Janice and I grew up in parallel universes, ten years apart, exploring the steep slopes of Vancouver’s North Shore mountains at LynnValley, the city’s north-east fringe. We had no idea that each other existed of course.
As a ten-year-old playing amidst the giant Red Cedars in the yard of her grand parents’ bungalow, Janice would be warned to, “Stay away from that Hippie House across the road.” I would have been twenty years old at the time and was leading a full blown rock and roll lifestyle as the long-haired drummer in the Burner Boys, the band that shared that Hippie House across the road.
Photo: The Burner Boys, circa 1971. I’m second from left. In the middle is Dave Jenneson, (Big D) who was the author of A band is a Beautiful Thing, which is available on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca. He’s also mentioned several times in the blogs and other stories herein.
The first time Janice and I officially met was at the Queen’s Cross Neighborhood Pub in North Vancouver where Janice worked as a waitress. She was twenty-one at the time, I was thirty-one. I had become the Art Director for the local suburban newspaper and some of us newspaper guys would go to the pub where Janice worked on Friday after work. Sometimes we’d go there after Slow Pitch on Saturdays, or soccer on Sundays or racquetball on Mondays and Wednesdays, or volleyball on Tuesdays. We also went there for lunch some weekdays and brunch on weekends.
Eventually she had to notice me.
Neither one of us were really looking to become seriously involved in a relationship at that point in our lives but, as time progressed and Janice and I did more things with, and without each other, we somewhat reluctantly realized we were in love. Of course that made us want to do more of the things that we did together, together.
About a year into the relationship we moved our respective meager belongings into a two-bedroom condo that clung to the mist laden flanks of Seymour Mountain, near Capilano College in North Vancouver. That was December 19, 1980.
The thirty-two intervening years have brought many ups and downs to our lives but the vast majority have definitely been on the positive side of the ledger.
In a nutshell: Tim and Janice Francis live in Kamloops, BC. Janice is a Red Seal chef working at an assisted living facility while Tim continues to paint, drum and work in commission sales.
If you’re anything like me you’re curious about how somebody has enough money to hit the road for a year. If you want to skip the lengthy story below that chronicles how our lives’ events contributed to this travel opportunity, I offer up the shortened version in the next paragraph.
Due to the decisions and opportunities we took advantage of during our thirty-year relationship, we have been mortgage and debt free for a number of years. With relatively few expenses and both of us working, we were able to sock away about $20,000.00 a year for the past few years. Also, we never had children. Every parent knows just what I mean when I offer up that statement.
For those of you who are more curious, some of our background follows below.
Back in the early eighties, Janice worked at The Queen’s Cross and then The Raven neighbourhood pubs, both in North Vancouver. The Queens Cross overlooks Vancouver from upper Lonsdale Avenue, on the slopes of Grouse Mountain. The Raven steeps in the rain forests of Deep Cove, at the eastern-most edge of North Van, where Burrard Inlet meets Indian Arm. It’s the only place in the entire Lower Mainland where it rains even more than it does in Lynn Valley, where we grew up.
Both jobs provided Janice with a regular day shift where her sassy sense of humour, leopard-skin skirts and high-heeled boots helped to extract generous tips from an ever-appreciative clientele.
At the same time I was furthering my career at the North Shore’s thrice-weekly newspaper, where I moved from Art Director to the much more lucrative position of Advertising Director. The Publisher at the newspaper was a generous and forward thinking businessperson who shared evermore ambitious revenue targets with his key employees. His meticulously applied management methods motivated me to earn more money in salary and bonuses than the Publisher of Vancouver’s major daily newspaper at the time. For 1983-1984 it was ripping good money and we were able to bank much of it, using Janice’s tips for our walking-around-money.
I’d always dreamt of being a mortgage-free full-time artist, somewhere on a waterfront property. Now I could see the accomplishment of that goal on the near horizon; as though looking through a telephoto lens.
Photo: Janice in the early 80′s, playing for the newspaper slow-pitch team.
Photo: Tim in the early 80′s, playing ball for the newspaper in the annual Sea Festival tournament. We stole the championship from the major Vancouver daily newspaper that year. The newspaper where I worked was one of those work-hard-play-hard environments. We also had competitive soccer and volleyball teams.
Luckily for us, my life-long dream dovetailed nicely with Janice’s love of the outdoors. She had been brought up in a close family, camping and exploring British Columbia in the family’s ’58 Chevy Wagon, later spending summers at her parents’ cabin at Canim Lake in BC’s Cariboo Plateau. She wasn’t particularly interested in any career path and would freely admit to anyone who might ask that her only real ambition in life was to “Be kept.”
She had started developing her cooking chops early though. At age five, an Easy-Bake Oven appeared under the Christmas tree. Janice loved it and eagerly started experimenting on unsuspecting volunteers with her newly concocted cookie recipes.
Not surprisingly, cooking and sewing classes were her electives in high school. After school, and some weekends, she waited tables at a local coffee shop where, just sixteen at the time, she was managing the operation in the owners’ absence. Her work ethic was evident early on.
In 1981 we started in earnest on our property search. We wanted a small acreage, which had to have some kind of water access, and we wanted it to be within three or four hours of Vancouver. It was a high point in the BC real estate market at the time and small acreages with any kind of water were hard to find, especially with our meager $25,000 budget.
One weekend, as we targeted our search to the Hope-Princeton area, we were becoming frustrated with misleading real estate listings that led us from one barren plot to another. Inevitably, what had been described as a ‘private lake’ was nothing more than a mud hole or mosquito pond. We were about out of places to look when Janice read aloud from the Block Brothers Real Estate Catalogue, describing a picturesque five-acre parcel on the East Barriere River. It looked from the picture in the listing like there was a genuine river on the property but, by this time, we knew not to trust the listing descriptions.
Janice looked on the map and, sure enough, there was a town named Barriere too. Neither of us had ever heard of it. She observed that it was only slightly outside the circle on the map we’d been searching and suggested that it might be worth a look. “I’m not moving to some place I’ve never heard of nor know how to pronounce,” I replied. Appealing to my softer side, she countered, “If I buy you a case of beer can we go look at it.?”
I agreed that we’d stop overnight in Kamloops and go look at the property the next morning. It turned out there was a really good band playing that night at the hotel around the corner from our motel and, they were all people we knew from North Van! What else could we do under the circumstances except drink and dance until the band stopped playing? It was our official introduction to Kamloops and we felt that it was, “Pretty well all good.”
The next morning, following a hearty breakfast, we made the forty-five minute drive to Barriere. It was a nice sunny June morning when we pulled up to the hardware store on Barriere Town Road. We were looking for a local map but, secretly, we also wanted to know how the locals pronounced the name of their town.
When I asked the young woman behind the cash register how she pronounced the name she looked at me like I had asked her to pull my finger. Warily, she said, “Whadayamean?” I replied, “Well it appears to be a French name and I’m just not sure how I should say it.” She retorted rather gruffly, “Well, ya’s all say it Barrier of course.” I paused, smiling, and then, showing her the real estate listing, I asked if she knew where the property might be. With an almost imperceptible shake of her head, the kind that lets you know she’s thinking, What’s a city boy like you, who can’t even say Barrier, gonna’ be doin’ way out there? And then said, “Its about twenty miles up the hill towards East Lake.” “East Lake?” I asked. “Ya, East Barrier Lake – not South Barrier Lake, not North Barrier Lake but East Barrier Lake.” Still smiling, I offered, “Thanks, maybe we’ll see you around town sometime”
Back in the Land Cruiser I enquired of Janice, “Was she shitting me, or what?” Looking at the map she said, “Seems there is a South Barriere Lake and a North Barriere Lake and an East Barriere Lake and a North Barriere River and an East Barriere River and a Barriere River and even a Barriere Mountain, as well as the town of Barriere. “Gee,” I said, “the founding fathers really showed some imagination, eh?”
Barriere Lakes Road turned into gravel about five kilometers from town as it snaked steadily up hill, more or less following the Barriere River. Twenty-five minutes after leaving the town site we were beginning to have serious doubts about commuting to such a remote area. We continued followed the narrowing, darkened road higher and further into the mountains when it suddenly opened into a lush, sun-filled, daisy-riddled meadow; with a slow rolling river roaming its edge.
We looked at the For Sale sign and then at each other, unable to conceal our grins.
Upon closer inspection we were somewhat disappointed to find evidence that it was obviously an abandoned sawmill site. Soon though, as we explored the property boundaries and the crystal clear river, the disappointment was overcome by the realization that, with some hard work, the property was an idyllic little piece of paradise. The natural home site overlooked gently sloping land to where the river framed the property’s southern border. Across the river was forest, no other houses in sight.
We made an offer that day.
When the dust had settled we’d paid $22,500 for the property and owed the bank $20,000 – at 18.5 % interest. Yes 18.5% – it was 1981. We needed to put our heads down and concentrate on paying it off. Luckily, not long after we purchased the property, I had landed the promotion to Advertising Director. We were able to pay the loan off in less than a year.
Over the next three years we put just about everything we had into the property. We spent all of our long weekends as well as our annual vacations at the property, mostly cleaning up what had been left behind when the sawmill had been burned and bulldozed in 1964. Wearing through many power-saw chains and using the Land Cruiser both as a stump puller and a skidder, we removed most of the detritus, both from the ground and the river. We celebrated our efforts with enormous bon fires.
My older brother and my dad were both handymen, and although I had never yet had to apply myself, I was pretty sure that I possessed that Do It Yourself Gene too. Ever confident in my abilities, Janice bought me a Work-Mate so that I could start building stuff at the property.
The first order of business was to dig a deep hole. Next I began putting together a three foot by four foot outhouse. I spent half a day, using hand-saw and hammer, as well as the handy little Work-Mate that made such an excellent bench to work around, as I delved into the task with gusto. The easiest way of doing it, it seemed to me, was basically to build it around the Work-Mate. That’s exactly what I did. When it came time to stand the outhouse up though, I couldn’t extract the Work-Mate. The whole project had to be taken apart and re-done.
Later that summer we constructed a wooden eight foot by twelve foot pre-fabricated garden shed. Then we built in a bed, some cupboards and a folding table. Except for the time that I opened the gas on the built-in Coleman Stove and then went looking for a match, country life proceeded without incident. Janice had turned the gas off in the nick of time.
With fresh water as close as the river, an outhouse and a warm, dry place to sleep, we had all the comforts of a couple of nineteenth century pioneers – happy as clams.
During the next few years we kept our heads down and our oars in the water because we were on a mission to save enough money to build our house on the property. Not that we didn’t enjoy some extravagances – I was always getting on Janice’s case because she had a thing for Remy Martin. Any time she’d order one I’d remind her, “There goes another two-by-ten.”
Our dream became reality though, on November 1, 1984 when we moved, lock, stock and barrel, deep into the country.
It was a little like living inside the pages of a Harrowsmith magazine. We know now that we were decidedly naïve, but exuberant; feeling free and unencumbered as we carved out our new life.
Our mostly finished, passive solar dwelling faced due south. Sitting on a slight rise, it provided a panoramic view of the East Barriere River as it meandered out of East Barriere Lake. The slow-moving river culminated in a beautiful, clear swimming hole, before it met the beaver dam, after which it began its’ white water descent westward.
The next few years were idyllic. Janice was in heaven, cooking up a storm, baking bread on the woodstove, grilling on the new-to-her Jenn-Air and hanging out in her own kitchen where she could clearly view the river. She worked with fresh eggs, milk, meat and poultry, all gathered from neighboring farms, and with Kokanee and Rainbow Trout we had caught in the river or the lake. New friends and neighbouring farms were the source of rabbit, venison, moose, pork and beef. Her terraced vegetable garden was as near as walking out the dining room door..
Visits from family and friends were frequent. Parties were memorable. Because of its’ slow meander from the lake, the river’s warmth in summer was surprising. We entertained often at the gazebo I’d built beside the deep-enough-for-diving swimming hole.
Photo: The swimming hole at our house on the East Barriere River. The house is in the top right. The reason it looks so small is that it is a couple of hundred feet away.
I was busy finishing the house and producing paintings that were selling, however sporadically, in a number of galleries across the country. We found joy in seeking out, cutting, chopping and stacking firewood. We went fishing, water skiing and played slow pitch in the summer. We went cross country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. We also regularly shoveled through five feet of snow.
Of course our rescued calico cat, Puss Puss, and our rescued German Sheppard, Zeke, also required frequent walks to the lake. That’s right; the cat went for long walks too.
Life as a full-time artist started to wear thin after a number of years of living hand-to-mouth however, so when I was asked to commute to the newspaper in North Vancouver on a part-time basis, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. In every two-week period I would work four days with nine days off, travelling a half day each way in between.
It was a good gig and I was treated royally, being put up in a nice boutique hotel and having all my expenses paid for. After three-and-a-half years of commuting though we reasoned that; if I was going to continue working as a newspaper guy, we should probably just make on offer on the one that covered the general area where we lived, the North Thompson Valley.
There were two community newspapers operating in the North Thompson Valley at the time. I made what I deemed to be a reasonable offer on the most well established of the two. My offer was refused and, after a few back-and-forth’s, I decided he wanted too much for his break-even operation anyway. It was a small town and it didn’t take long for the owner of the other little start-up newspaper to approach me to make him an offer.
I knew he had been doing everything by the seat of his pants, because it showed. No receipts, no income statements or balance sheets, just the promise that advertisers liked what he was doing. I could tell just by looking at the newspaper, and his ad rates, that he was already losing money, he just didn’t know it yet.
We could have started our own, third publication, but instead, partly because we didn’t want to cause any more confusion in a small marketplace, we agreed to meet him in the local pub to discuss a sale. As I had reckoned, he was more a horse trader than a newspaper person and, after a few drinks and much finagling, we shook hands on a deal where I would pay him $7,777.77 for his paper – and he would get out of town – which he was planning on anyway.
While I travelled to the coast for my last stint at the newspaper, Janice was thrown into the deep end of newspaper production. I left her to typeset the first edition of what had been the Thompson Advertiser under our new banner, the Yellowhead Star. We had purchased a brand-new, state-of-the-art, first generation Apple computer. The memory in that machine, or lack of it, might have been roughly equivalent to that of your great aunt Mildred, after a big fatty. Sure enough though, four days later, when I returned from the coast, Janice had it figured out.
Within three months the owner of the competing newspaper threw in the towel and offered it to us for $15,000. It was the same guy that had wanted $50,000 for it in our previous negotiation. We took him up on his offer.
Janice and I both put a lot of effort into running that operation for five years. In the process we were able to quadruple revenues, making the newspaper an interesting candidate for takeover by one of the larger newspaper chains.
A year into publishing the newspaper we purchased the local, abandoned, BC Forestry property at Barriere. It was owned by the Provincial Government, was vacant, and had been on the market for years. We had our eye on it for several reasons: It included a little two-storey wooden office building, just one thousand square feet on each floor, but ideal to run our newspaper operation out of. It also had a somewhat worn but basically sound three bedroom house on the property. It was listed, all in, for $84,000 – we offered $50,000 – they countered at $72,000 – we came back at $62,500. We had ourselves a deal.
We moved our newspaper from rented premises into the office building, rented the house to a young family, and spent a year going through the process of having the property subdivided, which cost about $10,000. We were able to squeeze an extra building lot out of the property as well, which we quickly sold for $34,000. A couple of years later we sold the house for $84,000 and in 1994 we sold the newspaper to a newspaper chain. After paying off a new truck, the newspaper property and the $50,000 we’d borrowed against our house to finance the newspaper endeavor, we’d netted $75,000. We kept the little office building to lease back to the new owners.
Photo: A picture of us at a friend’s wedding during the time we owned the newspaper – the early 90′s.
I had grown weary of driving the twenty-four kilometers into town all the time, and after twelve years, I was beginning to feel isolated and bushed living on the mountain. Two years later, in 1998, an opportunity to sell our place presented itself. The husband and wife doctors from Barriere were moving back to New Brunswick and were in a hurry to sell their, (for Barriere) upscale house. Our realtor’s ex-husband made an offer on our place so we instructed her to make it happen, so long as it didn’t cost us a penny over $30,000; real estate commission included.
The place we’d built at East Lake had cost us about $70,000, including the land. We sold it fourteen years later for $164,ooo, trading up to the $186,000 place in Barriere. If I’d had my way at the time we would have moved into the larger centre of Kamloops, but this deal would enable us to get off the mountain.
Janice decided she didn’t like working for the new bosses at the newspaper so she took a job as bartender at the Barriere Motor Inn instead. I continued working part-time at the newspaper.
Life was good and we couldn’t complain, for sure, but we had started to feel that we were spinning our wheels. After lots of soul searching, Janice arrived at a change of career choice. She decided to pursue her real love, cooking. She enrolled in the two-year Culinary Arts Program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Six years after moving to Barriere, the year after the Barriere wild fires, we were able to sell our house for $186,000, the same as we’d paid. We sold it privately but we’d lost $6,000 on it; the cost of putting in the pool and a new deck.
The year was 2004. A month after selling our place we came across what we thought was an exceptional private deal in Kamloops. It was a compact three bedroom house with an incredibly panoramic view. Again, it was a private deal and we were able to secure it for $158,000. We were up almost $30,000, which we quickly spent on a re-model of the new joint.
When Janice finished the Culinary Arts Program she went to work cooking at a Mexican Fusion restaurant in downtown Kamloops. It took a couple of years but I too stumbled upon my own altered career path, becoming the District Manager for a non-profit federation that lobbies governments on behalf of small business. It turned out to be a good gig for me because I was given my own home-turf territory, with a mandate to both; increase membership, and maintain the existing membership. In some respects it was the same as building up a newspaper. It’s a straight commission job but it comes with full benefits and I like the fact that I have the area to myself. I also get to work from home, and there is an achievable bonus program in place.
In some ways we had come full circle. We were able to bank much of my income while Janice’s took care of the overhead. In a couple of years we had put enough away for our extended RV adventure…