IN EARLY FEBRUARY of this year, the inhabitants of Little Bay Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador voted unanimously to be resettled. The 71 eligible voters all voted to take the provincial government’s offer of $270,000 per household to relocate.
The news accounts are that, despite the money, it was not a joyous outcome. Without a doctor, or a store, or any other basic services, life was just getting too difficult for the aging residents of the island community. A 30-minute ocean crossing by ferry was needed every time the basics of life were required.
What a hardship for the residents, to leave behind the place they must love. But at least the Newfoundland government is upfront in terms of letting people in a dying community have dignity and support to move elsewhere. At least, when a small community has no economic reason to continue, Newfoundland residents have support to rebuild their lives somewhere else.
You don’t have to go very far to find dying communities in B.C., too. For example, drive south from Clinton through Cache Creek to Hope, one sees a continual parade of closed restaurants, abandoned motels, shuttered gas stations, and boarded up houses.
A few years back, there were two houses for sale for $1 each in Boston Bar.
A long since closed sawmill in Boston Bar has just been joined this week by a sawmill closed at Chasm, just outside Clinton.
There isn’t a school in Spences Bridge anymore. There is talk of closing one of the two schools in Lytton too.
Since the beginning of 2019, the Ashcroft hospital emergency room has closed on average one weekend per month. When Ashcroft hospital is closed, area residents have to travel to Merritt, Kamloops, Hope or 100 Mile House for services.
Interior Health Authority has been unable to staff the Ashcroft hospital to keep it open consistently. It is ironic, that Ashcroft is next to the largest open pit copper mine in Canada. It is hard to comprehend that the province can’t find provide sufficient funds to attract medical staff to the hospital given the tax revenues the mine produces.
No sawmills. No schools. No hospital services. Inch by inch, small towns are shuttered.
I love the area from Clinton to Hope. I have friends who live in a number of the communities in the area and I go there frequently. But it’s clear the region’s glory days are past.
The closing of the mill in Chasm this week is just part of a slow decline of many small towns in B.C.
If you live in a community that is shrinking in B.C., you live in a small town. When you live in a large community in BC, you growing.
In B.C., from 2011 to 2018, one in six B.C. communities, 30 in all, lost populations. Towns like Cache Creek, 100 Mile House and Ashcroft lost people.
Of the 30 communities which lost population, 16 had populations less than 1,000. All but one of those municipalities were under 4,500, with only one with 8,500 in population.
At the same time, every one of B.C.’s 36 communities over 40,000 in size gained at least four per cent up to 18 per cent in population. Large cities are growing in B.C.
Just like in Newfoundland and Labrador, many small B.C. places are shrinking.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the government has given communities the choice of what to do when they lose population. When a community has no reason, when there is no economic base, people are given a chance and support to rebuild their lives elsewhere.
Is it time for B.C. to do the same?
Should the B.C. government pay people to leave small towns? As harsh as it seems to pay people to leave towns, having no major employers, no school, no hospital, and few other services is harsher yet. Would it be better to give money to residents relocate, rather than have them live through erosion of one service after another?
On the other hand, if having vibrant towns across the province is a goal of the B.C. government, then rather than pay people to leave small towns, is it time to reinvest and expand services in smaller centres?
Despite their size, small places like Ashcroft, are key to the economic prosperity of the province. One way or the other, it’s time the province invested in the small towns of B.C.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.