Change is Coming
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
I know I am lucky. I live in arguably one of the nicest places in the world. Certainly, it is one of the nicest in Canada. The town I call home is the small community of White Rock, a beach town located on the sheltered Boundary Bay (or Semiahmoo of the first nations people) on the Pacific Ocean. White Rock was named after the gigantic pure white boulder that resides on the beach just above the high tide line. Romantic first nation legends surround the presence of the rock – which is the only one like it in the region.
I was born not far from here, and I grew up in the area. But as it goes, it wasn’t until I was an adult and I had lived in a variety of other cities around North America, that I realized how nice it was at home. The town was quiet in those days, populated by middle-class people who wanted to be there because of the beach, the natural surroundings, and the arts community. There was a strong arts scene in White Rock – it was far enough from Vancouver that the artists could live there inexpensively and be inspired by the natural beauty surrounding them. Hippies, artists, crabbers and commercial fishermen, old-timers, and the occasional biker made up an interesting tapestry of the local community fabric. These characters lived together as neighbours in balance and mostly harmony. They didn’t always get along, but they managed.
In those days you could walk on the beach for an hour, only seeing one or two other people. Seals, whales, and salmon could often be seen in the water not far off shore. The wildlife is mostly still there, but unfortunately, White Rock was discovered. It was discovered by wealthy urbanites, looking to escape from their reality of crowded cities, associated noise, and poor air quality. Looking to escape the expensive real estate prices of cities, during an explosion of international travel and business, they came from around the world. They bought up the small, quaint beach houses, sometimes 2 or 3 at a time. To them, the houses were cheap, so why not take a few? The inevitable happened. Demand outpaced supply and prices quickly went up. Soon, only the wealthy could afford to live in White Rock. Today, the little beach houses are long gone, replaced by modern glass and stainless steel. The VW vans and hippies have been replaced by expensive European SUVs and yuppies. The artists that gave the community its vibe have been forced out, replaced by chic galleries displaying artists from around the world. Small businesses now closed; the new residents have no ties and would prefer to shop at the luxury big box stores out by the freeway instead.
I’m lucky; I got to live here when it was still really cool. I’m lucky; I bought an old house 20 years ago. I’m lucky; I stand to profit when I sell. But somehow it just seems bittersweet. I could go on, but it’s not so happy now is it?
Thankfully, there are areas near me that are still like the White Rock of old. I just spent the last couple of days in one. It is called Blank Island, off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island near a city called Nanaimo. The island is truly isolated; there is a small passenger and car ferry that runs a few times per day making the 30-minute run with predictable unpredictability. Sometimes the weather might be too rough to cross, other times the ferry crew might be short-staffed. Either way, the last ferry is at 11:00 pm so if you don’t make that one, you don’t get home. This has led to a much slower pace of life there. The year-round population of Blank Island is around 4000 people, roughly doubling in the summer months. The artist community is respected and remains healthy. Housing is cheap compared to everywhere else in greater Vancouver and as a result, the artist community thrives. Per capita, there are more artists living on there than anywhere else in Canada – it is known as the island of the arts.
Some would say it’s behind the times, I’d say it’s pretty darned nice the way it is. But even on Blank, change is coming. Technology is making inroads but in a different way. The locals utilize the internet to access markets far beyond their physical reach, selling unique art, food products, and goods too many to mention. The cost of bringing power to an off-grid lot might be far greater than a solar array that can do the same job. There is waste to energy, biodiesel, water desalination, and a variety of interesting ways for people to live and thrive with a lower impact on the land. It appears to be close to a circular economy. The people of the Southern Gulf Islands of BC are finding a way to maintain their way of life by using the best of technology with a minimal impact on the planet. While there are too many people on the planet for us all to live on remote islands, this manner of thinking about how we live in the world is something more of us should consider.