Spirit of Place: Growing into It
My childhood was extraordinarily idyllic. My father spent part of his youth in B.C.’s Chilcotin as a ranch hand and my mother, like so many girls, dreamed of horses. When they had children, they made the choice to live outside the city in what is now the large suburb of Delta but at the time was a reasonably small town with a rich history of fishing and farming, in a two-acre homestead in Port Guichon that we called home. The 13-room rambling antebellum was situated across from the south arm of the Fraser. Its massive farm-style kitchen rarely saw a meal without guests, though many were unexpected.
This had been the homestead of the Guichon family before my parents were captured by its bucolic charm. Early on, they ran a boarding stable and horse folk provided an endless loop of entertainment and affordable, if not entirely appropriate, babysitting. On Sundays my father would line the fence posts with martinis and on Mondays my mother would wonder why it was so tough to make ends meet.
The house was framed by lawns and mighty hedges in front, a fenced backyard that, in later years, included a pool, a riding ring and horse barn to one side and grazing pastures, complete with fruit trees, to the other. The river, an ever-present theme, lent an undeniable beauty blended with an industrial charm as the fishing community was literally at our doorstep.
To a five-year-old with the freedom to wander at will, this property was its own universe. Hours were spent imagining my realm to be everything from an alien planet to an ancient ruin. Our shed made a formidable castle and the hen house doubled brilliantly as a drive-in with a pick-up window. In his teens, my brother took a tiger torch to a massive blackberry thicket at the rear of the property and created a thorny labyrinth with rooms and passages. I shudder to think of my own child climbing the rooftops of that massive old house across which we scurried constantly.
My connection to this landscape was unyielding. Each hiding place was a friend to me. I understood, from among my earliest memories, the value of place and the importance of setting. The way in which environments shape us and our experience and the true value of home. No two days of my youth were anything alike and my creativity proved to be my most trusted companion. To this day I’m happiest in my head.
This pastoral upbringing didn’t betray my dark side. I’m a proverbial film brat. My father followed his short-lived career as a cowboy with a stretch in radio that led to his starting up a production company in Vancouver long before B.C. really knew what a production was.
While he was busy writing, producing and directing, my mother learned to edit and co-produced many of his early projects. Later she returned to school and joined a public relations firm. But her escape from film was brief and soon that familiar magnetic force drew her back into “the life,” this time as a publicist.
In his youth my brother, Rory, was hyperactive and hyper-intelligent. He stripped our Apple II computer down to its chassis and left the hubcaps spinning on the living room carpet before puberty set in. Mom was unimpressed. Until he reassembled it with no ill effect whatsoever.
I still have the letter he received from an explosives company. “Dear Roderick. Thank you for your enquiry. If you’d please provide your shipping address, we would be very happy to fill your order.”
He was 12. While it’s true that he had, like many six-year-old boys, wanted to become a fireman, there was a moment in time when all that shifted. Perhaps he just realized that starting fires for a living would be way more fun than extinguishing them. One year, when my parents were in production, Rory stumbled upon John Thomas’s Special Effects shop in back of Panorama Studio in West Vancouver. I’m sure it wasn’t seven seconds before he knew this was his destiny. He spent the entire summer back there as John’s youngest apprentice ever.
Then there was me. I’d been an extra in every film my father had ever made yet, much to my parent’s surprise, I had no interest in the space in front of the camera. I wasn’t drawn to film’s technical jobs either. As I came of age to enter the workforce, I found myself pinned at a crossroads. I knew that film was my home. After all, if I didn’t work in film, what the hell would I have to contribute at the Sunday dinner table? But where exactly did I belong?
Then one day there was a knock at our oversized front door that brought with it my answer. A personable young woman introduced herself to me and explained she was a location scout looking for a place to make a movie.
“You’re a what?” My ears perked up. She explained her job of finding locations for films as I listened in rapt amazement.
“They pay you for that?” I asked skeptically and was assured that was the case.
How could I have missed this? Those people I live with are keeping things from me. I began asking questions rapid fire. When I revealed to her that my family were all in the industry, she must have thought I was being held captive and had just broken free before opening the door to her. She grabbed some photos hastily and made good her escape lest I should trap her in a Vulcan mind meld.
My mind was blown. It had never occurred to me that there was a realm in film that would allow me to explore the whole world with the same lens through which I’d seen my childhood home. Despite my family business being make-believe, somehow I thought that being an adult would mean tempering or even abandoning my reverie. The notion of being paid to search for amazing places, to this day, almost 30 years later, still makes me think that I’m pulling off a truly awesome scam.
My career has taken me to many amazing places and given me unique glimpses of the world that most people never have the pleasure of experiencing. I’ve walked on the roof of BC Place stadium, flown over huge portions of British Columbia and peered into the depths of buildings, boats and dams. Some would argue that the job of Location Manager is highly administrative these days and they aren’t wrong. But I consider filing the paperwork to be the price of admission and, as often as not, the show is seriously spectacular.
My parents sold the family home many years ago now, remarkably returning it to the Guichon family in the process. Mom said that after Rory and I left they began to feel as if they should close off a wing or two. So they built themselves a float-home, carrying on with the river theme, and started a new chapter. I always love having the opportunity to drive out that way, especially with people who’ve never seen the property before. It’s still got the type of street appeal that realtors dream of, majestic in its stance, historical, somehow sagacious in its beauty.
My parents celebrated their 50th anniversary this past weekend. We hosted a small dinner in our backyard. Our place is nothing special, I admit. Just a suburban lot in another part of Delta, as it turns out. As our family reflected on all that 50 years of marriage can contain, I was struck by how truly unique and special a life I’ve led and how grateful I am to them for having commuted and paid for oil heat and kept horses and insisted steadfastly that 4260 River Road West was the only place to live. Because from where I’m sitting, they could not have been more spot on.
Kendrie Upton has been a Location Manager and DGC member in B.C. since 1986. She’s also taught in the field of locations throughout her career. Her father, Keith Cutler, is a past President of the DGC National as well as a Past Chair of the DGC B.C. District Council. He received the DGC Lifetime Service Award in 2004. He and his wife, Dixie, now live in Whiterock, B.C.
Photo Left: River Road West now. Kendrie Upton as a child. Author’s print of 4260 River Road West. All photos courtesy Kendrie Upton.