The “Rain People” will be gathering in the Cowichan Valley this weekend.
More than 375 people who are originally from Ocean Falls, a small and isolated community approximately 365 miles on the coast north of Vancouver, are holding a three-day reunion, beginning today, with a dinner and dance being held at Mellor Hall on Saturday night.
Ocean Falls, a paper mill town that began in the early 1900s, boasted about 3,300 people in its heyday, but its population has dropped to just about 30 since its mill shut down permanently in 1980.
But the bonds that kept the close-knit community together are still strong decades after most if its population pulled up stakes and headed to other mill communities to set up homes and make a living.
Mary Skorupka, one of the organizers of the reunion, told me there are pockets of Ocean Falls people now living in other mill towns across B.C., including Kitimat, Nanaimo, Powell River, Gold River, Campbell River and Crofton, where between 100 and 150 ended up over the years.
Skorupka said she grew up in the community, where her father worked at the mill and her mother was a nurse, and had loved her time there before she left to continue her studies elsewhere.
She said the people of Ocean Falls call themselves the Rain People for good reason as the area gets about 4,500 millimetres of rain each year, making it one of the rainiest places on the planet.
In fact, the people have taken the umbrella as the symbol of their community, and Mellor Hall is expected to be covered in them tomorrow night for the reunion’s dinner and dance.
“We were a pretty affluent and diverse community in its day, although we didn’t know that at the time because we were so isolated and had nothing to compare the town to,” Skorupka told me.
“There were many immigrants there from countries all over the world. They settled and raised their families, and the many cultures and people blended to make a very unique and striking community.”
Skorupka said Ocean Falls is also known for for the incredible number of world-class competitive swimmers it produced, including world-doping head Richard Pound, and Olympic and 1968 Olympic silver medallist Ralph Hutton.
In fact, it was thought that because of the amount of rain, the children were blessed with webbed toes.
But Skorupka said the one thing all the members of the community had in common was the love for their town and each other.
“Generally, there is considered to be six-degrees of separation between people, but with those from Ocean Falls, there seems to be just about a two or three-degree of separation,” she said.
“It’s common to come across an Ocean Falls connection almost anywhere.”
She said that even as the years pass, the people of Ocean Falls are as connected as ever and will come from all corners of the globe to meet with each other as often as they can.
But Skorupka said time is also taken a toll, with fewer and fewer attendees showing up for the reunions, which are held as often as they can be organized.
She said in 1995, about 900 attended, and that number dropped to about 600 in 2012 and about 380 are expected over the weekend.
So welcome to the Cowichan Valley people from Ocean Falls.
We hope that the friendliness and beauty that you experience here will remind you of your long-ago home.