February 8, 2019 8:16 pm

Canmore ‘van lifers’ battle brutal cold

WATCH: A small community of Albertans who live out of their vehicles are helping each other stay warm in this frigid cold snap. Michael King reports.

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The bitter cold can cause issues for even the most prepared homeowners — but what if your home is a van?

That’s the reality for a small group of “van lifers” in Canmore.

Max Schmeider — an aspiring filmmaker from Germany — said he decided to live a more minimalist lifestyle and do so in a van.

While many of his van-dwelling counterparts drove south for the winter, Schmeider needed to stay in Canada to work.

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That meant dealing with the frigid temperatures of the Rocky Mountains.

“I had no problem at all, it was only -22 C,” said Schmeider. “That’s something I can battle. I know some others cannot so they seek shelter somewhere else.”

Schmeider’s customized van features a solar panel that can run the interior lights and charge his electronics. He even has a dual-screen monitor for video editing.

For heat, he relies on a gas heater that sips from the van’s tank.

Schmeider is not alone in his van-living lifestyle.

Depending on the week, anywhere between 25 and 100 people park their vans, RVs and trailers in a parking lot behind Canmore’s Save-On Foods grocery store.

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While overnight camping in this spot is against Canmore bylaws, the town does not enforce the rules. Schmeider said he’s never been bothered for long-term parking.

Cindy Chiperzak, administrator for the Homeless in Canmore Facebook page, said the community of van lifers help each other through even the toughest winters.

“If somebody has trouble with heating, there are people they can go to that can help them,” said Chiperzak. “They will teach them how to build a stove.”

Chiperzak added the way the community looks out for each other during the winter is inspiring.

“The sense of community is something that all of Canmore could take a lesson from.”

But despite having so much in common, socialising between residents is limited during the winter.

“It can’t be lonely because you just cannot hang out in front of your car,” Schmeider said. “[Other residents] don’t want to invade your personal space because it’s a fairly small space.”

A spokesperson with the town said it was evaluating the makeshift campsite and hopes of recommending a more permanent solution to town council in the spring.

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