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May 30, 2011

Rage Against the Plague of Conformity

A long time ago now, I was involved with a man who lived on a floating home on a river.  He and his neighbours were real characters. One of them was the well-known maven of Wreck Beach, Judy Williams.  When he was still alive, his neighbours used to be annoyed by the fact that he lived in such a run-down floating home without the means or motivation to fix it up. Between his place and The Cricket Lady's place, oh my, what eyesores the neighbours were assaulted by daily. Or so they thought. 

Then, he died and his place was drydocked and perhaps sold. I actually never learned what happened to the little floathome.  When that happened, I have no doubt that his neighbours (who are lovely people) missed the little two storey float home in the way you might think back and miss that crazy boy (usually a boy) in elementary school who did the stupidest, most outrageous things or the poet who glued those plastic magnet letters all over her Volkswagon Beetle (was it Susan Musgrave?) or anyone you've ever met who is just a little different or outrageous, yet lovable.
Where four retail shops used to be: Acoustic Planet Music, Windflower Moon, Admiral's Specialty Foods and Salt Spring Soap Works were housed in small shops here. Soap works will relocate into the new space. Marks Work Wearhouse is expanding slightly and taking over the space which displeased some people. The most fascinating thing with the excavation was the discovery of 6 skeletal remains which meant under the Heritage Conservation Act  that all digging had to cease immediately so that the RCMP, the architect, three archeologists from Millenia Research in Victoria, 12 First Nations' Bands, (one bone reader?) and the property owner could negotiate the proper relocation and burial ceremony. That took a month which, considering the number of stakeholders, seems pretty good to me.
 The Shell Station now closed, allegedly put out of business by a new Co-op Gas undercutting their gas prices, but really, the most awkward place for a gas station to exist so any future development has to be an improvement but I liked the funky old design. It was just in the wrong spot.  You can still get your car fixed by them and I was always pleased with the service. They relocated the shop to Alders Road.

As I stand at the Saturday Market, with my back (thankfully) to the eyesore of two empty lots on the main Fulford-Ganges road surrounded by wire fencing,  I can't help but think of the reasons that drew me and so many others here, first as tourists, then as residents. It was of course, first and foremost,the natural beauty but it was also the charm and uniqueness of the small shops selling crystals and patchouli and music or whatever. It was a way of life that enough people romanticized enough to want to grab a piece of,  if just for a weekend excursion to a Gulf Island.  And, it still exists at The Saturday Market to a certain degree.

But, I can't help but wonder,  if I was to set foot on Salt Spring for the first time experiencing it now in terms of the overall look and the shops that currently exist, would I come back? Would it be appealing enough to be the kind of place that left a lasting memory the way it did for me some 20 years ago?

I have no problem with redevelopment if it's done with a big picture vision and sensitivity  to what makes a place unique and desirable in the first place, but when I look around Ganges, I just don't get it. The opportunity to create something beautiful and imaginative and a little out there exists doesn't it?

We need only turn to Chemainus and its murals to see how an immersion in local history can be the fuel for an economy. Think of Anne of Green Gables on PEI and in a completely different way, Steveston or Vancouver's Coal Harbour, a model of  community planning that has led to an enviable (albeit exhorbitantly expensive) yet non car dependent lifestyle with accessibility to all local amenities and to nature.  I lived within 5 minutes of Coal Harbour as a renter in the West End and I have to say, it was a pretty darn sweet place to live.

It's hard to fathom why a community as creative as Salt Spring has been stuck with architecture that is so run of the mill, common-place, ordinary in most of its retail spaces.

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