Towns, cities, villages, settlements have always interested me. I remember visiting with my friend Jon when we were younger (early teens) and talking about what makes a town. Why some grow, and others shrink, and what creates a community. This was during PM Harpers big Arctic push and we were debating whether it would be possible to grow a city in the far north. How to attract people, how you’d create jobs, issues with permafrost and freezing temperatures. (Yeah, we were strange ones).
I hadn’t thought about that in a long time until this Christmas season when visiting the in-laws. E and I were going to visit her parents on a lighthouse where they work for the coast guard. We drove from the southern tip of Vancouver Island to just shy of the Northern Tip. It’s about five hundred kilometers from Victoria to Port Hardy. We passed through many towns I had lived in previously and it was fun to see how they have grown in the years since I left. Campbell River is becoming a fair sized city and it was interesting to see how it has changed in the last ten years. Port Hardy on the other hand seemed like a sad community and it started me once again thinking about what makes one place grow and another stagnate or shrink.
I at first thought that maybe Port Hardy could be the same as any northern township in BC, but then we sailed to Prince Rupert.
The trip to Prince Rupert was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. The inside passage is five hundred kilometers of serene landscapes. It was a peaceful journey that I feel helped me connect with the settlers and explorers or British Columbia. It became clear why certain parts of the coast are settled and others not. Cliffs. Everywhere along the trip are steep islands that have no safe landing. Beautiful though. The trip is dotted with shuttered canneries and occasionally an indigenous settlement.
I like Prince Rupert. It’s a small town of 12,000 people or so. Small, lively, and hopeful. We went to the cities museum to explore the history of the north. I think what set Prince Rupert apart from Port Hardy was this sense of hope and optimism that permeated the town. The museum was a demonstration that the people of Prince Rupert have predicted their success since its founding in the early twentieth century. (This is despite many set backs). And it once again looks like the city will start prospering. The Port cuts days off shipping from Asia and the port has expanded a couple years ago and is looking to do so again. The town has also attracted the ludicrous cruise ship business.
It seems obvious that what makes a town thrive is a good economy, but I think it’s more than that it’s the hope that a person gets when they feel useful and success. What ever that means.
Although, One pilot we spoke to said the best feature of the town was that there are many ways to get out of it. Rail, ship, flight, and driving. Although I’m not sure that is a ringing endorsement.