Passion Projects: When what you do meets what you love

September 21, 2017


Maybe it’s the effects of crawling out from under a sleeping baby — the fog lifting from early parenting days or that midlife cartwheel, the one that started when I gave birth 2.3 years ago, beginning to land me on my feet.


But I can’t help noticing — with a deep sense of awe — people that are pursuing their passions. Chasing their dreams. Living out loud and saying, “Hey, world, this is me!”


I notice it when I’m driving through the small communities along the remote highway that passes through our town. A couple hours to the east, there’s this billboard:


The Concrete Man! Building our community one pour at a time. 


I love that guy. Because that guy loves his job. He loves what he does and he’s having a little chuckle and putting it on a highway sign. Be damned if he measures his success by the cubic yard.


Or the isolated motel that stands out with its fresh, white slick of paint. Someone got out their rollers and brushes and did that out of love and pride. No matter if it isn’t located on prime tourism real estate. It’s theirs, dammit.


Get me into a book store and it’s a little overwhelming: All those books, all those dreams that became reality, all those people who had something to say and said it.


There are lots of people chasing their dreams in quiet, understated ways: from behind a desk, creating the change they want to see in the world; raising the children they want to be in the world; the ones planting gardens, riding bikes and becoming better people in the hopes of making this world a better place.


There are lots of folks living their true, authentic selves while staying well back of the precipice. But I want to talk about those who leap.


I’m talking about my friend Christine at Two Sisters or Nick and Mika at Bugwood, who built businesses, both of them integral to our community, amidst raising small children.


There’s my brother-in-law Matt who recently took over the reins at Northword Magazine. There’s local photographer Curtis Cunningham who has been working hard on a coffee table book that features skiing in our region. And Rose in Vancouver who started a flower farm in her front yard


I could go on.


But I made it my mission to talk to just a few of these people. Maybe their courage is contagious. But for certain just hearing their stories is inspiring.


Moe & Michaela Kafer


I remember the moment Michaela Kafer told me she was starting a restaurant: It was a year ago and we were standing outside Caravan, the food truck she’d run for the summer. She told me she’d bought a building that had, until recently, housed a spacious sporting goods store. She was going to transform it into a restaurant — no small undertaking.


A year later, Michaela sits across from her sister and business partner, Moe, at Roadhouse, a space that has all the elegance and airy atmosphere of its urban counterparts. These two share more than just the same parents and a love of food: they reflect the other’s easy laugh as they talk about their journey.


The dream started when they were kids: “Literally, we had our little restaurant and we would sell ice and water,” Michaela says. Twenty years ago, Michaela was on the verge of buying a local restaurant when she found out she was pregnant. The plan was shelved. Around the same time, Moe moved to London, England.


Two decades passed while Michaela raised a family and Moe established herself as a successful and well-travelled food photographer. But when Michaela announced she was opening a restaurant, Moe decided it was time to come home and join her sister. The pair agree that the synergy between them has made working together so much easier.


“It’s better than working for other people,” Moe says with a laugh, and Michaela joins her: “And when I cook someone else does the dishes,” she says.


Caroline Marko


Caroline Marko’s decision to pursue a dream came nearly a decade ago when, returning from spending time in her native Sweden, she decided to address Smithers’ scarcity of fashion by opening her own clothing store, Salt Boutique: “Sometimes you just need to take matters into your own hands,” I’ve heard her tell customers.


Today, it’s safe to say Caroline has singlehandedly changed the way our town dresses.

Photo: Simply Rose Photography


So when she and her husband, Scott, bought a 1950s community hall — a windowless box standing on a corner between the community college and the funeral home — I knew they’d do something amazing. But I wasn’t prepared for the transformation that took place: it was like stepping off our small-town streets and into a glossy magazine.

The last time I’d been there was a fundraiser for our community radio station. Over the years in between, Caroline and Scott had removed linoleum floors to reveal the original maple dancefloor, replaced windowless, fabric-panelled walls with floor-to-ceiling windows and removed particleboard ceilings to reveal rustic wood beams.


It seems appropriate that Caroline, known for hosting elegant and expansive dinner parties, should inherit a building that’s held everything from weddings to church services: “When I’m in here, there’s a deep calm in here. It has a great feeling to it,” she told me the day I visited.

Photo: Simply Rose Photography


Jamie Hahn


I first heard about the Khutzeymateen grizzly reserve two decades ago, when I was a university student in Ontario. The sanctuary took on mythical proportions for me: a remote inlet in northwest BC. Somewhere far, far away from my urban life and studies.


Now that I live in northern BC, Khutzeymateen is still mythical and remote: Getting there requires a float plane or a several-hours boat trip from Prince Rupert. But for Jamie Hahn, Khutzeymateen was all part of a day’s work: The former area supervisor with BC Parks managed the reserve from 2001 until a few years ago, when he left to help a friend start a craft brewery in Terrace, BC.

Shortly after, in 2015, the owner of a small tour company that had been grandfathered in when the Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservancy was created contacted Jamie for advice on selling. Jamie was an enthusiastic buyer.


“I always saw the opportunity in there but never beyond dreaming thought I would have the opportunity to purchase it,” he says. The first winter he stripped the simple floating structure down to its beams, rebuilt the kitchen and added guest rooms. The next year, he added a second lodge with more bedrooms, an office and a staging area for tours.


I finally had the opportunity to visit Khutzeymateen this summer, when we took my in-laws to Prince Rupert and hopped on a last-minute half-day tour into the grizzly sanctuary. A float plane dropped us at the lodge and from there we spent several hours touring the inlet and checking out grizzlies before heading back to the lodge for a warming coffee and snacks.


The float plane, the grizzlies — it was all amazing. But, honestly, the best part was probably relaxing in the lodge, this floating piece of paradise so far from the nearest road. I’ll definitely be back.


There are a lot of links in this article. None of them are affiliates. No one requested to be included nor did they offer compensation. These are really, truly just people that I think are awesome.

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