When I was four, going to the kindergarten two blocks from home seemed an enormous expansion of my horizons. Even then, I had a vision of my horizons becoming vaster as I grew up – a vision that I still have, although now I wonder if a time will come when they contract as I grow old and infirm. But the largest single expansion of my horizons was when I moved away from the neighborhood in which I grew up and finally discovered the rest of greater Vancouver.
I grew up in West Vancouver, a suburban community on the other side of the inlet from Vancouver. Physically, my parents’ house is less than half an hour from the intersection of Georgia and Granville, one of the main intersections in downtown Vancouver, but, psychologically, it might as well have been several days away.
Perhaps the intervening water had something to do with this attitude, or perhaps my family was unusual. But, as a child, I had no other point of comparison. All I knew was that West Vancouver was mostly self-contained. My family might venture occasionally into next door North Vancouver, but a trip to Vancouver was a major event because of its rarity. As for remoter cities, like Richmond and Surrey, they were visited only when passing through on the way to the border or the interior. When a girl moved from Surrey the summer before I entered Grade 8, she might as well have come from one of the moons of Pluto, her origin seemed so remote to me.
Having a bicycle and a sense of adventure, by Grade 5, I had started to expand my horizons on my own (although, hobbit-like, I always took care to be home for dinner). I started by exploring West Vancouver, but in a couple of years, I was riding with my friends over to Stanley Park, or even downtown. A few times, I even rode out to the University of British Columbia and back.
But somehow, my horizons never expanded further. Eric Hamber Secondary at 41st and Oak, where I trained once a week with the Vancouver Olympic Club, seemed impossibly far. And when, in high school, my soccer team went out to Vancouver Technical School near Broadway and Renfrew, I was frankly lost; it looked like a tough part of town where I would be instantly mugged for the middle class kid that I was if I strayed too far from the rest of the team.
True liberation from my psychological restrictions didn’t happen until I started commuting to Simon Fraser University when I was eighteen. Catching the Hastings Express downtown and transferring at the Kootenay Loop for the final trip up Burnaby Mountain to the university, I was fascinated by the street scenes and people I saw. Once or twice, when a ride let me off at Main and Hastings, I was apprehensive, but mostly my chief fear came from my uncertainty about just how to get to the familiar downtown area around The Bay (these were less brutal times, and the population of the downtown east side was smaller and considerably less desperate than now).
Leaving my parents’ home accelerated my growing sense of geography, and, by the time I was 21, I was familiar with much of greater Vancouver, and had lived in several parts of it. Gradually, I realized that I grew up isolated by privilege (or semi-privilege, my family being middle class in a primarily upper middle class municipality), with assumptions about personal safety and other people that weren’t nearly as universal as I thought.
This challenge to my assumptions often dimly disturbed me, but I never really doubted that it had to be faced if I were to become an adult. I still believe that, which is why I was surprised when I went to a high school reunion three years ago, how many of those with whom I went to school had never moved out of West Vancouver. I had had a contented enough childhood there, but I wasn’t a child, and I had long ago moved on, as they apparently never had.