The downpour of the century was petering out by the time I arrived in British Columbia on Wednesday. An afterthought of drizzle served as the only reminder of the deluge that had left even long-time West Coast residents awestruck.
By Thursday, Vancouver was sunny and warm, and back to its regular rhythms.
I was in town for the annual Jack Webster Awards, a lively gala celebrating the excellence of one of the liveliest journalistic cultures in the country. I spent part of the dinner seated next to Charmaine Crooks, one of Canada's great Olympians and a mainstay in the organization for Vancouver's 2010 games. The rest of the evening, I chatted with Mike Harcourt, the gentlemanly former premier of an often rough-and-tumble province.
After we commiserated over the Cubs-Red Sox series that might have been, Mr. Harcourt held forth on the challenges facing Canada's cities. He's most worried about Toronto, which he feels badly needs help with financing and sustainability before it can take its rightful place in the ranks of top world cities. I reminded him that we had a similar conversation at the Websters a year earlier and that he had vowed to visit The Globe editorial board in Toronto.
"Instead, I took a swan dive," he replied with a hearty laugh.
By now, everyone knows how Mr. Harcourt slipped off the deck of his cottage last November and fell six metres, landing facedown and unconscious on the rocky beach below with a badly injured spine. What's less known is the story of his unbent spirit and can-do rehabilitation. On Thursday night, he showed up as a Globe guest at the dinner walking stiffly but without a cane. He worked the room like an old-time ward heeler. Well-wishers streamed over all evening.
Mr. Harcourt serves as something of a metaphor for the people he has represented as city councillor, mayor and premier. In a country replete with hard-luck stories this year -- severe acute respiratory syndrome, mad-cow disease, blackouts and hurricanes -- British Columbia is the hardest-luck case of all.
The interior continues to suffer from the decline of the traditional resource economy, most particularly forestry.
This summer, forest fires devastated large swaths of the province. Last week's floods could have come straight out of the Bible. Some higher power seems to be testing British Columbia's resolve.
Yet Mr. Harcourt is a symbol not so much of suffering as of West Coast resilience. And I heard that over and over from members of our B.C. bureau. The Globe employs 10 journalists in British Columbia, a fact that never fails to surprise local residents. Our bureau has specialists in business, the arts and sports in addition to general news reporters and an award-winning photographer.
Our B.C. team has had quite a year. Headed by bureau chief Rod Mickleburgh, it has done itself proud with its coverage of such stories as Gordon Campbell's drunk-driving arrest, the Air-India trial, the Pickton case, Vancouver's new safe-injection site, the intractable softwood lumber dispute, the tragic murder by their father of six children. And that doesn't include the avalanches, floods and fires.
Establishing our bona fides has always posed a challenge in a province renowned for thinking the rest of the country is 50,000 kilometres away. Last Sunday, reporter Wendy Stueck encountered a couple of Mounties controlling traffic at the Squamish flood zone. When informed she was a reporter with The Globe and Mail, they looked skeptical. They sent you all the way out here, they asked, assuming that she must have come from Toronto.
It may sometimes be hard to make our presence understood, but people seem to appreciate it once our reporters convince them that, yes, we are from The Globe and Mail and, yes, we do live in British Columbia. Mark Hume, a second-generation B.C. journalist who joined The Globe several months ago, treasures the memory of a midnight interview in an Okanagan vineyard this summer with residents forced to leave their homes. "I can't believe I'm being interviewed by The Globe and Mail," one woman exclaimed, describing the experience as surreal.
To Mark, it seemed as if his presence signalled that the rest of the country cared about her and her community's plight. Which is true.
For Jane Armstrong, the dignified reaction of Kelowna residents to the heart-breaking fires also brought home a message. She won't soon forget standing outside a local church as residents learned whether their homes had been destroyed. She talked to about half-a-dozen people who had just been told that all their belongings were lost.
Not one was sour or critical. They spoke of how lucky it was that no one had been killed, how possessions are easy to replace and how they intended to rebuild.
Rod found the same spirit in the Frasers, who had almost lost their daughter Karly to cancer and could certainly persevere over something as trifling as losing their material goods. However, they really missed their kitchen table because that's where they spent so much of their time together.
On Thursday evening, I asked the unrelentingly upbeat Mike Harcourt if he's ever felt bitter since his injury. He started to say no, and then recalled that on the first Monday after the accident, lying in intensive care, tubes sticking out all over the place, he had thought for a moment that his life might never be the same again. Then he mentally slapped himself three times and vowed to overcome his adversity.
Somehow, I think all British Columbians are seated around the kitchen table with Mr. Harcourt. Après la déluge, the province has a lot of fight left. And our reporters will be there to record the ups and downs, using their unique vantage point of local intimacy and national perspective to relate B.C.'s stories to readers from the Avalon peninsula to the Charlottes.