tofino profile: candace steven

Tofino Profile: Candace Steven

by Shirley Langer, Tofino


Candace Steven is a striking young woman, the picture of health and well-being. Tall, full figured, blooming skin, long silky naturally blonde hair, pixie lips always on the verge of a smile and sparkling eyes that look at you candidly. And she is candid, as well as articulate. As we talk, she rocking her baby son, Koen, I am impressed at how this young mother understands herself and holds a clear vision of what she wants of life.

Tofino born and bred, Candace grew up in the 80s, with the village freedom characteristic of that time, safe within the watchful eyes of the community, neighbors and friends who functioned like a huge extended family. Among her special playmates, Willa Bradshaw, Leslie Hansen and Trina Sloman. Growing up in Tofino provided many benefits, beginning with the freedom, surrounded by the splendour of our natural environment, and in contact with people from all over the world who provided knowledge and worldliness.

Candace loved Tofino, so I am surprised when she tells me she left here at age sixteen. “I was going into grade 11 in 1993, the year of the peace camp and the logging blockades. I spent a lot of time at the peace camp, and became aware of the larger issues concerning Clayoquot Sound. When classes started in the fall, I was called a tree hugger. The kids were very polarized, and there was nastiness. Some kids brought chain saws to school and revved them up in the parking lot. It was a hostile environment and the principal and teachers did nothing to promote constructive dialogue or alleviate tensions. That made things worse. So I decided to finish high school in Nanaimo.”

After graduation, Candace enrolled in geography at Camosun College in Victoria, where she remained until 2001. Urban living gave her a different view of life. “When I arrived in Victoria, I was completely open and friendly, gave time and money to homeless and disadvantaged people, and worked with the student union to improve things. But the more I learned about how deep these problems were, and how really little is done to change social injustice by people with the power, the more jaded and melancholy I became. And I was working really hard—attending classes full time, working at a pizza restaurant on weekends, and being a student activist with my student union.”

Asked why she returned to Tofino, her answer, “For soul food” is understandable. She intended to stay for one semester. It’s now four years later. “I fell in love with Tofino all over again,” she says. “It’s like living in paradise. I do miss the academic environment, and hope to continue my education when the elements of my current life are in balance.”

What might those elements be? My first guess would be three-month-old Koen, who gets most of Candace’s attention these days. On the subject of motherhood, Candace is not vague. “I wanted to be a mother. For so long I felt I was chasing dreams, but over the last few years I began to bring things purposely into my life.” One of those things would be her partner, John Westwood, whom Candace describes without a blush as “my dream come true”. John hails from Manitoba. He came here to surf, to get away from pavement and pollution. He works as groundskeeper at the golf course and as an artist, produces sculptures combining rock, wood and wire. According to Candace, he’s also a great father. Koen’s presence has brought Candace’s estranged father back into her life, a gratifying outcome. And what about Candace’s mother, Shirley? How does she enjoy grandmotherhood? Candace’s description is hilarious.” My mother has been talking about being a grandmother since I was of childbearing age.”

We chat awhile about the difficulty of finding affordable places to buy in Tofino. Naturally, Candace and John want to purchase a home; they want to stop playing “musical homes” as Candace puts it. I ask her if she will stay in Tofino no matter what, now that she has a family. She answers by telling me a short story.

“ One day while I was pregnant, I felt I would leave. It was at work, while having a conversation with a customer who was also pregnant. She asked me if I had chosen a theme for the nursery. This was at a time when I had to leave my home because the owners were turning it into a vacation rental. On the musical homes move again, this time pregnant, while the pregnant woman in front of me and her husband were building a home with a nursery. I felt the whole package of resentment rise within me. But I stayed because I wanted to raise my child here. John and I will work and save to someday acquire a home. Meanwhile, despite not owning a home, or a nursery with a theme, and no disposable income, I feel privileged and thankful to be living here, where my son will grow up among many people who will love him, able to play on Chesterman Beach. I only hope people can remain here, and not be pushed out by the high cost of living, or overwhelmed by tourism.”

Before ending the interview, I ask, as I always do, if there’s anything she wants to add that didn’t come up. Thoughtful for a moment, she answers no, then adds, “When you asked me about being a subject for Tofino Profile, I was concerned about keeping a low profile, but decided I could brave it, that I could share.”

We wish you good fortune Candace. May your dreams for your little family come true.

Shirley Langer has resided in Tofino since 1995. She describes herself as a woman about town with a well developed civic conscienceness.
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