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Coming home to the Babine by Sonja Coates

by Sonja Coates

To be completely honest, each season at the Babine Steelhead Lodge has come to represent much more of an annual retreat for me than simply a job I choose to return to every year.

As someone who has spent much of the past decade travelling & living outside of Canada, in lands far far removed from the northern surroundings of my childhood, the fishing season at BSL has in turn cemented itself as a truly enriching & restorative period in my life. 

Not only has it provided me with an opportunity to return home every year, to reconnect with my family & friends and rediscover my hometown, but it also gives me the sense of structure & routine that is often missing in the other 9 months of my year. A rhythm I knowingly crave just as the season is about to begin. For wherever I am come August, I know it’s time to start my yearly migration west, back to the Babine.

In many cases, it was the one time in a year when I could lay my head at night on the same bed for more than just a few short nights at a time. I could officially unpack my bags, place my rolled up clothes onto my shelves and know I would not be going anywhere soon. For we would arrive on a beautiful late summer’s day and not be leaving until the snow hits the ground. A tiny village, a fisher’s paradise, fully ignited, experienced and then carefully tucked away until the time was right again.

 

I took my first job on the Babine at the age of 18. After having been exposed to the world of steelhead fishing lodges, spending several summer weeks on the Dean throughout my teenage years thanks to the family of an old friend, I was hired for a season at the Silver Hilton in the fall of 2009. Wrapping up in early November, I returned home with a newfound sense of freedom and within a week had boarded a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I always knew I wanted to travel after high school and this opportunity of intensive short term work had ensured that I could. And while it was intended as a 3 month trip, my return flight was quickly cancelled and I ended up travelling much of South America for just under a year. 

Returning home for the 2010 season only to learn my spot was no longer mine, I quickly found work elsewhere before packing up on January 1st to move to Vancouver and begin a short course in Fashion Business & Creative Arts throughout 2011. This program and the vast array of local artisanal craft I was exposed to throughout my travels spurred a deep interest in the textile industry and upon graduation and the completion of my internship with a local clothing company, I was faced with a decision: pursue a career in Canadian fashion or take off in search of whatever the world had in store for me next.

I chose the latter.

Stepping into the Salt Flats, Bolivia 2009

  Photos from a month long motorbike trip through Rajasthan, India 2014

                         Researching textile communities in India 2018

Fast forward to a morning in early May 2017 and I woke up with a sudden sense of clarity. I was living in Montreal at the time and had just spent the past 6 years exploring the world, researching textiles and living in & out of India. Pursuing an array of creative projects with various individuals, small businesses & organizations working in fashion, fine arts and social development, I realized that despite the pressures to resume a ‘normal’ Canadian life, the way I had come to live was not simply a phase I was going to grow out of. It had become my way of being, working & learning. However, I had to admit I was tired and I needed to find a way to pair my passions with a more sustainable & consistent way of supporting myself financially and of course, spending more time in BC with my family. 

I had been racking my brain for some time on how to fill that final puzzle piece that would provide me with the means & flexibility to pull all the others together and that morning it suddenly clicked. Fishing lodges! I woke up, turned on my computer and entered a search for lodge jobs in BC as I recalled my season at the Silver Hilton all those years ago with fond memories. After a few scrolls I landed upon an indeed.ca listing: Available Positions for Housekeeper & Dining Room Servers. Addressed to [email protected], I drafted my introduction email, attached my CV, crossed my fingers and pressed send. That evening I received a response and before I knew it I was on the phone with Andrea, followed by Tom, and finally Derek, discussing the various positions they had available. The Babine Steelhead Lodge being one of them. I knew right away that was the role I wanted. Just my luck, they agreed.

I remember being on a walk back from the grocery store around the corner from my apartment when I got the call from Derek that I had the job. I was standing in the back alley near Laurier & Esplanade, my heart bursting with excitement, for in that moment I knew I was free. I knew I had found the missing piece to the puzzle, the job that would allow me the time & resources to create the life I wanted to live. It would provide the structure I knew I needed but in the format that seamlessly enabled me to keep exploring rather than give in. Not only that, but juxtaposed against the ups & downs of travel & creative work, the simplicity & consistency of lodge work made sense to me. It complimented rather than complicating my otherwise spontaneous life.

Home Pool – photo by Chase White

That’s not to say that the first season was easy. I had a few old injuries which were unfortunately aggravated by the repetitive scrubbing & lifting during our pre-season work week and culminated in an issue with the nerves in my neck and arms. Sleepless nights with bolts of pain surging through my arms and mornings waking up to numb fingers told me that I needed to take this seriously. Thankfully Derek and the team were incredibly understanding and I can still remember our guests that week who sensed I was having a hard time, refusing to let me clear their plates after a meal. Instead they each lended a hand to get the job done before I stepped out mid way through Week 2. After missing about 10 days of the season for appointments & recovery, I was suddenly back out at the lodge equipped with a series of exercises that eased my nerves and gave me the confidence to see through the remainder of the season.

3 years later and no more nerve issues, BSL has become an essential component in the recurring cycle that is my year and a time I wholeheartedly look forward to. Because this job is not just about serving & housekeeping, it’s about pairing a high level of hospitality with the expert guidance on the river of my colleagues to create a seamless experience for our guests. A home away from home and a warm & welcoming environment to gather, talk fish & refuel after a long exciting day on the water. It’s a role I feel fortunate to have with a team I absolutely adore, and could never do this without. For every year my appreciation for this community grows, as I get to learn a little more from each of the talented individuals I work with. Returning guests I met in my first season have since become the familiar faces I now look forward to seeing every season as they step out of the helicopter. And of course, the icing on the cake is finding a new best friend in the one and only, Tom Derry. A man who has honestly made life at The Babine Steelhead Lodge for me and everyone else who graces these banks, all the more special.


So while I can not compare my passion for the Babine to that of a fisherman, what I can say is that I am incredibly humbled by the opportunity to call this place home for 2-3 months of the year. However without all of you, we would not be here and for that I am eternally grateful. For this job has given me the world, quite literally. So thank you. Thank you for choosing the Babine, thank you for supporting our team and being a part of our community, year after year.

 

 

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