With the excellent support and collaboration of CBC and Jonny Harris, Lake Cowichan has had its “30 minutes of fame”.
First, it is appropriate to thank the star and producer of the Still Standing segment on Lake Cowichan, broadcast on CBC, Aug. 1, for their very balanced characterization of the people and environment that the town currently enjoys. Within the confines of a half hour program that combines focused humour with information about local characters, and views of the town and the surrounding Cowichan Valley, a very positive current and future potential picture of the community emerged.
Now the question is, will the town and its people realize the potential that is clearly there to exploit?
When the seeds of economic and social renewal were planted about three years ago, it was still very uncertain whether the town had either the capability or desire to move vigorously into a different future. What became clear is that there is a small, but highly committed core group of citizens who are prepared to give their time and effort towards building a “new future” for the town. Also, our initial attempts to cope with Sunfest last year, and the continuing success of Lake Days, demonstrated that given effective leadership, there are quite a few citizens who will volunteer to secure the success of local initiatives. Many businesses and our local First Nation have responded in a productive manner to the potential that the town and the surrounding areas of the west Cowichan Valley possess.
It is useful to look at some of the specific activities and events that have contributed to the town’s future economic and community development. Most notable is the Laketown Ranch/Sunfest impact on the community and surrounding area. Although year one gains were somewhat less than hoped for, it is evident that improvements in both Laketown’s and the town’s website, coupled with more on-site promotion and emerging knowledge of the town, contributed to much greater numbers of the Sunfest festival participants finding their way into Lake Cowichan this year. Accolades are in order for the Chamber of Commerce, for their very active role at Laketown, and businesses such as Country Grocer, who took a “Mohammed will go to the Mountain” stance to developing working relationships with Laketown. This had a major impact on those businesses ready to respond to the increased demand.
Also, the overall “public image” of the town has been greatly assisted by the development of the Town Square, named for the local first nation and now adorned with a spectacular totem, a gift of the First Nation. The commitment of council and administration to improving direction signage, street signs and boulevard planting throughout the town has been exemplary. Most notable is the highly impressive sign which greets visitors to the community. In the core, there is a revitalized Riverside Inn and two thriving tubing companies. Once again, the small Lake Cowichan First Nation is showing the way to both the business and general community, through their exciting development of the marina, kayaking centre and café on North Shore Road. Their plans to progressively develop recreation condominiums, on their land above the road, will point the way to others to risk and grasp the future now!
Unfortunately, not all is rosy in the drive to take Lake Cowichan into the 21st century and away form the culture of expectation and entitlement that characterized the post lumber industry boom of the 1950s to the mid 1980s. While there is a dedicated core of informal and elected community, leaders who are wiling to provide guidance to the road towards a positive economic and community environment for the town and surrounding Cowichan Valley, and about 150 -200 community members who will volunteer to support these efforts, this is not enough to ensure the future success is realized.
Too many residents, even if they will accept that the “good old lumber industry days” will never return, believe that either the provincial or federal governments will “look after us”. But, experience over the last two decades, through provincial and federal governments of three different political persuasions, has shown that the economic and community development objectives of these areas have received little or no attention from the two senior government levels.
Others do not seem willing to recognize that tourism, particularly recreation and natural environment related, is gradually replacing broad labour participation in the lumber industry as a key economic driver. Others wish “all those newcomers” with their fancy house needs and service requirements would go back to where they came from.
The foregoing attitudes can be highly demotivating for the core leadership and volunteers. This is probably why it was not possible to focus community efforts on further exploiting the potential of its Laketown/Sunfest visitors, as was done last year.
Building a sound and prosperous future for Lake Cowichan and the western Cowichan Valley will require a major and ongoing collaborative relationship between ALL stakeholders. Building an “our communities TOGETHER” attitude is essential. No one group of people can do it alone.
There is no question that we are “Still Standing” proud. Now is the time to commit to moving forward with the vigour and energy reflected in the 600 community members who attended the debut of the CBC program at Laketown Ranch, and the positive feedback that has come from our fiends and relatives right across Canada.
So, from this “standing start”, let’s begin the run towards a shining future.
Dr. Les Bowd is currently chairperson of the Advisory Planning Commission, Lake Cowichan and maintains an active role in citizen driven economic and community developments in the town and the west Cowichan Valley.