To find one’s passions and align them with your day-to-day work is a lifelong dream for many.
A few years ago, Thanu Eagalle took a bold leap and combined her passions to create the business Wild Bee Florals, intersecting her interests in community, collaboration, art, regenerative agriculture and even insect diversity.
Eagalle grows seasonal flowers in Courtenay that she sells in bouquets and arrangements through floral subscriptions, events, and community partnerships. She began the venture part-time in Vancouver, growing and selling flower subscriptions and flowers at pop-up markets while working for a non-profit and completing a graduate program in museum education (her second; the first was in evolutionary biology).
“Eventually, what led me back to flowers was burnout,” she says. Eagalle set a goal to spend more time with flowers. When she lost her job during the pandemic, she and her partner Aaron, a land surveyor, decided to move to the Comox Valley where she could focus on Wild Bee Florals full-time (wildbeeflorals.com).
“I think it was going to the [Comox Valley] Farmers’ Market and eating this chocolate almond croissant that just sealed the deal for me,” Eagalle says with a laugh. “I just felt so welcomed by everyone I had a conversation with.”
The embrace they received from people in the Valley is something she hopes every new resident receives. One of her neighbours generously allows Eagalle to grow flowers on their land to bring the total growing area to an acre – gratitude for which Eagalle has a difficult time putting into words. They are working together to create a space in Dove Creek to welcome their local community.
The Welcoming Communities Coalition asked her about the welcoming she received when she moved to Ontario as a child with her younger sister and parents. Her family left Sri Lanka in 1999 in the midst of what would be a decades-long civil war. She says it wasn’t uncommon to hear about bombings, or to see images of violence and death in the local news. Her mom’s workplace, the Central Bank of Ceylon, was bombed twice before they emigrated.
As a nine-year-old, Eagalle says she was hyper-focused on her lunches and the aromas that were unfamiliar to many Canadian schoolchildren. “I was very interested in Lunchables.”
Her parents applied for jobs in their fields, but there were challenges – they spoke English, but with an accent. She clearly remembers her dad shaving his beard before job interviews – the dark humour within the Sri Lankan community being that with a beard, the men would be mistaken for terrorists.
One of the ways in which her parents helped Eagalle and her sister settle into Ontario was to prioritize fun family outings on the weekends to explore their new country and home.
“They were able to show my sister and I these different experiences – show us the world in a way – by working really intensely.”
Her family maintained a connection with Sri Lanka by visiting every four years or so. In 2016, Eagalle’s parents sold their home in Ontario and bought land in central Sri Lanka where they have built an eco-resort.
“[Sri Lanka] has come a long way now, so I’m pretty proud of how far it’s come … There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of equality and things like that but I’m happy to see the progress,” Eagalle says.
In addition to developing authentic connections and collaborations (for example, with local cake makers and photographers), Eagalle says she loves experimenting with new flowers, which recently include alstroemeria from seed and eryngium for dried bouquets.
“Every time a new floral crop blooms I get so stoked.”
As most farmers will attest to, farming is intense and constant, and demands resilience. For Eagalle, the opportunities for creativity, curiosity and finding joy motivated the decision to change careers, and haul dahlia tubers and dried flowers across the Strait of Georgia.
“I think you have to really figure out who you are,” she says. “And that’s a constant thing, but really pay attention to what makes you feel alive and empowers you.”
This article is the final in a March-long series contributed by The Immigrant Welcome Centre’s Welcoming Communities Coalition that shares the experiences of newcomer entrepreneurs in the Comox Valley. The coalition is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Listen to more of Thanu Eagalle’s story at holdingheritage.com or download the episode from Holding Heritage wherever you get your podcasts.