Ocean Rutherford stopped and smiled while onboard the Pacific Swift - a SALTS Tall Ship.

Heart of our city: Around the world and back again for Ocean Rutherford

Prince Rupert's Ocean Rutherford has travelled all around the world, but has always looked forward to returning to her hometown.

Prince Rupert’s Ocean Rutherford has travelled all around the world, but has always looked forward to returning to her hometown.

“The only continents I have not been to are Asia and Antarctica. And I’m fairly certain I’m going to Asia in December, so then it will just be Antarctica,” Ocean laughed.

“I always come home. Prince Rupert is definitely my home base … I feel pretty connected and committed to this place.”

A fourth generation North Coaster and one of three children, Ocean has lived in the same house that she was brought home to as a baby for most of her life.

On her father’s side, her great-grandparents came from Sweden and settled in Oona River after immigrating to Canada, with her mother’s family moving to Prince Rupert from the prairies.

Ocean’s family inherited her great-grandparents’ Oona River home, which the couple had built completely by themselves including clearing the homestead land by hand, after their passing. Ocean’s family has spent as much time as possible at the family home over the years.

“The place in Oona River has been a summer home and weekend getaway for us,” explained Ocean, who recalls memories of her family having fires on the beach, biking and exploring together and attending potlatches in the community.

She says they enjoyed living the simple life together in Oona River throughout her upbringing.

The Rutherford family have always been close, with Ocean considering her siblings to be some of her best friends. She said she looks up to her younger brother Leo for taking advantage of everything the North Coast has to offer and living his life to the fullest, and is proud to say her younger sister Eva is “the most academic” and “emotionally intelligent” of the siblings.

Ocean refers to Oona River as a “special place” that is very connected to the older ways of living; something she appreciates about the coastal community.

“It’s very quiet, and everybody seems to know how to work with their hands and fix any problem that may arise,” she said.

The community’s willingness to help each other out is one of Ocean’s favourite aspects of Oona River. For example, during a recent trip Ocean and her younger sister Eva made to Oona River some plumping issues arose at the house.

“That week we were out there we didn’t eat supper at our house once. We ended up being invited out to other people’s houses for dinner every night,” she said.

A sense of community is of paramount importance to Ocean, and that’s one of the many reasons she cherishes Prince Rupert; she says the community and its residents are down to earth and practical.

Numerous friendships that Ocean has within Prince Rupert and Oona River have allowed for her to explore North Coast, whether that be on the water or deep in the wilderness.

All the time she’s spent outdoors have instilled a passion for environmental activism in Ocean, with the 22-year-old Rupertite participating in many anti-Enbridge events in Prince Rupert, and even making a presentation to the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel during one of its hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway Project.

After the bulk carrier Amakusa Island ran aground off of Ridley Island in July, Ocean took photos of the vessel and sent them to provincial and national news outlets in an attempt to “spread the message that accidents do happen”, which she thought was important to do with all of the projects being proposed in the area.

Professionally, Ocean has worked as a lifeguard at the Earl Mah Aquatic Centre since she was a Grade 11 student at Prince Rupert Secondary School, something she fell into.

Ocean had a spare block when she was in Grade 10 and would frequently go to the pool to pass time. Kendal Sheppard, the facility’s aquatic leader, took notice of Ocean and encouraged her to get the training to become a lifeguard. Having a “why not?” attitude, Ocean completed the training and ended up loving every minute of it.

“Something very innocent that I didn’t think twice about has become almost a career for me, and definitely a lifestyle,” she said, adding she may have been preprogrammed to love the water because of her name.

“I use to hate my name. I believed as a child that if I saved up $50 I could get the government to change my name. Though once kids at school began getting used to it, so did I,” she said.

Ocean continued her job as lifeguard after she graduated in 2009, but left in 2010 after being accepted for a six-month exchange program with Canada World Youth.

The exchange was agricultural-based, with participants working at an organic vegetable farm in rural Quebec for the first three months then heading to the African country of Mali.

“Mali was the first country I had been to outside of Canada … it’s actually the place that Timbuktu is located,” she said.

For Ocean, the experience was the most challenging thing she’s ever dealt with, with group members living in mud huts deep in the wilderness. It was unlike anything she had experienced before.

“I just dreamed of coming home. I dreamed of the sea water, grocery stores, being with my family, and just the comfort of living in the place that you grew up in and knew so well,” she explained.

Today Ocean is thankful she had the experience, but admitted it took awhile to process everything.

“Nothing I’ve come across has challenged me as much as that did. I really recommend it,” Ocean said.

“It was very hard, but rewarding in the end.”

Shortly after leaving Africa, Ocean travelled to Bolivia with a friend she had met on the Canada World Youth. Her friend’s father lived in Bolivia, with the family being very important in the country. Ocean said she witnessed a level of wealth she never experienced before, even in Canada.

“Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America, but I was saw it through a very different lens,” she said.

After returning to Prince Rupert, Ocean was rehired at the pool, and since has made sure to keep her international trips shorter in length. Ocean’s job at the Earl Mah Aquatic Centre has given her the flexibility to see the world, with the annual maintenance providing opportunities to leave. But she also says her boss has been extremely supportive, allowing her to take time off to travel.

Ocean’s most recent trip was in 2012 when she traveled to New Zealand where she visited an exchange student she had met at PRSS.

“For years I had been (drawn) to New Zealand. I thought I was going to go over there and fall in love with the country and find my soul-mate and never want to come back,” she said.

“It was so confusing for me because at the end of the trip I wanted to come home. The place that I had always imagined would be my heaven on earth still couldn’t be replaced by Prince Rupert.”

Ocean’s most recent international journey was to Europe, where she visited family in Sweden and tried to get in touch with her culture.

But still, Ocean says it’s Prince Rupert that provided her with the understanding of who she is. While she still plans to continue exploring the world, Ocean cannot envision calling anywhere but the North Coast her home.

“I cannot see living anywhere else just yet,” she said.