She came to Port Edward in 2010 looking live a simple life with her son and partner and the pair of sheep they brought with them from Cape Breton, but a burnt out headlight threw a wrench in their plans.
Karen Buchanan grew up on the East Coast and became – in her words — enchanted by a man who lived in a tree. He was from Texas, and post 9-11, when he was 19 years old he crossed the border to live in Canada.
Together, they lived in a big cedar, with netting to throw a bag on and nothing else.
“I was young,” she said with a smile and a shake of her head that has her purple hair dance around her face.
Later, when they had Sage and he was four, they took a van with a trailer, for the two sheep, and drove west aiming to stay at a horse ranch in Alberta. When they got there, the temperature was -40 Celsius and Sonny wanted to keep going to B.C. for the mild above zero temperatures on the coast.
They found Port Edward.
“This guy was allowing people to do whatever they wanted on his land. So we negotiated with him to be able to stay there and homestead, it was right on the ocean, a big south facing mountain but it turned out tragically,” Buchanan said.
The couple went to pick up a greenhouse from Smithers, she was pulled over for having a burnt out headlight and the police asked Sonny for his ID. When the officer realized he was living in Canada illegally, he was deported and separated from his family.
Buchanan tried to join him across the border but she was considered an immigration risk and denied entry. They debated on what to do and the next logical step was to move to Hyder and Stewart. The northern community straddles the U.S. – Canada border, with no U.S. border inspection station.
They tried to homestead in the wilderness for a while, but risks of bears — there is an annual Bear Festival in August — brought them closer to the sparsely populated northern towns.
“There are pictures of Sage and I on the bike in the wintertime crossing the border. We’d bike back and forth. Sonny made us a wooden wagon because Sage was so little and I’d take supplies and Sage,” she said.
For two years she worked as a waitress in Stewart, Sonny worked at a bar. But the next adventured awaited, and they bought a sailboat. Sonny moved to Juneau, Alaska, and Buchanan took Sage to Prince Rupert, the Canadian city with the closest ferry point.
Back and forth, mother and son will take the Alaskan ferry to visit Sonny.
But her life is here in Prince Rupert, where she has spent the past few years adding splashes of her creativity and values to the community.
“I’ve been involved in trying to spearhead a lot of things that weren’t happening here, things I value in life,” she said. “It’s altruistic to make the city better for everyone but that’s the type of city I desire to be in.”
Last week, she offered hot coffee and treats to bikers at the Bike to Work Week celebration station outside of Javadotcup. She’s been involved with the initiative since it started in the city four years ago.
She works as a literacy practitioner for non-profit groups and her additional talents have lead her to volunteer with various societies in the community.
To name a few one of the founders of the Kaien Fusion of Fashion, Culture and Dance show.
“I think we’re all here, and hopefully we have the passion alive in us, that flame, inspiration and once and a while we just fan each other’s flames,” she said on why she wanted to bring a fashion arts show to the North Coast.
She is also part of the Salmonberry Trading Co. Society, which held farmers’ markets on the courthouse lawn, and with her university education in theatre, she was the stage manager for the last community musical “Rock of Ages.”
The self-described Renaissance woman makes soaps, knits, stitches her own threads and is currently developing her poi dancing skills, a Maori tradition (New Zealand) that involves dancing with balls on ropes. Her goal is to add fire to her dance and turn it into a public performance that she can take with her as a busker around the world.
This summer, she plans to visit Lasqueti Island to learn more about poi dancing and maybe even add fire to her performance.
From tree living to fire dancing Buchanan adds a certain flare to Rupert’s eclectic community.