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The Durante family (Len, Fantino, Iza and Elise) have embraced the slower pace of life in Chemainus since moving from Vancouver last year. Jenny Holden/The Discourse Cowichan

Newcomer stories: “We realized how short life can be”

Meet Cowichan newcomer Elise Durante, who didn’t want to wait until retirement to move her family from Vancouver to Chemainus.

For Elise Durante, the dream had always been to leave Vancouver and move to Cowichan when she retired. But when a family tragedy struck two years ago, Durante and her husband Len decided to reconsider their priorities and their timing. In June 2018, a couple of decades earlier than expected, they bought a home and made the move to Chemainus with their two children.

In the latest in our weekly series of New In Town newcomer profiles, Durante reflects upon her decision to trade in big city life for the slower pace of a small town.

Why did you decide to move to Chemainus?

“I spent a week or so every summer of my life (honestly since I was born) at Cowichan Lake. I had often fantasized about moving to the Island when I retired. My uncle, who grew up in Victoria and lived in St. Louis, had shared this dream and was a year away from retirement when he was killed cycling home from work in February 2017. That summer, while we missed my uncle during the time we often spent together at Lake Cowichan, we realized how short life can be, and how the best-laid plans might not happen. And I was working in a stressful job and didn’t have the balance in my life outside of work because of all the pressures of living In Vancouver.” 

“So we decided to see if we could make the move while our kids are still young and so that we can all have a slower pace and feel closer to nature and be in a place where folks actually smile and say hello to each other, instead of the Vancouver social norm of not even making eye contact. And I’m lucky to have work that I can do from home for the most part. [Elise works in health services; Len is a writer.] And honestly now even though my work is a different kind of stress, every day I get a glimpse of the beautiful ocean and islands around and it just keeps me grounded. It puts it all into perspective about what’s really important here.”

So, what do you think so far? How does living here compare to your expectations?

“I love it. I’m especially grateful for all the welcoming folks living here and for all the incredible independent and local businesses. I was worried that I’d miss the restaurants and other amenities of Vancouver but the food scene here is good by my standards. I do miss the cultural diversity of city life, but I’ve found folks here to be open and welcoming in a way that gives me hope.”

“I’m sensitive to the fact that my pleasant and welcoming experience of moving to a small town could be tied to my WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) background. … I want to support this area to be welcoming and supportive for everyone.”

What do you wish you had known, prior to your move to Chemainus?

“I wish I had known that Riot Brewing was both dog- and kid-friendly. … Also that there are lots of deer here. I’ve run into a lot of deer in my life. … It’s happened once here, but I’ve only lived here for a year. The deer survived, which is good. It’s the only time I’ve managed not to have a fatal hit with a deer.”

Are there moments when you wonder how you made this big leap?

“There are moments like, how I made it, or why. But again, life is so much slower and more sustainable here than it was in Vancouver. In Vancouver, it’s just hard to live there in many ways.”

“I’ve seen a lot of people struggling in big cities and I think about the balance of urban planning and how important cities are, but also balancing that with how do we make small towns also sustainable. Maybe part of that is this ideal of being able to work remotely. There’s so many more jobs that I think we can do a portion of our work from home and how that helps the environment and helps other things as well.”

How have your partner and kids taken to the move?

It’s been big for everyone. Everyone is finding enjoyment in it and finding they like the slower pace. The story I tell my friends back in Vancouver: I’m not an organized person. I don’t know if you know this phenomenon in Vancouver, but if you want to get your kids in swim lessons, it’s like getting concert tickets. It’s that level of organization that’s required. So I could never get my kids into swimming lessons. I wasn’t available at 9 a.m. when registration day opened. So I think our quality of life has really improved based on living in a smaller community.

Any final thoughts?

In a lot of places, people think of all the reasons why not to do something that’s going to benefit their life in the long run. … I know so many people who have died right before they retired or right after they retired, whether it’s from a fatal accident or cancer. Without being overly simplistic, whatever we can do to build the life that we want to live now and the importance of that. Sometimes we work in jobs that aren’t enjoyable or are hard or stressful, so it’s especially important to make sure that life outside of those things is pleasant and in line with values that we want to live. I feel that there’s something that we’re missing now; we’re just getting caught up in the day to day instead of thinking about what we want to do.