Fortunately, there’s more to BC than costly Vancouver Mike Robinson

A common complaint of new arrivals to British Columbia is the cost of Vancouver housing. Buying a rudimentary single-family home is approaching $1.5 million.

The sky-high pricing is becoming normalized in a funny way, with young couples approaching both sets of parents for down-payment cash, and eagerly signing up basement-suite renters before offers have been accepted.

Well here’s a wake-up call:

Vancouver isn’t an alpha city like London, Paris or New York. In fact, many long-term residents find it provincial, down market in business terms, and propped up by Chinese mainland investment that no one wants to quantify or measure for fear of frightening the golden Mandarin goose. Vancouver’s soul now belongs to condo developers, realtors and real estate staging experts.

The consequences of investing in Vancouver real estate if you are not a “one percenter” are obvious: You will be economically beholden to family well into advanced adulthood; you will have to forgo many consumer pleasures; and you will take many vacations very close to home. If these kinds of social and economic constrictions don’t drive you away, step right up. If you don’t, you have a marvelous option: coastal small-town B.C. life.

Big-city attractions

If Vancouver appeals because of its beaches, sail boats, salmon fishing, proximity to hiking and skiing, Grouse-grinding, mountain and road biking, and neighbourly folks who also enjoy this lifestyle, I have news for you: all of these attributes exist in places like Nanaimo, Qualicum, Comox/ Courtenay, Campbell River, Powell River and Sechelt.

Sooke, Gabriola Island and Saltspring have fewer features, but also await. High culture in all of its forms is also a constant in these destinations - the visual arts, music, writing, and acting. In fact, much of what eventually gets showcased in Vancouver actually gets created here first. Artists choose to live where their incomes permit, and where beauty is a constant.

While the reasons for the strong cultural presence in coastal small towns may be primarily financial, they also include landscape and ocean beauty that has been inspirational to novice and master artists alike for 10,000 years. From the early First Nations masters, to Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt, Sybil Andrews, Toni Onley, Morgan Asoyuf, Sandford Williams, April White, and Gwaii Edenshaw, coastal villages and small towns have been topographically and divinely inspirational. Writers like Naomi Klein, Charlotte Gill and Edith Iglauer find their muse just north of Vancouver on the Sunshine Coast. The maestro of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Arnold, spends his summers in Powell Riverwhere he has galvanized a local team to create the Pacific Region International Summer Music Academy (PRISMA). Antony Holland, the founder of Vancouver’s famed Studio 58, lived on Gabriola for most of his life.

Participating in coastal small town life is easy. You just have to decide to put up with ferry schedules, the occasional float-plane trip and be a little more resourceful. Family vegetable gardens and chickens will soon provide competition for Quality Foods and Safeway.

A small truck to haul your firewood and tow your fish boat may be necessary. You’ll get to know the tradespeople by their first names, and become accustomed to their friendly greetings when you see them in town. Your doctor and dentist will probably see you as frequently at thewharf as in their offices.

You will also make new friends from many different walks of life through volunteering for community service at the salmon hatchery, the fire department or in my case, the PRISMA board. Oh, and don’t forget that a nice family-sized house with an expansive view of the ocean will cost $300,000. Smaller homes, condos and trailers on lots can go for less than $100,000.

The more I live on the Sunshine Coast, the more I appreciate the quality of my life close to nature. If I knew what I know now, I would have moved earlier. The Gucci handbag shops, the Range Rovers and Lamborghinis, the $8-million condos for hockey players, and the other various pretensions of the new Vancouver leave me cold.

I vastly prefer my life as a captain of blackberry- picking parties and a tier of red “hootchies” on 30-pound test line. I work from home on the Internet and cut my own firewood. You may want to consider joining me.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery.