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Heart of our city: Clouds just fine for Heloise Viviers

The weather in Prince Rupert makes it the perfect home for Heloise Viviers. - Martina Perry photo
The weather in Prince Rupert makes it the perfect home for Heloise Viviers.
— image credit: Martina Perry photo

Prince Rupert's wet and cloudy climate is a mild irritation for some, but for Heloise Viviers and her family it's the reason they fought to stay here.

"There aren't a lot of places like Prince Rupert. It was a blessing to find this place," Heloise said.

Prince Rupert became a haven for the Viviers family, consisting of Heloise, her parents John and Maggie, and brother Dominic, in the late '90s. Everyone in the family, aside from Maggie, suffers from porphyria, a rare genetic skin disorder that makes them allergic to direct sunlight.

"Being allergic to sun is not easy. It's hard for people to understand you when you yourself don't understand what's wrong with you. Porphyria is different in every individual," Heloise said.

Before coming to the North Coast, the Viviers resided in Vereeniging, South Africa. Heloise said life was "uneventful" there as the hot climate prevented the family from leaving the house. At the time, Heloise's father was experiencing the height of porphyria symptoms, which she said caused him to have seizures. Life in South Africa was extremely hard for the family and Heloise said she doesn't have a lot of good memories in her family's home country.

The family researched communities with a less sunny climate and came across Prince Rupert. When Heloise was 10 years old the family came to the community on vacation and quickly became attached to it.

"It was different for us to finally be able to go outside and be out for more than five minutes," Heloise said.

"It's a lot of work to immigrate ... but once my parents saw that it was different for us and we could go outside and be normal, essentially, we wanted to stay here and start our lives."

But Immigration Canada didn't allow the Viviers to stay in Canada, which set off a series of appeals and court dates.

"We fought for a long time with Immigration to stay here," Heloise said, adding it was financially straining on the family.

"For a long time my parents couldn't work, so for them to come up with money to pay fees and lawyers and keep reapplying was really difficult."

It wasn't until 2004 that the Viviers got legal status, receiving a two-year residency permit. Heloise and Dominic were then allowed to attend school, which was terrifying for Heloise who hadn't been in school in years and had done home schooling back in South Africa.

"When we finally went to school it was different. It had been almost seven years since I had been in school. That environment was so overwhelming at times because there were so many people around me," she said, adding it was the biggest change for her.

"You're so isolated in the home school environment. I wasn't used to interacting with other people."

Heloise's anxiety about attending school wasn't lessened by people's constant questions, triggered by a number of articles about the family's legal battles in various newspapers.

In 2006, Heloise's last year in high school, the family was finally allowed to apply for permanent residency, being eligible for Canadian citizenship in 2011.

"It was nice to be able to take a breath and finally start life in Canada ... it's great to know you're not going to get kicked out at the drop of a hat," said Heloise.

"There were a lot of hurdles for us to climb over and it was a long process. We just got our permanent residency about two years ago. From the time that I was 10 until about 22, my family was battling to stay here."

For Heloise, knowing Prince Rupert was her home was life changing.

"I consider it the biggest highlight. [It's really nice] living in a community where people really accept you," she said.

Since graduating in 2007, Heloise has worked at the Prince Rupert Daily News and The Source before moving on to Reitmans where she is currently store manager.

Heloise is also working toward getting a degree in psychology by taking courses at Northwest Community College. She recently applied for online courses at Thompson River University which would start in September.

"I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a really good experience for me," she said, adding the online courses will allow her to remain in Prince Rupert.

"I love it here and have no intention of moving away."

Heloise enjoys working with the public and with children in particular.

"I went through a lot as a child, so I can relate to issues kids might have with trying to fit in, having anxiety or family issues," she said.

"I really hope to work in the school district for awhile while I get my experience. My ultimate goal is to open my own practice."

Outside of school and work, Heloise has a passion for writing. She even has two published books: A novel and a poetry book.

"I really like to write; It's something I want to pursue in the future," she said.

But the obstacles aren't clear yet. At 25, Heloise is now in the peak of her conditions, meaning she is more susceptible to its symptoms, including seizures.

"It's getting worse every year and I can only do so much to control the condition from making me really sick."

Despite her daily struggles, Heloise remains optimistic with life.

"I feel like there are still a lot of hurdles to come with my condition getting worse. It's a lot to deal with at times, but I manage. I'm just like everyone else. I'm just a normal person, or at least try to be."

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