Shauna and her kids out camping, just north of her new home in Prince George.
This is the third in a series of interviews with creative/knowledge workers who left Vancouver. Today’s guest is Shauna Harper, a community builder and digital marketing strategist, who left Vancouver for Prince George. She explains what the move was like, how she’s adapting to her cooler (literally) surroundings, and shares tips on making your own move.
Tell me about your time in Vancouver:
I lived in Vancouver almost all my life—minus a few years that I spent in Ontario, for University. I loved the city while I was there. I lived in both the suburbs of Burnaby and New West, as well as the West End, Kitsilano, and East Vancouver.
When did you decide it was no longer for you?
After having two kids in two years, we knew we needed to make a change and move away from the big city. We were lucky, as we had entered the housing market at the $500,000 level—but that still wasn’t enough. From the high cost of living, to the commute, to sacrificing time with family to make ends meet, we knew we had to do something different. When my husband lost his job, in between us having two kids (in two years), we knew we needed to make a switch. That was about 7 years ago, now.
Beautiful areas, like the riverside in Telkwa, are all part of Shauna’s new world in Northern BC.
Why did you chose to move to Prince George?
We owned a few rental properties in Prince George. So it felt like the perfect opportunity for us to downsize and move into one of our properties, while we figured out our next step. (Properties were really cheap around 2005 – 2006 in Prince George, so we scooped up some deals.)
When we moved in 2009, I didn’t go willingly. I had never imagined moving out of the Lower Mainland, and away from the city. But I knew we had to do something to slow ourselves down from the rat race. We always thought it was only for 2 – 3 years (max!). We needed to get our kids through the toddler years and then we planed to move back to the Lower Mainland, or the Okanagan.
What do you like, and dislike, about Prince George?
Hands down, I love the people. There is a friendliness and a community that I never experienced before (as an entrepreneur and a resident of a city). I also love the simplicity of life and how everything is close.
I also love that you can start things in Prince George. People complain that the city is slow at getting the trends, and what urban centres have already. I think this is one of our super-powers. We can see what works, and what doesn’t, and then pick the best for our city.
Asked what she likes about Prince George, Shauna starts by talking about the people she’s met there.
As for dislikes, I still have a hard time in the winter, and I’m not sure that will ever change. You do get used to it, though. And, aside from the actual day of the snowfall, the surrounding days are pretty fantastic. I love how bright and sunny our winters are, and also how well maintained the winter roads are.
What kind of work do you do, now?
I do a few things. My husband and I own a communications company that does online marketing, video production, and marketing for community projects.
I am also passionate about building the entrepreneurial startup community here. Most recently, I signed on to help Innovation Central Society build a collaborative coworking and community destination called the Hubspace in downtown Prince George. I am also an artist in my spare time.
Do you miss the city?
My community work brings me down to Vancouver at least once a month or, worse case, every other month. I enjoy visiting friends and family, eating at restaurants, and visiting the ocean when I’m in Vancouver, but I don’t miss living there. I find it too cluttered and distracting for everyday life. It isn’t the Vancouver I grew up in, any longer.
Whenever I get “cabin fever” from being in a smaller town, I just need to visit Vancouver and get stuck in rush hour traffic—or pushed around on the skytrain. This quickly reminds me how much I love landing into Prince George and getting back to the simplicity of our lives.
There’s also a richness to my life, now. I feel like I can impact not just our lives, but the community as a whole. There’s breathing space, here, and I need that to stay passionate and connected.
On the flight home to Prince George, Shauna regains her sense of calm and balance.
How do you stay inspired? How/where do you take in new culture?
Staying inspired isn’t hard in today’s connected world. From being online, to reading books to watching videos, there is no shortage of inspiration. But there’s a difference between watching from the side lines and taking action. That’s the difference between the life I had before and the life we now live, up north.
In my case, a smaller pond enabled me to be a bigger fish. This helped me step up and develop the courage to lead initiatives and projects in the North. This rippled into me leading projects in the province, and nationally, because this smaller city afforded me opportunities to develop. Life returns you what you put in—but I never saw that in Vancouver, where I was just one of many.
An absence of culture was one of my biggest concerns when we first discussed moving this way. However, there’s no shortage of culture, here. We have theatre (to watch or take part in), music and science centres, as well as festivals and activities. More takes place here than we can attend, and be a part of.
Shauna’s kids connect with their Chinese heritage—something she worried they’d miss in a smaller community.
My kids are half Chinese. I was worried that by moving here, they wouldn’t be exposed to their heritage. But since moving here, they have been a part of Chinese festivals and even lion dancing for Chinese New Year. These aren’t things I would have necessarily searched out, if we still lived in Vancouver.
What words of advice do you have for creative people in Vancouver, looking to relocate to somewhere smaller?
Creative people are well equipped to move to smaller towns. This is because you need to be creative to see between the lines and find the opportunities that can be created. For example, you never know who you might be talking to, and how they might can connect you with a new opportunity in a small place.
So, if you come and visit, you probably won’t see the gems that I’m talking about. Living in a smaller community is about experiencing it. This means you have to be willing to connect with people, go out to the events, and sink into things.
Shauna addressing the audience at Prince George’s new tech space: Hubspace.
Curious about moving to Prince George, or have questions of your own for Shauna? Book a free, one-on-one session, with Shauna, and she’ll lend a hand.