West Coast offers dream lifestyle

Grant Bridgeman, 62, has no difficulty remembering winter in Edmonton. “It’s always cold and miserable. Once you scrape the frost off your windshield, you just hope the car starts before you head off to fight the traffic.”

All that changed when Grant and his wife, Sharon, 58, retired in 1998 to Chemainus, on Vancouver Island after living in Edmonton for 25 years.

Now, in February, temperatures hover around 10 C, and the daffodils poke their heads out. And, says Grant, “We have a magnificent view of the ocean.” However, it’s not all peaches and cream — they had one brief fall of snow the winter of 2000, so they’ve kept their snow shovel, just in case.

Vancouver Island certainly isn’t Arizona or Florida. Winters are mild but they tend to be dull and grey, and Grant, a civil engineer, says you have to get used to a few weeks of rain. On the other hand, unlike snowbirds, you don’t have to worry what the Canadian dollar is doing, and medical care is not a constant worry.

“That’s no small concern,” says Grant.

Like many folks considering a mid-life change, the Bridgemans have been working on their island retirement project for a long te. “We came here first, I guess, about 15 years ago,” says Grant. “It’s a pretty place,” he says of their small up-island town. “There’s always flowers blooming and greenery galore.”

Prepared ahead

They bought a piece of land back then “to get a toehold in the market.” Eventually, they signed up for their present semi-detached condominium a year before Grant retired so it would be ready for them.

The house is one-storey at the front, but three-storeys at the back – and it overlooks the ocean. They have a view straight up Stuart Channel, where they sail their 28-foot boat.

“We love sailing, it’s a way of life here,” says Grant. He’s also a member of the local powerboat squadron. With their friends Ron and Shirley Kinney, they bought a 14-foot runabout, and they also keep a boat to go crabbing — a favourite pastime.

Sharon, a former teacher’s aide, still misses her family on the Prairies (“We’re trying to persuade them to move out here,” says Grant), and the Bridgemans make regular trips by car and air back to Edmonton to see children and grandchildren.

Comparing costs

As Canada’s favourite retirement spot, are real estate prices in Victoria out of sight? “The secret is,” says Grant, “to buy up-island where prices are more reasonable than around Victoria.”

Property values, in fact, “have been quite flat,” he says. Their place, he estimates would cost $155,000 today, “and you can get acreage quite cheaply.”

Compared with Alberta, says Grant, car insurance costs are 40 per cent higher in B.C., while property taxes in Chemainus are a bit lower than Edmonton. Of course, there was no sales tax in Alberta, and “the total cost of living would be about 10 per cent higher here.”

The Bridgemans have said goodbye to their B.C. Shangri-La temporarily. They’ve moved to Guyana in South America where Grant will be working on a water supply project during 2002.

And there’s no doubt they’ll be dreaming in the steamy jungle about those cool, grey island winters.