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Opinion: Seeing Squamish through the rearview mirror

From the vantage point of time and distance, it’s now easier to look at Squamish not as a better and worse version of itself, just a different one.
Paul demers24
Paul Demers and his partner, like many former Squamish residents, are enjoying life in Powell River.

“The highway is closed south of town again,” my partner says.

“Oh no, an accident?” I ask.

“Yup. No details yet. I hope it’s no one we know.”

We never say, “Highway 99” or “Squamish,” but we both know that is what we’re talking about. Although it’s been almost two years since we left for Powell River, having lived there for 27 and 31 years, respectively, makes Squamish always feel a part of us. It’s a kind of residential “phantom limb syndrome” — that part of you that never goes away even when you do.

Given that I lived in Squamish three times longer than anywhere in my life, I guess it’s not unusual to stay in touch even after leaving. It’s not that we regret our decision to leave or that we want to return, but the contacts and connections we have there will never completely dissolve.  

The words ‘habitation’ and ‘habit’ come from the same root, and I find myself following developments in Squamish almost as closely as I did when I lived there and even more closely than I do Powell River. I peruse The Chief’s Facebook page and website regularly and receive updates from The Squamish Reporter in my email. I follow news of the successes of Squamish athletes, and stop to read any feature about Squamish in international and national news. I also pay attention to the current events in town, which boil down to housing, development, the overdose crisis, crime, and the cost of living. In this respect, Squamish can be renamed “Anytown, B.C.”

But what makes Squamish so fascinating for me is how profoundly and quickly it changed. For the first 20 years I lived there, change and growth were incremental. Looking back at a column I wrote for the now-defunct Sea-to-Sky Voice in March of 2000, I lamented the slow pace of development in Squamish:

“I had envisioned spending the summer of 2000 battling for a place in the outdoor cafés. I had thought I would find myself sitting by European tourists in a downtown plaza, hearing praise for our charming community. I had planned romantic evening walks along the boardwalk and busy Saturday morning markets at The Artisan Village.”

And I think I continued those laments for another decade before things blew up. And with that explosion, things I had yearned for showed up: funky coffee shops, micro-breweries, public amenities and a new group of people who saw Squamish not for what it had been but for what it offered. Suddenly, Squamish’s population was young (currently five years younger than the provincial average) and wealthy (a household income 30% greater than the average for B.C.). But change brings its own set of issues, and with all the vibrancy came busyness, traffic, and a perceived sense of loss of community.

From the vantage point of time and distance, it’s now easier to look at Squamish not as a better and worse version of itself, just a different one.

I still look forward to my visits and to being one of those tourists sitting on a patio, commenting on how charming a place it really is.

Paul Demers is a retired teacher and former Squamish resident now living in Powell River.