When I moved to Salt Spring in 1979 with my wife and young daughter, I’d never heard of the Islands Trust. Truth to tell, I’d never heard of Salt Spring. We stumbled on it by chance, fell in love at first sight, and have been here ever since. That’s 38 years, over half my life, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve come to appreciate that Salt Spring didn’t get to be this uniquely vibrant community by accident. Its taken an equally unique form of governance. Mostly, we don’t think a whole lot about how we govern ourselves. Because the Trust has been so good at its job, it tends to be taken for granted. While its “preserve and protect” mandate is fairly well known, we don’t hear much about what the Trust has protected our island from.
In the 1960s, in a real estate market not unlike today’s, developers did what they do when you let them and carved out 1,200 city-sized lots in the middle of North Pender Island. Tiny Mudge Island, between Gabriola and Nanaimo, got chopped up into 185 half-acre lots. This nightmare scenario led to a ten-acre freeze and then, in 1974, the Islands Trust’s creation. Lest you think that’s all ancient history, here’s just a few more recent development proposals the Trust has turned down on Salt Spring: an industrial development on Long Harbour Road; a golf course, hotel, and small-lot subdivision on Beddis Road; an industrial development on Isabella Point Road; a golf course and condominium project in the Fulford Valley (where farms and community gardens now thrive). Would a municipal government have turned these down? They haven’t anywhere else.
With the Trust keeping townhouses out of farmland, condos out of our watersheds, and hotels from the shores of our lakes, our community has enjoyed the space it’s needed to flourish.
Since I moved here, Salt Spring’s population has at least doubled. Yet the quality of life has, if anything, gotten even better. Think of any municipality doubling in size and you’re thinking malls and big box stores, tacky development, expressways and a lamentable combination of congestion and sprawl. On Salt Spring, growth has brought more protected land and a more diverse population. It’s brought more young farmers. It’s brought the Library, ArtSpring, and the pool. Its brought in over $60 million in grants for everything from affordable housing to hospital upgrades.
All of this is thanks to the Islands Trust working exactly as intended. Not as some unwieldy shotgun marriage between the Trust and one-size-fits-all municipal government but as a unique way of running our own affairs on a unique group of islands. Incorporation would force us down a development-oriented path, with no way of ever turning back. That’s why I’m voting Positively No, and urging you to as well. For way more information than I can offer in this brief article, please visit the positivelyno.org website.
Murray Reiss is a poet.