As a tourist town, there’s little question that Squamish is… shall we say, rough around the edges. The long-inactive industrial sites, the unoccupied store fronts and the vacant commercial parcels, especially those in the downtown core, provide irrefutable evidence that we’re no Whistler — or even, for that matter, Fernie, Rossland or Revelstoke.
But things are happening here on the tourism front, and we’re not just talking about the scheduled May 2014 opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola. Our town was just voted by the readers of a popular biking magazine as the best place to ride in Canada. We’re getting lots of publicity through attractions such as the Britannia Mine Museum and West Coast Railway Heritage Park (see ya next time, Rick!). It’s also likely that — council willing — Squamish is getting set to host a world-famous outdoor art extravaganza, and with any luck and/or negotiating skill, the development of one of those former industrial sites into an attractive residential/commercial/recreational/light industrial neighbourhood could be just around the corner.
Yes, we don’t want to be just a tourist town. We already have an education sector, but we also need forestry/light industrial/high tech/commercial transport jobs to support our economy and provide tax revenue to meet the needs of a town that’s expected to double in size by 2030.
It’s true that most tourism jobs (save for the managerial positions) don’t provide those benefits to the same degree. But face it: We’re partly a tourist town already. The evidence is all around you: the growing number of sports and musical events, our place as a “mecca” for biking, wind sports and climbing and the number of people being lured off the highway for the likes of eagle-watching float trips all make that abundantly clear.
And, by the way, who cares if Squamish never achieves the same “tourist town” status that Whistler and Vancouver enjoy? We just want to be what we are: a town with a celebrated logging history that still works hard while offering a myriad of natural and manmade attractions. Rough around the edges? Most recent surveys have shown that increasingly, travellers are looking for authenticity. What could be more authentic than empty shops and the odd vacant lot?
For all those who’ve said the time and money being spent on the recently launched “branding” exercise is a frivolous waste, is it possible that in actual fact, the timing couldn’t be better?
— David Burke