Work to live…or live to work?
There are two types of modern day pioneer that make their way here in north-central BC. There are the kind whose work is their life and the kind whose life is their work.
In his column, Rob Budde praises two of Prince George’s literary heroes, one of whom—Jim Brinkman—I’ve known for many years and is a fine example of the first type. In Char Toews’ column, she smacks her lips over some of her favourite places to eat, including a spot on Haida Gwaii called Bud’s Diner in Massett. I ate a great breakfast at Bud’s this past August, but that’s not the story I want to tell—it’s about the people who run a little place called Harmonie’s Place just down island in Port Clements, people who exemplify the second type. But first, let me tell you about Jim.
I knew Jim when he lived in Smithers before he sold Interior Stationery and packed himself off to Prince George in the late ’90s. He bought a huge building that had previously housed a Danish furniture store and installed Books & Company, a funky independent bookstore with a little coffee shop called Café Voltaire. I had also just moved to PG from Smithers and was publishing Forte Magazine—similar to Northword in content, but focused on the Prince George area. Our first edition featured a story on Jim’s new art gallery space that he was putting the final touches on for opening in June 1999.
In the Forte article Jim said, “I always have these visions of what I want, and I end up trying to put it together. The vision doesn’t really change…I’ve had this idea for the bookstore for the last 15 or 20 years. I always wanted the coffee bar incorporated into it, a jazz club in the basement would be nice too, but this little gallery project is basically the next step toward the original vision.”
His “little gallery project,” now called ArtSpace, would feature a big open showroom in the middle that would serve as the gallery. All around the showroom were satellite rooms that could serve as offices and/or studios for working artists. Forte was located in one of those offices, right over top of Café Voltaire. I was pregnant for a portion of my time there and, to this day, the warming smell of chai tea evokes morning sickness memories.
In addition to a working gallery, Jim also envisioned using the space as a performance venue. Mark Perry played ArtSpace many times (in fact, he’s playing there again, Oct. 5) and he was always a favourite, as was Fred Eaglesmith, another early headliner. The first time Fred played ArtSpace, we brought our boys, who were then about five and seven, expecting the same folky-style delivery we listened to at home. We’d never experienced Fred Eaglesmith in concert.
When Fred took the stage and saw the kids bouncing in their seats in the first row his eyebrows raised up mightily. After a quick consult with the other band members, it was decided that in deference to the raucous university crowd that had also paid to see them they would not change their rocky, raunchy and extremely loud musical line-up, but instead kindly rounded up some ear plugs for the kids. Thankfully, due to a combination of stimulation overload and sensory shutdown, the boys slept through most of the show, with their Fred Head buttons and earplugs in place, curled up next to me on one of the ArtSpace couches.
Jim followed his dream and made it a success. In a typically northern way, he knew what he wanted and worked it. He doesn’t just facilitate other people’s creativity; his business creativity is a work of art in its own right.
But sometimes, if your lifestyle is your dream, you’ll work at whatever it takes to make it.
On a misty late-August day in Port Clements, I stopped by Harmonie’s Place for lunch. It’s a cozy place, built in 1911 to accommodate the local newspaper. Today, it’s home to the café and monthly music coffee houses.
I ordered the mushroom cheeseburger. Kazamir, husband of Harmonie, informed me that I could indeed have the mushroom cheeseburger, right after he went to the market to get some fresh mushrooms. He was sole cook/dishwasher/waiter that day while Harmonie was in Smithers getting the kids swimming lessons—she was camping with the kids at Tyhee Lake, about a kilometre from my house. (It is a weirdly small world!)
Kazamir sprinted across the street, brought back the mushrooms, thawed out the hamburger to make the patty, sliced the onions and put them on to fry, and apologized because he didn’t have time to make the buns fresh as he usually does. As he cooked, he chatted about what an amazing place Port Clements is to raise a family, the state of the local economy, the relative personalities of the island communities… and his wife Harmonie who, it turns out, is more than just a café owner. She’s also a musician. Paramedic. Volunteer firefighter. Canadian Ranger. Artisan (knitted toques, etc). Did I mention she has six kids including a toddler? And Kazamir, much as he touts his wife’s many virtues, is—as far as I could tell—just as crazy-busy as she, doing whatever it takes to stay where they love.
By the way, that mushroom cheeseburger was the best I’ve ever eaten. Juice-running-down-your-chin delicious.