Local author proves you can go home again
Growing up, Mette Bach felt more like a casualty of 1980s Lower Mainland suburbia than a would-be survivor of it. Immigrating from Denmark as a child, she landed in North Delta, then a small community known for a dump and a bog. She also arrived in time to witness her new hometown’s troubling transformation into a land ripe for big-box development, and hobbled by culture clashes and racism. North Delta became a haven for some, but a hell for others.
For most of her life, Bach (a former WE contributor) counted herself among the latter group. But at age 33, and with the gift of hindsight, she’s mined her past for buried treasure. Off the Highway (to be released next month as part of New Star Books’ B.C.-focused Transmontanus series) is Bach’s first book. A work of creative non-fiction that’s part memoir and part historical text, it boasts a surprising revelation: North Delta is just as deeply layered as its beloved Burns Bog.
What prompted you to write Off the Highway?
Bach: A few years ago, I started to understand the fight to preserve Burns Bog, and how crucial it is for all of us in terms of biodiversity, that what’s left of the bog gets to remain conservation land. When I heard about the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and that it would run alongside Burns Bog, I needed to go back to my old stomping grounds to try to make sense of what was happening in the place where I grew up.
The book feels like equal parts memoir and social anthropology. Why approach the history of your community from that angle?
I’m not a developer, investor, or planner, so I’m not in a position to stop more development from happening. But what I have is a voice. I’m capable of saying, “I object,” and looking at the history of development and urban sprawl in order to make a point. In a way, it’s kind of my folk song. I don’t sing or play acoustic guitar, so I had to write a book.
Were you nervous about how your family and friends would react to the personal anecdotes?
Of course. It’s terrifying to risk that people I love might not be happy with the way I portrayed them. I told everyone about the book and nobody asked to see a draft before publication. I’m really honoured that the folks in my life trusted me to tell the story as I saw it.
Has Vancouver’s close proximity to North Delta had a negative or positive impact on its development?
North Delta is its own unique place, but it’s also intimately connected to all other suburbs in North America, in that there’s a kind of placelessness about it. Cities get to have identities. Suburbs are meant to play second fiddle. In North Delta’s case, that meant being the place where Vancouver dumped its trash and filtered its sewage.
The book touches on so many things that are intrinsic to the Lower Mainland, yet totally universal: development, multiculturalism, suburban alienation. What do you hope your readers take away?
My main hope is that people enjoy the stories and feel inspired by the good things that are happening. The Burns Bog Conservation Society, for example, is fighting a good fight. I was really interested in showing the resistance movements in North Delta because of the common attitude that many people have in the big city — that people in suburbs aren’t critical or informed. I was guilty of that attitude myself for many years, but it’s foolish and totally untrue.