In the book Women of the West Coast: Then and Now, (a collection of stories about women who have shaped, and been shaped by, the west coast of Vancouver Island), there is a story that speaks strongly to me. It is the story of a woman named Maureen, and how she came to operate the popular Common Loaf Bake Shop in the village of Tofino, B.C. It is a story of serendipity and unwavering belief in the self and the soul’s wisdom. Allow me to paraphrase the story, as told by author Marnie Anderson, for you:
Maureen was a caseworker in inner-city Toronto when she decided to take a year off to travel and explore new directions in her life. She bought a van and made plans to drive west across Canada, then down to South America. Shortly before leaving, Maureen happened upon an article describing Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. She decided to go there.
“It was love at first sight,” writes Anderson of Maureen’s reaction to Tofino, B.C. The ocean inlet surrounded by mountains was “entirely soul satisfying.” Maureen stayed in Tofino for several days — long enough to learn that the village lacked a bakery — before continuing her travels. She spent a year in South America, but Tofino stayed with her.
“On a late summer day in a small village in Ecuador,” writes Anderson, “everything began to come together in Maureen’s mind. After months of travel and exploration, not the least of which were her own boundaries, she suddenly knew what she wanted to do with her life.”
Open a bakery in Tofino.
Maureen had no previous baking experience and no guarantees of success. Her family and friends thought her crazy. But she didn’t let these things sway her. She didn’t want to return to her job as a city caseworker. She had come to believe that there was something else she was meant to do in her life, and she trusted her instincts enough to act on that feeling.
Over the next several years, Maureen doggedly carved out her own success. She moved to Tofino, found a job cooking for a construction crew, and on her first day looked up the “recipe” for grilled cheese sandwiches. Months later she rented a room in a local arts centre and built a tiny bakery, renovating the space herself on a learn-as-you-go basis. Her first loaves of rye bread were, Anderson writes, “hard, brown little bricks, which she rather hesitantly offered for sale.” One friend dutifully bought a loaf every few days, later reasoning that “if he kept buying her products she would eventually learn to bake.”
Eventually, she did. Maureen patiently persevered, and by the early 1990s her bakery — relocated to a much larger space — offered an array of breads, cookies, loaves and muffins coveted by residents and tourists alike. A staff of 13 manned the counter, and the daily runs of cheese buns and cinnamon buns were often sold out by noon in the tourist season.
Maureen’s bake shop also became a meeting place for the “doers, thinkers and creative people” of the area, as well as an unofficial home base for the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, an environmental group that successfully protested logging operations on Meares Island and other coastal areas.
Maureen’s story, as told by Anderson, speaks of a woman with the strength of mind to trust (and act on) her own instincts — even if they initially appeared to lead her in bizarre or unexpected directions. Unlike many people in today’s fast-paced world, Maureen gave herself permission to take unstructured time off, during which she allowed her ideas and experiences to percolate at their own pace — a process that eventually led her to her life’s calling. Serendipity guided Maureen to Vancouver Island in the first place, but it was her own steadfast belief in both herself and the validity of her goals and dreams that kept her there.
This inspiring woman was ultimately able to find success according to her own definitions (the only definitions that really matter in the long run). Would that we could all be so fortunate in our own lives.