Guest Post: Beautiful British Columbia?

September 7, 2021

My sister Noelle MacFarlane sent this note from her home in Clinton, B.C., by Canada Post. I asked for an electronic version to offer to you, dear reader. Please send any thoughts to peter.

The happy shouts of little boys jumping on their trampoline reached me as I sat in our living room one evening this July. They were joyously reunited with their favourite toy after a few days away. Only thing was, the air stung my eyes, invaded my nostrils, burned my throat; it must be the same for them. I was glad they could play, but couldn’t help thinking: If given the choice, this smoky place wasn’t where anyone should be living, not babies or kids, adults or seniors, breathing this bad air.

That wasn’t the BC dream. The dream was, and is, to live in a startlingly beautiful part of the world, a place of freedom and peace, of opportunity and prosperity, of limitless ways to enjoy life.

What do we have now? A province that catches fire every summer, with thousands of people displaced from their homes. A provincial government   that finally called this fire season an emergency, nearly three weeks after an entire town burned to the ground.

And yet, with all the upheaval, with hundreds of firefighters on the fire lines, supported by helicopters, water-skimming airplanes and heavy earth-moving equipment, the authorities are still too timid to tell the people of this province (and the many tourists) to act as if they realize the gravity of the situation.

The message ought to be: get your boats off the lakes, where we’re scooping water to save your fellow citizens’ homes and land. Get out of the motels and the campgrounds, and go home, so the fire evacuees have somewhere to lay their heads. Get off our highways so if we have to leave quickly, we can.

How can we call this place beautiful BC , when the real estate market was allowed to heat up so that the poorest people were driven right out of their homes? It’s just another kind of wildfire,  one that means the dispossessed now live in the streets, take over public parks, and die in unprecedented numbers from drug addiction. Who wouldn’t become an addict in those circumstances—what else would numb the pain and the horror?

Yeah, this is beautiful BC, where most of our beautiful lakes, even when they’re not  being used for fire suppression, are only accessible if you own a boat or cottage on them, or pay dearly for a rental. The few provincial parks are often either overbooked or shut down due to wildfires. Many of our own citizens can’t afford recreation, because tourism and the almighty dollar have put it out of reach.

Burning, overpriced, and over-touristed, it’s still beautiful. But how to enjoy the beauty?

Noelle provides this information for the photograph: “This photo was taken July 15, 2017, from our back porch and shows smoke and steam from the Elephant Hill wildfire billowing from a few kilometres away. We were evacuated about a week later.”