Off the Highway: Growing Up In North Delta is a memoir by local author Mette Bach and installment 18 in the Transmontanus Series published by New Star Books. The Transmontanus series, edited by Terry Glavin, are “short illustrated books about some of the more unusual aspects of life in a corner of the world currently known as British Columbia.”
About thirty kilometres south of Vancouver, just over the Alex Fraser Bridge and bordering with Surrey and Ladner, lies North Delta, a suburb replete with strip malls, single detached family homes and every–half–hour bus service. It was a sleepy suburb, one considered the boonies, until 1986, when as part of the Expo city–wide upgrades, the Alex Fraser Bridge was built to connect the two sides of the Fraser River.
Part social commentary, part personal memoir, and part history, Off the Highway is Mette Bach’s thoughtful examination of growing up in North Delta.
We learn about the valiant efforts of the Burns Bog Conservation Society volunteers who work tirelessly to preserve the Bog, North America’s largest raised peat bog and one of Canada’s natural wonders. We find out that her family rented a bedroom in their home to Expo 86 visitors and that her mother composted, a practice well ahead of current environmentally–responsible times. We also get a glimpse into North Delta’s storied settlement in the 1860s when Alexander Loggie opened the first cannery, Bach takes us on a grand tour of the landmarks that define the suburbia in which she grew up.
From the publisher, New Star Books
It was really interesting and sometimes shocking to read Mette’s memoir about growing up in the Lower Mainland. Some of the local-ish sentiments she expressed I had felt also (and sometimes in reverse) while growing up.
I was really excited to read Mette Bach contrast Canada and America with the same metaphor I learned in school: “America saw itself as a melting pot, an image that requires a level of assimilation. Canada, on the other hand, was supposed to be a multicultural mosaic, a place where it was okay to be from here and from other places, too.”
Unfortunately, this observation is not always true, which Mette examines in Off the Highway. I remember having a conversation with someone several years ago and they asked for the racial breakdown of my elementary school, which I had to think about it because it wasn’t something I noticed as a child. I still rarely think about where someone is “from” because I know so many people who are third generation Canadians. Many of my friends who were born in Vancouver (and their parents were too) still encounter rude insinuations about where they were born. This sad fact makes me try even hard to be accepting of different cultures and reading Mette Bach’s similar racial experiences growing up was inspiring.
It was kind of funny to read Mette’s story and think about how some things don’t change (I’m about 10 years younger than Mette Bach). Some people still think 45 minutes to an hour outside Vancouver’s city centre is ‘the boonies’ and the urban spread has only intensified. Abbotsford calls themselves the “city in the country” and this sentiment of bringing the city to the country has increased as families search for cheaper real estate and bigger houses.
Having spent several summers living in Aldergrove (between Langley and Abbotsford), a number of the revelations Mette experienced in her teenage years were relatable. She mentions when the first Starbucks opened in North Delta on Scott Road and their group of friends still went to Euro Cafe. It reminds me of when the Safeway in Aldergrove was finally revamped to include a Starbucks and we still went to Tim Hortons for iced caps because it was cheaper.
Off the Highway is described as “part social commentary, part personal memoir, and part history” which is spot on. I think this combination of style and direction increases it’s appeal. The history of North Delta (including photos) is contrasted with personal experiences while complimented by opinions on society, the environment and our culture. I am interested to read more in the Transmontanus series, and as this is Mette Bach’s first book, I look forward to seeing more of her writing too.
Full Disclosure: I received a copy from the author, Mette Bach, as I am working on her social media presence and website. She did not expect me to review the book, and our professional relationship does/did not affect my opinions expressed here.