" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

April 13, 2010

Is there a seat at the table?

Today I was talking to a guy who has lived in a tent on island throughout the winter. He has three young sons and a chronic illness. He came to Salt Spring about six months ago from Vancouver because he'd rather live in a tent than in one room in the city.

"At least my three sons can visit me when I live in a tent," he says. "They love it here."  He was talking about his disillusionment with the place saying that unlike Tofino, there is a uniculture of wealth and conservatism here. "The place closes down after 7pm. There's not even a coffee house with music that stays open on weeknights where people can go." [The TreeHouse stays open until 8pm in Spring and later in summer. Other than that you either have to go to a bar or a restaurant for entertainment.]

"When I saw the Market last summer, I thought I'd found it but what you see there is just so superficial," he said.

"It's not what exists deeper," he said. "It's really an ultra-conservative place; an old folks home with no room for those who don't own and no intention of making it amenable to those who don't fit that model. It's so boring!"

I challenged him a little on that and said that I wasn't defending the place because I'd only lived here 16 months and certain things that he said certainly ring true, but from what I'd seen, for such a small place, there seemed to be a lot of resources. "You can get free food almost every day of the week," I said.  "There are more than a few agencies that do nothing but try to help people."

"But I don't want to take my kids to the food bank," he said. "Where's the dignity in that?" "Even in the city," he said, "I could take my sons on a Sunday morning, walk down the street to Starbucks and I could get each one of them a hot chocolate for $1 and they'd  make it fancy. Here, you can't get a hot chocolate, kid or otherwise, for less than $2.75. You could go to a restaurant and get a cheap hamburger and fries.  It's as if they've created a world here where only the rich want the rich to exist."

Later in the day, I think about an immigrant who can't seem to get work in her field at a place you would expect to hire her even though she has the qualifications and there are jobs. That's the second time I've seen this with someone who isn't white, whose first language isn't English and I begin to wonder? Could it be what my intuition says it is or is it just legitimate competition?  

The stories I hear. Employers ripping off employees, [and undoubtedly vice versa], the low wages, the having to hustle every single day to scrape together enough money at odd jobs to pay the rent, rentals with rats and mould, being kicked out with inappropriate notice because it's tourist season and there are more bucks to be made regardless of how good a tenant you've been and on and on.

Slowly as my own rose-coloured glasses have come off, I am forced to look more critically at what truly is, not what the reputation has painted this place to be, and I now know that there are at least two Salt Spring Islands.

There's the Salt Spring for the rich and then there's the Salt Spring for the people I spend my days with at the part-time job and the two experiences are so far removed from one another that they wouldn't be reading off the same menu even if they were seated at the same table.

I keep thinking that I would like to either do a photo essay of the faces I have come to know (so many fantastic faces) or a serious article on the side of Salt Spring that never makes the news. 


Susan said...

Oh do a photo essay! I would love to see the folks. You are getting into such great conversations with people.

Gayle Mavor said...

I've been mulling it over for a while now so in the summer...once I've moved I can begin.

Helene said...

I always enjoy your work Gayle. It's honest. And as a relative newcomer to the island, it has inherent objectivity too. Please keep it coming...

Gayle Mavor said...

Thanks very much Helene. I'll keep trying...