didn’t want to take on a $500K+ mortgage. This meant we’d be forced to move further out. This would undoubtedly require us to commute—an idea I dreaded.

Looking ahead to schools for our kids was also depressing. There are the extra costs for extracurricular activities and after-school care. There are also limited options for French immersion in some areas. Plus, I never wanted to raise my kids in a big city. We moved in 2011.

Why did you chose to move to the Comox Valley?

We’d vacationed there a couple of times in the summer and talked about how it seemed like a great option for raising a family. After looking around the Lower Mainland for a larger home—and realizing that financially it wasn’t going to fit our goals—I started looking to the Island and the Comox Valley. Houses seemed ridiculously cheap in the area, especially after our sticker shock, in Vancouver.

In some places, local art can be found during an evening walk. In some places, local art can be found during an evening walk.

We set out a criteria for a place to live, before deciding on the Valley. Our must-haves included:

  • Mountain access
  • Ocean access
  • An airport
  • Good schools
  • A thriving arts community
  • Access to fresh food
  • Affordable housing
  • A good variety of outdoor activities
  • Work/opportunities

The Comox Valley seemed to have all of the above—and we found a great heritage home within walking distance to downtown. Off we went.

What do you like, and dislike, about Courtenay?

Like: Great work/life balance. It’s low-key compared to Vancouver. The pretentiousness disappears, people are friendly, the pace is slower, and there’s less stress. Everything I need for daily life is within a 10 – 15 minute drive. It’s quiet. (I’m not a big fan of traffic and city noise.)

Sure, there are fewer restaurants when you leave the city, but with produce like this—from your own garden—there’s little reason to not cook something for yourself. Sure, there are fewer restaurants when you leave the city, but with produce like this—from your own garden—there’s little reason to not cook something for yourself.

I can buy fresh food directly from farmers—either from their farms or at the weekly farmers market. It’s safe for my kids. They have many activity choices: swimming, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, dance, hockey, mountain biking, et cetera. The ski hill (downhill and XC) are just 30 minutes away.

The rivers rock! By this, I mean that river and lake life here beats the ocean. Summer swimming options are over the top. I’m a trail runner. The world class running and mountain biking trails in Cumberland and on Forbidden Plateau are an incredible playground.

I can have a yard and grow shit. I have gotten involved in the community and feel like I’m making a real impact. In the past year, 3 fabulous micro breweries have opened—and there are a few local wineries that are killing it.

Dislike: Finding work wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. There are fewer options here. So, I ended up commuting back to Vancouver for a couple years, combined with working from home. The tech industry is picking up slightly affording more options now. There are also fewer entertainment and nightlife options. (this are less important to me, now that I have kids). The ferry kind of sucks.

What kind of work do you do, now?

Software/tech marketing. Up until recently most of my clients were off Island, but now I have customers locally and in Nanaimo. Tech is starting to grow out here and I’ve gotten involved in supporting that growth through some volunteer work.

Do you miss the city?

Rarely. I do miss things like Ethiopian cuisine occasionally, but now that’s a special treat when I visit the city.

Enjoying Canada Day, with friends, at the White Whale Pub.Enjoying Canada Day, with friends, at the White Whale Pub.

How do you stay inspired? How/where do you take in new culture?

I’m used to working remotely, so it’s not hard. I take part in volunteer activities. Local coffee shop working meetups are good for getting out of the house. There are great festivals here and my network of friends is expanding. House parties are common and people love to share food and get together.

Gladstone Brewery is a favourite hangout, along with the White Whale Pub. It’s along the river and you can not only eat there, you can also boat/kayak/SUP up to it, or swim off the dock in the summer. My life has simplified. I need less and enjoy life more, with less stress. Options here are expanding and more like-minded people are moving here.

What words of advice do you have for creative people in Vancouver, looking to relocate to somewhere smaller?

There is a strong creative community here. So, reach out to groups before moving, to get a finger on the pulse and make some connections. Facebook groups like What to do about tech in the Valley and #WeAreYQQ are good places to start. Connect with CVEDS (Comox Valley Economic Development Society) or the Chamber of Commerce. If you plan to launch a startup, connect with Innovation Island—a tech accelerator (full disclosure: I’m a board member).

Island living comes with its perks—including sunrise paddles with friends, before work. Island living comes with its perks—including sunrise paddles with friends, before work.

Make sure to do your homework and have work lined up before moving. Come with an open mind and the perspective that this is not the city. This is better in my opinion, but it has to be right for you. And be prepared to have to dig in and contribute to really start meeting people.

My experience from moving to new communities is that it takes at least 3 years to make friends and feel like you belong. So, prepare yourself for that. Get outside and enjoy what the area has to offer—it’s really amazing. Got more questions? Book an Officehours session with me, and I’ll answer them!