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Squamish: Canada's most 'non-religious' town

But statistics don't measure evolving nature of people's beliefs, nun says

Squamish is one of the least religious communities in Canada, according to a nationwide survey.

The Sea to Sky town and Campbell River earned the title of the most non-religious communities in Canada, after results of Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) were released last week.

While B.C. leads the way in Canada in the number of people who don't identify themselves with a religious institution, 55 per cent of Squamish residents checked the box for no religious affiliation - equating to 9,290 people.

People identifying themselves as Christian were the runners-up, with approximately 3,000 fewer survey participants placing themselves in that category. That was followed by Catholics, other Christian affiliations and Sikhs.

"In general, there has been a rise in those reporting as 'non-religious,'" said Jane Badets, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada.

Across the country, the number of Canadians who don't identify themselves with a religion has jumped by five per cent in the past 12 years - from 16 to 24 per cent. Those donning this cap tend to be younger, Badets noted, with the median age of people dubbing themselves "non-religious" at approximately 33 years old.

Squamish residents may not associate themselves with a religious institution, but Sister Claire Marie Rolf believes many are spiritual. The nun from the newly opened Queen of Peace Monastery in Squamish Valley said she seen a "spiritual hunger."

People from different backgrounds and beliefs visit the silent order's monastery for retreats or simply to enrich their lives, Sister Claire said.

"People are curious," she said.

New movements are encouraging understandings between religions, Sister Claire said. People aren't denying their difference, but there's a desire to build friendships, she noted.

In the 1950s and '60s, people went to church because it was a part of their culture, Sister Claire said. Today, the people who attend religious institutions are on a personal quest and very engaged, she noted, adding the rise and fall of statistics don't measure life and vitality.

"People don't really go anymore just to show off their Sunday hat," Sister Claire joked.