Rural illusion, real prosperity

By Tom Read

This is Gillies Bay on a summer's day a few years ago, looking towards Courtenay-Comox. At night you would see the glow of city lights across the water.

In last week’s post I mentioned that I was getting ready for a trip to Vancouver to fix a troublesome tooth. Because I live on Texada Island full time and seldom travel, I started thinking about the relationship of rural Texada to its surrounding metropolitan region. (By the way, I’m happy to report that the root canal — my first, and maybe last — went quite smoothly, and that Linda and I quite enjoyed our brief immersion in the urban hive.)

Anyway, the leisurely pace of ferry travel while homeward bound gave me time to contemplate the many existing relationships that link Texada to the coastal cities of BC and beyond. To name just a few that came to my mind:

— Biologists from the University of British Columbia and various other universities have been coming to Texada for decades to study our isolated and therefore uniquely evolved stickleback (fish) populations in local lakes;

— Many young men and women who grew up on Texada began looking beyond the island for wider opportunities while commuting to high school in Powell River, and then left the local area altogether after graduation. I’ve met more than a few of these young adults who still think of Texada as “home” even while they live and work in cities around the country;

— Millions of tons of limestone have been mined and shipped from Texada to various urban locations in North America, and hundreds of limestone-based products (including cement, steel, paint, food, medicines and plastics) are manufactured far away, then shipped all over the world. A small percentage of those products find their way back to Texada for use by local residents.

We are connected to cities so intimately that it’s a challenge to find specific instances of our rural island being entirely on its own. Yet because it feels so remote most of the time, I think that many Texadans, myself included, can get lost in an illusion of local independence. The illusion is fed by Texada’s abundant natural beauty; it seems like we are living in a coastal rainforest wilderness thousands of miles from cities like Vancouver.  In fact it’s literally on the horizon, and on a clear night you can see the glow of city lights to the south, the west (Courtenay-Comox) and the northeast (Powell River).

For the entrepreneurial-minded, there are economic opportunities inherent in our close proximity to cities.  City people need our natural beauty, safety and solitude, which is why various forms of tourism have played an important role in our economic life here for many decades. City people obviously need our industrial raw materials, particularly minerals and timber. If we could add value to those gifts of nature ourselves, then city people would find good use for made-on-Texada manufactured goods. And my special favourite is food, which is something everyone needs, and that we could produce a lot more of on Texada should we so desire.

Even in the midst of global economic changes, Texada is well-positioned to serve the needs of surrounding cities. We are certainly close enough, and water transport is the most energy-efficient on the planet. Once upon a time some Texadans even routinely rowed small boats across the Strait to visit Powell River. Many valuable relationships are built on such physical proximity. I believe that if we look beyond our rural illusion, a systematic review of existing and potential off-island relationships could point the way toward a new, very real — and possibly more sustainable — prosperity here.

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January 2010
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