The end of our five-month long road trip last autumn left us at a crossroads, for lack of a better term. We could have picked anywhere in Western Canada to set up home. JR chose Fort St John, a town central to the oil and gas industry in Northern BC. My choice proved harder.

I initially decided on Vancouver for the job opportunities, but quickly realised that living on one person’s salary in a world class city was not for me. Don’t get me wrong, it is doable, but I like to travel far too much to spend the majority of my income just fulfilling living requirements. So I ended up in Fort St John too.

winter in fort st john

This winter was nothing like I expected to be. Sure, there was snow and it was really cold at times, but the experience of living in Fort St John was more complex than that. I said way back when I first arrived in FSJ that I had never been anywhere like it. And that still rings true now. I had never lived in a town so reliant on heavy industry and it honestly had more of an impact on life than I imagined.

It wasn’t just the increased presence of heavy-duty trucks on the road, but also the kind of food available to purchase in grocery stores, the meals on offer in restaurants, the entertainment available in town…of course, it almost goes without saying that the local businesses would cater to the predominant industry, but it is still amazing to me how different life and people are here compared to the average Canadian town.

fort st john winter

Christmas 2014 Fort St John

self-employment

I’ve had a lot of people ask me what exactly I was doing all winter in FSJ while JR was working on the pipelines. I was actually working for myself. I did apply for some jobs and worked as a contractor for a while, but since mid-January, I was focused on earning money through the internet by way of freelance writing and Off Track Travel. Now, I’m not claiming it is a lot (and by that I mean not even enough to buy gas and groceries) but I have earned money through my own two hands and an internet connection. I personally find that awesome.

The opportunity to have the time and freedom to do this was only possible thanks to JR, so yes, I do realise I was very lucky to be able to do it. One of my biggest achievements since January (aside from cashing my very first writing cheque) has been to significantly increase the page views and visitors to this site. I’ll put it this way – Off Track Travel experienced more page views in March 2015 than it did in the whole of 2014. Pretty cool I think. As mentioned, I couldn’t have done this on my own so thank you to all who supported me.

JR Fort St John Winter 2014

Fort St John train tracks 2014 winter

digital nomadism?

This experience has made me realise that my dream of working on the road could actually be viable. To be honest, though, I’m still not 100% convinced on whether I would actually want to do it. Another thing I’ve learned over the winter is that it takes a lot of effort to work for yourself. You really do have to be incredibly motivated. High praise from me to anyone reading this who is self-employed…seriously. It’s hard.

So that’s the story of my winter in Fort St John. What with the whole working at home thing, I can’t claim to have experienced too much of FSJ life, but I still survived it!

some other things I learned during my time in fort st john:

It’s only cold enough to wear a toque (beanie hat) at around -10c. Warmer than this, everyone gives you funny looks

Wearing a winter jacket at 0c is also warrant for strange glances

Having an entire town consisting of numbered roads is super confusing (one way is avenues, the other streets)

-40c was indeed pretty cold. -15, however, is surprisingly warm.

The amount of sunshine in Northern BC during winter is incredible – there was plenty more sun than snow

Even in towns where they have a lot of snow and the equipment to deal with it, removal still isn’t that great

The sunsets and sunrises were almost always awesome

The weather could go from being really nice (sunny and 5c) to awful (-20c and heavy snow) in a flash

When winter disappeared in late February, I was surprised to find I wanted the snow back…to cover up the mud

Don’t go out with wet hair

Fort St John viewpoint winter

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

3 Comments

  1. I’d be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life without even seeing FSJ again. Crazy drivers make it dangerous, and the money-driven mindset is just a bad vibe for this old guy. But, any experience can be valuable or at least useful, and you certainly learned some important stuff. Yes, working for yourself can be a challenge – but congratulations for starting down that road!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      I don’t think I will be hurrying back to FSJ either… 😉 I really didn’t like driving there. Thanks for the congratulations, I appreciate it.

  2. Fort St John sounds like an interesting place, although not one I will be adding to the bucket list any time soon 😉 certainly an experience though. Glad your hard work is paying off and congratulations on working for yourself! We put your advice in the e-book to good use yesterday when filing our taxes, that was a fun Sunday evening!!

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