Waves of change are sweeping through Squamish. The transformation of this town is happening so quickly that it will likely be a very different place in three years.
Squamish historically was an old logging town with no access to Vancouver except by sea, an outport where people were remote from the rest of civilization. The building of the coastal road and train tracks changed that many years ago, but it remained a pit stop for travellers en route to Whistler. A decade ago, pricey improvements to the Sea to Sky Highway made daily commuting to the city possible, and Squamish has been evolving into a bedroom community where housing prices, though steep by Canadian standards, are still roughly half those of Vancouver’s. The lifestyle also draws new residents; Squamish is a stunningly beautiful place, a perfect place to hike, bike and climb.
Now Squamish is evolving again – into a tourist town. Not everyone will like it. The $25-million Sea to Sky Gondola, built last year, has already whisked more than half a million people up to its Summit Lodge and trails. And the Jim Pattison Group is planning a $150-million Great Wolf Lodge, a waterpark resort that will employ 670 people and provide fun escapes for about 400 families each night. While the plans are still tentative and the company needs to acquire more land before beginning 20 months of construction, council is already speaking of the development as if it’s likely to be built.
Meanwhile, we’re also waiting to hear the province’s environmental assessment decision for the 22,000-bed Garibaldi at Squamish project that would double the town’s size, if the district were to expand to include the resort. This is a $3.5 billion project, almost too massive to imagine. Downtown, the Oceanfront project, which was already approved, will bring a long-awaited development to the Nexen Beach waterfront.
The other major development in the works, the one that does not seem to match, is the possibility of a liquefied natural gas plant to be built on Howe Sound at Squamish and visible for the tourists coming to town.
It’s clear Squamish will soon be a tourist town. Even the district committee’s proposed new frame-like entrance signs reflect the evolution into a tourism destination, a place where visitors will be able to snap photos of themselves next to the word “Squamish.”
The secret is out and the tourists are on their way.
– Editor Christine Endicott