It just recently got to the point where “how did you find Powell River” is sounding less like “who let you in here?” than “Yay, you found it too”. This small hard-to-get-to coastal BC town (4.5-hour car/bus/2-ferry trip to Vancouver) has taken quite a few steps toward relocalization over the past 6 years my partner and I have lived here.
With the town’s industrial raison d’être – a huge paper mill – dramatically downsizing in the 1980’s and beyond, it could have gone badly for Powell River. One reason we big-city dwellers moved here was to shift to a simpler lifestyle in a tighter community where we could join other like-minded people to effect change for the better. The idea in our mind was that ‘you have to make the place where you live the place where people like you want to live’. Powell River seemed like an odd choice to some; yes, its rugged beauty is undeniable, but that mill nearby does scare away certain types. The regional population of around 20,000, includes several islands, neighbourhoods, and communities like the regional First Nations community of Tla’Amin, end-of-the-roaders in Lund (Hwy 101 starts/ends there), and varying degrees of rural from Wildwood, to the more urban Townsite, Cranberry, Westview and semi-rural South of Town to the BC Ferry terminal at Saltery Bay.
But I’d say that ‘local’ means a lot to a relatively small, active core of maybe 200-300 individuals from all over (including long-time residents and American ex-patriots), who continue to grow to shift the economy away from resource extraction and onto a more intentionally sustainable course. We are a Transition Town with a new local brewery, local food initiatives that include a GMO-free designation, local farmers and farmers’ markets/local shops selling local vegetables, seafood, meat and processed products, a ‘food provisioners’ cooperative’ called Skookum, a yearly 50-mile Eat Local Challenge, two yearly garden tours (one edible and one not), a brand new SunCoast Grown initiative to market local food products, a revitalized community radio station (CJMP) , an active artist community with lots to say/show and few venues to do it in, an historic movie theatre that was just saved via a community fundraising effort, a local film festival, a budding car-share co-op and just this last year a local currency (Powell River Dollars).
Local means swimming upstream, and working for the right kind of progress; one that values people and natural resources over profit and corporations that couldn’t care less about anything but profits. That this means ‘a battle’ to some people, is no surprise, as old attitudes still hold lots of sway in determining which local projects get government funding. Local also means quietly living with less (even working less– well for money anyhow), volunteering time and talents for no immediate gain, dealing with people you never thought you’d ever encounter (people with a wide spectrum of different backgrounds, education, work ethics, talents and attitudes), and generally sticking around, growing it yourself, and making it work.