This right here is the maiden voyage for my Columbia Valley Origins column. The idea is to spotlight individuals in the Columbia Valley who’ve moved here from different countries. Questions asked will include: How, why and when did you arrive? What do you love about living here? What is your occupation, and what are your hobbies? If you know of anyone who would like to be profiled, send me an email: James@columbiavalleypioneer.com.
Name: Haru Watanabe
Hometown: Saitama, Japan
Occupation: Accounting Technician, Digney & Co.
Columbia Valley arrival: 2002
So strong was Haru Watanabe’s ambition to become a ski bum. It propelled him across the Pacific Ocean to the B.C. mountains. He first learned to ski in Japan, where, yes, his ski bum ambitions could just as well have been realized. “But I wanted to be a ski bum in a country where my parents didn’t live,” he said, laughing.
“At a Tokyo ESL fair, there was a very friendly lady from Selkirk College that sold me on making the move to Canada,” Haru first landed at Selkirk College’s Castlegar campus, where he spent a year studying English. Of course, he bought a season’s pass to Red Mountain. After that first year, he enrolled in Selkirk College’s Ski Resort Operations & Management Program in Nelson. And he bought a season’s pass to Whitewater Ski Resort. “The final half-year of the program at Selkirk was a co-op work placement. Panorama hired me, and that’s how I ended up here,” Haru said.
When his co-op finished, he was offered to stay on at Panorama with a one-year work permit. Fun fact: local realtor Geoff Hill and Panorama’s Risk and Safety Manager Ryan Stimming were in the same class as Haru and also came to Panorama by way of the same co-op job placement. Panorama’s current president and CEO, Steve Paccagnan, is also an alumnus of Selkirk’s Ski Resort Operations & Management Program.
“My dream was to ski in Canada, and I didn’t want to be in a big area like Whistler or Lake Louise.” He wanted to live in a small town, and Invermere fit the bill perfectly. “The lake and the mountains did it,” he said. Living an active lifestyle has always been an important part of Haru’s life. Before the pandemic, he was into doing triathlons. So much so that he went the distance and completed the 2017 Coeur d’Alene Ironman. When he’s not skiing, he rides mountain bikes, road bikes, and fat bikes. And when he’s not biking, he’s likely camping with his wife Haruka in their Boler trailer.
Another passion of his is eating really good food. When the pandemic hit, he and his wife started posting to social media their nightly meals. “A lot of our friends had been asking what we liked to eat, so we thought we’d start sharing our creations on Instagram.” On @haruatinvermere you can find an incredible array of images showcasing traditional Japanese cooking. “For anyone who wants recipes, I’m happy to share,” he said. “The [Columbia Valley] is so friendly and accepting, I love it here.”
James Rose, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer