Last week I travelled to Campbell River to visit friends (and eat fish!). As always, the trip provided a peek into other communities, a chance to see how they’re adapting to economic changes.
Campbell River, once an industrial town, is impressively re-inventing itself. The closure of their sawmill and pulp mill (and a subsequent, significant loss of their tax base) forced them into a transition. Just like Nelson in the 1980s. Tourism is now a major industry, as is attracting retirees. With the help of senior government grants, they’re investing in forest trails and seashore walks, on festivals and cultural amenities.
New housing developments and large retailers are popping up all around the edges of the city. Of course, the whole Island is booming and building, but Campbell River, with its lovely setting, may be the final frontier. Further north, the weather is not so nice!
The focus on tourism is widespread these days. A lot of towns are counting on and investing in this economic base, some even becoming official resort municipalities. I wonder how sustainable this sector is as energy prices rise and the climate changes.
And I wonder if there’s no future in rural BC for industry (large and small) and its stable, well-paid jobs. On Salt Spring Island, their homegrown coffee company (fair-trade, carbon-neutral) was denied a rezone so it could expand. People were afraid of “industrial sprawl.” Now the company’s new plant employs 65 people in Richmond.
The dependence on tourism is worrisome — how many spas, markets, artisan studios, art galleries, golf courses, whale watching tours, etc. can be sustained? How many people can actually make a year-round, livable wage from these endeavours?
It made me extra glad that council at our last meeting approved a resolution to go forward to the UBCM convention. The resolution asks the provincial government to review the forest tenure system — i.e., the structures and regulations that govern how our forests are used.
For example, once upon a time, the right to harvest forests was tied to the responsibility to support local communities by processing logs locally. That no longer applies, and so struggling communities watch, with frustration and anger, as whole logs are exported, creating jobs in Asia. Since those trees belong to the Crown (i.e., the people), it’s disgraceful that more benefits aren’t derived here.
A change in the tenure system might bring some hope back to many rural communities like, well, Hope who appear to be hurting, judging by empty storefronts and the general feel of those places.
Likewise, what does the future hold for the fishing and agricultural industries? It’s a bit sad, on the Island and in the Okanagan, to see food-producing land converted to grapes and hops. We’re doing something wrong when food producers can’t make a living and turn to making wine.
I am really grateful that, like any healthy ecosystem, Nelson has evolved a healthy diversity. We must continue to nurture that, keeping our eyes on trends that may make the future quite unlike the past.
And, yes, I did eat lots of fish!