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New book of poetry reflects on Squamish and Britannia Beach as they are and were

'If, When' by Bren Simmers looks back to her Sea to Sky ancestry and delves into timely issues of belonging, bears — and the ubiquitous Patagonia jacket.

Holding the grey soft-cover book of poetry creates a feeling only quality print can provide — thick pages that take work to turn. Well, "work" if compared to the effort we have all become used to with the finger scroll online or even the flip of glossy pages.

Crack it open and Bren Simmers' newly released collection of poetry If, When is a Sea to Sky journey.

The poems, like the pages, are of the here and now, but they also have an old-timey English lit quality about them. 

For those who delight in the work of wordsmiths, the poems take a unique but familiar trip through Britannia Beach back in the day, through local forests, alongside (and inside) a bear, and through Squamish to Paradise Valley.

The poems link Simmers’ experience living in Squamish with those of her great-grandparents, who lived in Britannia Beach a century ago. 

They blend historical facts with imagination. 

"The story of my great-grandfather Dinty working at the mine is a very true story," she said. "He immigrated over from Scotland and got hired as a miner there and worked there from before the war. Then, he fought in World War One and came back and worked there for a few more years before he moved away. My great-grandmother was born there and grew up there." 

Simmers did a lot of archival research into the history of the area before writing the poems, she said. 

"Then, based on the details that I knew, I let myself hear their voices." 

In the poem, "The night you were born," she channelled her great-grandmother Isabella in 1912. 

"I used to live in a stone house and now? Married to a miner and a mountain stream.”

Other poems are more modern-day. 

The amusing "Hikers and Patagucci," reads: 

"Count the Patagonia jackets, Thule roof racks outside the boutique grocer. No panhandlers, 

just Subaru owners pulling a Squamish: 

trail ride at first light, then brunch

while the rock face heats up, beer

for the post-climb swim at Brohm Lake." 

Simmers originally came to Squamish to work at the Cheakamus Centre in 2013. 

She left Squamish in late 2016 for an artist-in-residence position in Harrison Hot Springs and then moved to PEI for her husband's job. 

The poem "My Squamish is not your Squamish," highlights the old and new Squamish divide and is based on locals Simmers met while living in Brackendale and working in the valley.

In it, she references — without naming — several locals, including former Squamish mayor Patricia Heintzman and her ukelele. 

Former Squamish councillor Meg Fellowes is also quoted.

"The quotes in here are from various people. The first quote is from an old-timer I used to work with at Cheakamus Centre; the next quote is from a woman whose husband was a logger," Simmers said. "Meg Fellowes doesn't know this, but there's a quote where she said something to the effect of: 'Blue collar, white collar, pink collar, green collar. We need to find a way to talk to one another." 

There's also a quote from a cook Simmers worked with in Paradise Valley. 

"I took all these voices from people I was working with or engaged with in some way in the community, and I put them together in conversation to let them sit there and talk to each other," Simmers said. 

Tsawaysia Spukwus (Alice Guss) is thanked in the acknowledgments. 

The two both worked at the Cheakamus Centre at the same time. Simmers would take part in Spukwus' cultural programs wherever she could, including one particular dance that wound up having a significant impact.

"[Spukwus] pointed at me and said, 'You are going to be a bear, because bears are protectors.' and it just really resonated with me to think of bears as something that would protect the environment....It just flipped my thinking. That ferocity that we associate with them is a ferocity for protecting their young and what they love — and survival. If we think of them as stewards of the Earth, they take on a metaphorical level that way." 

Simmers' has authored three other books of poetry: Pivot Point, Night Gears, and Hastings-Sunrise. 

 If, When is available from its publisher, Gaspereau Press or can be ordered at your favourite independent bookstore.