“Here on the Coast:” a masterful tapestry of stories

Howard White intersperses fascinating BC history with his own personal recollections

The renowned author shares a slice of life. Photo courtesy of Harbour Publishing

By: Kyla Dowling, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Here on the Coast is a collection of essays. Any references to the book as a novel have been corrected.

Being from Ontario, I’ve never known much of BC outside of the SFU campus. Howard White’s stories from his upcoming collection of essays Here on the Coast: Reflection from the Rainbelt gave me a humorous — and often moving  — view of the Sunshine Coast. From the dreamlike descriptions of the “Eighth Wonder of the World” (Princess Louisa Inlet) to the strikingly familiar cast of zany characters, it all far surpassed my expectations of the Coast. I read the collection of semi-connected stories in one sitting, unable to put it down. At the end, I found it hard to remember that I was physically in Toronto. My mind was 4,500 miles away, stuck on stories of mountaineering journeys, trucks falling off of the ferry, and loggers who made surprisingly profound poets. 

In Here on the Coast, White does a remarkable job of blurring the lines between the far past, his own past, and the present. A frank discussion of how parts of the Sunshine Coast were named after an 1800s explorer’s ten favourite racehorses is followed by a 1950s-era anecdote about the chaotic tendencies of trees. After that, White veers into modern territory, discussing his pitiful attempts at gardening, his trouble understanding technology, and how he flooded his office by trying to install a dishwasher. 

All that is written within the first section of five, aptly titled “A Non-Place on the Map.” The title is accurate, given both the geographical confusion of what exactly the Sunshine Coast is and the fact that every little community along the coast of BC refers to itself as the one true coast. Despite these battling claims as to which monsoon-rich shore is the best, readers from all along the West Coast will find something familiar in these pages. In this collection of 50 unique stories, there is something for everyone: an ode to outhouses, the tale of Pender Harbour’s best doctor (who had many a child named after him), a compelling testament to cats, or an honest soliloquy about climate change. 

My personal favourite of all the anecdotes? “Muse in Caulk Boots,” a lovely remembrance of White’s Aunt Jean, who strictly asked White not to write about her after her passing. Luckily for us readers, he did. Within a single short essay, he writes about fragments of her life, and how she taught him the art of storytelling. He explains it as “scientifically enlarging facts by shifting them along in the direction they want to go anyway.” That is the heart of this book — White marginally stretching the truth to create a compelling read that you can’t put down, full of humour, candidness, and the spirit of the West Coast. 

Here on the Coast will be published on March 27, 2021. You can buy it from major book retailers.