ACTION AND HIGH ENERGY
BRITISH COLUMBIANS CONFRONT RADICAL CHANGE
British Columbia, by any measure, occupies the most spectacular wedge of Canada ’s real estate. But it is its people who have constructed for their province a unique role in Canada. They have created an outdoors lifestyle that mixes high-energy work in forestry, fisheries, mining and shipping with high-action play. They nurture ancient aboriginal arts, and experiment in new forms. Their politics has made the province a combat zone for the neoconservative right and the democratic left, leaving little middle ground. British Columbians look as much westward to Asia as to the south and the east for clues to their future prosperity. Now, with mainstays of their well-being menaced by a changing global economy and a recession that struck the Pacific coast later than elsewhere, British Columbians are coping with radical change. Hal Quinn, Maclean’s Vancouver bureau chief since 1988, chronicles the changes taking place through the eyes and in the words of a sampling of citizens from various walks of life. His report:
As he has in most recent summers, logger Ronald Corbeil, 36, registered at the Unemployment Insurance Commission office in the Vancouver Island community of Port Alberni last month. But unlike the thousands of forestry workers
whose jobs have disappeared over the past 10 years in British Columbia’s leading industry, Corbeil will likely have a job to go back to, probably in September. “Every year, in late July and August, it gets too dry to work in the forest,” he said in an interview. “It’s just too dangerous. We get our holiday pay at the beginning of the summer, then we always get laid off, so no one ever actually takes a holiday. And, of course, by the time the UIC kicks in—I usually get about one cheque—then it’s back to work. It’s a crazy system.”
There is much that is even more disturbing in the industry that has traditionally been| British Columbia’s economic powerhouse. was the lure of work that brought Ron Cor-1 bed’s father, Maurice, to Port Albemi in the
1930s from near Granby, Que., to work as a logger, then as a mid hand and as an executive with the International Woodworkers of America. Ron Corbed, bom and raised in the inland island town (population now about 18,000), started working during the summers in the
local sawmdl whde he was attending high school. And after two years studying recreation administration at Malaspina Codege in nearby Nanaimo, he returned home in 1977. But even then there were signs of change in the community.
Corbeil, who lives in a fourbedroom home with his wife,
Jill, and their three children, recalls that in the early 1970s, “they would list the two leading places in Canada in per-capita income as Oakville, Ont., and Port Albemi.”
In those years, he notes, “you would put your applications in at the mills around town and that night you’d get four or five calls.” The mill where he worked while he was in high school then employed 1,300 people. Now that mill provides about 400 jobs.
The last recession a decade ago damaged the forest industry in general and Port Albemi in particular. After mass layoffs in 1982, Corbeil himself got a logging job in Lillooet on the B.C. mainland, returning home when a job finally opened in Port Alberni. For the past 18 months, he has worked as a scaler, mea-
suring the volume and grade
of wood in cut trees. Other jobs have disappeared for men with as much as 20 years’ experience. Last year, a local plywood mill closed, leaving the town with two sawmills and a pulp mill. “In the past four years, about 1,000 people in town have lost their jobs,” he says. Like others in the industry, Corbeil says that the slower pace of logging is dictated not only by economic conditions but by environmental concerns, and activists. And he has harsh words for outsiders who seem to be disrupting life in Port Albemi, where “you can still buy a decent house for $70,000, and nobody I know wants to join the rat race in Vancouver.” Says Corbeil: “It is really frustrating that the decisions affecting our future are made by some committee in Victoria or Vancouver, by some environmentalist, or in some bloody boardroom in Toronto.”
He questions whether environmental activists even know that “we’ve logged second growth in forest that was logged in the 1920s and 1930s, and that in another 60 years it will probably be logged again.” People criticize the clear-cutting of entire forests, Corbeil notes, “but on the slopes we work—some 80-percent grades—you can’t cut selectively, it’s impossible.” The protesters “play on the dramatics, hang themselves from a bridge or climb a tree and smear themselves with excrement, and it never fails—they are always on TV.”
Environmental concerns, along with mechanization, changes in technology and recession, have contributed to a 14-per-cent reduction in the allowable cut in the forests of the Port Albemi region. The pressure on jobs will only increase, Corbeil predicts. “These preservationists will go off and save the seals, or the whales, or whatever’s next, and those of us without jobs will be gone.” He says that his son Matthew is unlikely to follow him and his father
into forestry: “The days of just putting your name in and getting a handful of phone calls that evening are long gone.”
her to Deborah 10-month-old knee in the Department Doss son, her home bounces Vance, of adjacent Fisheries her on office in Lillooet, four hours of serpentine and scenic driving northeast of Vancouver. Contemplating the little bundle she
holds, the earlier maternity leave, the training,
and the recent ceremony applauded by provincial and federal politicians, Doss, 25, concedes that it has been “a very busy time” in her life. It has also been a historic one for Doss, and for British Columbia’s native peoples generally. Near the end of July, she and four colleagues were sworn in to the province’s first police service administered by an aboriginal community. The new officers have the same authority as police forces in other British Columbia municipalities, and their jurisdiction covers seven of the Stl’Atl’Imx Nation communities surrounding Lillooet.
For Doss, her first official day on the job, Aug. 10, was the successful conclusion of four years of determined effort. Doss and her three sisters were bom in Lillooet, but are members of the 500-strong Fountain Band, whose reserve is 15 km from the town of 1,500. Her life, she says, “has not always been that great.” Although she completed high school and a year at Capilano College in Vancouver, by 1988, a single mother with a son, Steven, then 3, Doss was working as a clerk and cashier in a comer store in her home town. Then, an older sister suggested that she should apply to become a ¡tribal peacekeeper, a security officer on the reserves. “I wasn’t convinced, but I was curi-
ous,” Doss recalls. But finally, after longer consideration, she says, “I applied and was accepted.”
After taking eight weeks of police training in Lillooet, “we ended up having to go through the training twice,” said Doss. “We had completed the course, but we weren’t recognized by the province. There was a lot of political stuff involved.” She then went on to six months of police academy training at the Justice Institute of British Columbia at Westbank, in the Okanagan Valley. “It was the same course, the same training,” she said. But that finally qualified her and her fellow native candidates to serve as the equivalents of municipal police officers. And now, after completing 10 weeks of field training with the RCMP, Doss is finally on the beat.
The primary responsibility of Doss and the other new officers is policing the area reserves at Pavilion, Cayoosh, Seton Portage, Mount Currie, Anderson Lake, Fountain and Lillooet, where Doss is stationed. Even off the reserves, Doss and her four male colleagues, like other municipal police officers throughout the province, possess the full power to enforce the law.
With pride, Doss explains the shoulder crest on her tribal police uniform, an eagle inside a circle of four arrows above a cluster of feathers. Said Doss: “Native peoples have a lot of respect for an eagle, and it is in the centre of the arrows. They point in the four different directions and also represent the four races— red, yellow, black and white—combined to sit in harmony. Feathers below the circle stand for the 11 bands who live in the Stl’AtlTmx territory.”
Doss is under no delusions that the nonnative community totally supports the native officers. “Some are opposed,” she said quietly. “My life has not always been the easiest, but
I’ve decided to not let that hold me back. I am the only one that can change it and make it better, and that’s what I’ve done. It’s been rough, but it has been worth it.”
The wind had an edge to it, but at 9 a.m. on Nov. 27, 1986, at least it was not raining, which is unusual for Vancouver at that time of year. Daniel Sitnam, a helicopter pilot barely 30 years old, watched from thetarmac of Vancouver Harbour
Heliport as another pilot lifted off on the inaugural flight of Helijet Airways. Sitnam, bom in England, a resident of Vancouver since he was 15, recalls that he envied the pilot. Helijet, with the first licence ever granted in Canada to operate helicopters on a scheduled passenger service, was largely his brainchild, and he was president of the new company. He also remembers a sobering thought: “When that helicopter took off for Victoria, I figure we were about $1.5 million in the hole.”
For three “hand-to-mouth” years, says Sitnam, Helijet struggled financially, running eight return trips a day across the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver and Victoria. But now, with about three times as many daily flights on that route, the helicopter commuter company is expanding into British Columbia’s fastest-growing business, tourism. On June 29, Helijet began operating three flights a day, seven days a week, to the all-seasons Whistler mountain resort, expanding a one-a-day service launched at the end of last year to and from the playground community, 120 km north of Vancouver.
The genesis of Sitnam’s project had its beginning almost 20 years ago. After bouncing around from England to Brazil, Quebec and Ontario as his father pursued a career in the aerospace industry, Sitnam was working as a chef at a restaurant on Burnaby Mountain, west of downtown Vancouver. One day, a helicopter landed in a nearby park. The pilot, explaining that his client had failed to show up, offered Sitnam a ride. “After that little spin, I thought it would be interesting to do that for a living,” he recalls. Four years later, Sitnam earned his commercial helicopter pilot’s licence and began flying for forestry and mining companies in the north.
Then, in 1983, Sitnam and two partners bought a four-passenger Gazelle light helicopter for $150,000 and tried, with limited success, “to develop a corporate clientele, affluent people who wanted to move around.” Facing financial failure, they hatched the plan for the Victoria commuter service, obtained a licence in Ottawa in 1985, and leased a 13-passenger Bell 412 helicopter. They rented a hangar and office at the airport, hired a staff of 16, and launched their service that November morning in 1986. Six years later, Helijet has a staff of 100 and runs six 12-passenger Sikorsky S-76A helicopters on more than 20 daily VancouverVictoria return flights, the highest-frequency scheduled service between two points in North
America. At $230 (plus tax) per return ticket, Helijet, now a public company, records annual sales of over $10 million.
In marketing the newly expanded Whistler schedule, “we promote the destination, not just our service,” says Sitnam. Helijet is building links with Cathay Pacific and Japan Air Lines, because “our studies show that a large percentage of the people going up to Whistler are from offshore, particularly the Pacific Rim.”
Life is more secure now for the president of Helijet Airways. He and his wife, Laura, a native of Odessa, Tex., and their 2V2-year-old daughter, Corra-Rose, await the arrival of a son. But just as he did on a windy morning almost six years ago, Sitnam has his eye on the
future. From his vantage point, and with a strong outlook for tourism in British Columbia, it looks like clear skies ahead.
When Viggo Elvevoll went to work as a rookie cop in 1971, life in Vancouver was simpler and cleaner. And he had ambitions to match. “You think you’re going to go out there and save the world and get rid of crime,” he recalls. Now, at
42, as a detective in the Vancouver police! department’s Asian crime section, he says that “of course, that all falls apart in a few years and you realize that you are not the white knight in
shining armor.” And it is becoming even more difficult, and dangerous, to hold on to youthful hopes, especially on the gangland beat where crime has become a growth industry. “When I started, there was very little fear of a guy carrying a gun or a knife, but now guns and knives are commonplace,” says Elvevoll. “What we find now from our informants, and prove by our seizures, is that organized gangs have access now to fully automatic weapons— both handguns and rifles—which is the really scary part.”
Vancouver now is Canada’s murder capital in per capita terms, with 4.15 homicides per 100,000 of population last year, compared to Montreal’s 3.49 and Toronto’s 2.70. Police list the gang names—Big Circle, Lotus, Red Eagle, Viet Ching, Fly Dragons—that have made a business out of drug trafficking, credit card and cheque fraud, counterfeiting, prostitution, extortion, kidnapping and home invasions, when gangsters terrorize victims to extract cash and other valuables. “There is certainly a lot more violence,” says Elvevoll. “Whether that be the ultimate, murder, or assaults, they have greatly increased over the years.”
As a Vancouver boy in the 1950s, an immigrant with his family from sub-Arctic Norway to what his seaman father, Leif, called “the land of opportunity where you get treated well and make lots of money,” Elvevoll remembers quite a few fistfights at first. Not knowing a word of English, young Viggo often interpreted the other boys’ comments as taunts or jokes. After finishing high school, he went to Norway and worked for a year, but then returned to Vancouver and joined the force.
Elvevoll has walked beats from downtown to skid row; worked as a plainclothes officer in a special strike force; served in the serious assaults, intelligence, and drug sections; worked undercover alongside the RCMP; and for 10 years, along with other duties, was a member of the emergency response team. In October, 1989, he joined the Asian crime section. During that time, he and his wife, Margaret, have raised their two children, Jennifer, 16, and Kristopher, 15. Over the years, much else has changed. For members of the Asian crime section, the changes have been dramatic.
Vancouver police first became aware of the presence of an Asian gang in 1965, one that they said was involved in extortion. But in the past 10 years, Asian gangs have become a major criminal force in North America, particularly in port cities. The kidnapping for ransom and the murder of restaurant manager James Ming and his wife, Lily, in 1985, a case that remains unsolved, led to the formation of the Asian crime section. The gang members, says Elvevoll, are mainly recent immigrants. He says that “a lot of the gang members that are using the violence came from mainland China, Vietnam, or Korea, where things were violent to begin with. Most of them were criminals before they came over here, or learned how to become criminals in the refugee camps. Those are the people who are the most violent, not your homegrown hoods.” Elvevoll says that
only tougher immigration screening and harsher sentences for violent crimes can help solve the problem.
Even now that the Vancouver force maintains contacts with Asian crime police units across North America, Elvevoll says that “I don’t think we can ever win, but we can keep it in check. We’re not going to win unless there is a hard stance taken by immigration and the courts.” Frustrations are frequent, the victories few, but Elvevoll says that he is going to stick with his job. “I guess there is still a little bit of that white knight left in me,” he says. “When you do get one deported, or even just a lousy sentence, it makes it all kind of worth it.”
There 1987 Queen cess when Cherie was Charlotte that the ran aground starlit 50-foot Islands, night Prinoff the sank in in less than a minute, and Cayt McGuire and four fellow crew members found themselves cold and wet in a skiff staring in
wonder as the glow of the Cherie's lights slowly disappeared into the icy black water. And there was a windy day the following season when the boom broke and smashed into her head, splattering blood across the deck, before sliding down to almost slice off her right arm as it inflicted compound fractures. And there were
the two years of sexist verbal harassment from a crewman—“I kept thinking up the most cutting responses, only making him worse, until I finally just completely ignored him and he, well, stopped.” But with a laugh that comes easily and heartily, Cayt (“Mom’s Welsh”) McGuire, 37, says that she loves her life as a mate on a salmon seiner out of Prince Rupert, and would not trade it for her old one, or many others.
McGuire is accustomed to being at the helm of her life, and now of a seiner whenever she is called upon to take over from the skipper. Bom and raised in Calgary with six sisters and two brothers, McGuire sums up one period of her life by saying, “I got married at 17, had a child at 18, and a divorce at 19.” While caring for her son, “always called Willie” (now 18 after a year at the University of Victoria), she earned a communications degree at the University of Idaho in 1979. Later, back in Calgary, she worked as a freelance writer in film, magazines and TV. But in 1983, during the last recession, “the bottom
fell out of everything, so in
1984,1 cashed in my pension plan, walked away from the house, and Willie and I moved to Saltspring Island.”
On that scenic patch between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, McGuire found work as a carpenter’s helper and the following year “got a chance to go fishing.” After a friend’s recommendation, a long-distance call and a hurried flight north, McGuire signed on as a cook and deckhand with former Montrealer Michel Jutras, the skipper of a salmon seiner, a boat that uses a net that tightens like a purse around the catch, in Prince Rupert. “I’d never seen a seiner, had no idea how it worked,” McGuire says. “The first instruction I got from the skipper was, ‘When in doubt, grab a rope and pull like a bastard.’ ”
Now, after taking navigation and other marine courses in her off seasons (the seiners usually work from July to November), McGuire is Jutras’s mate, responsible in his absence for their new boat, the Heather Isle. When the salmon are running, the crew members regularly work 20-hour days, cramming more than 2,000 hours of labor into the annual norm of 15 weeks of fishing. They share in the income from the sale of the catch to processors. “The year we sank the boat, I made $10,000,” says McGuire. “But last year was a good one and I made $25,000.”
For all her love of her job, McGuire says that
she does not see a bright future for the fishery. “There is the fresh salt air, the most gorgeous scenery this country has, and the tremendous immediacy to the job,” says McGuire. “What you’re doing, and the value of what you’re doing doesn’t depend on anyone else’s opinion, or whim.”
But the opportunities to enter that satisfying life are shrinking. Boats are getting more efficient, but costs are rising. “The industry is tied up tightly in terms of boats and licences, and is shrinking dramatically in terms of its labor force,” McGuire says. “There will be
fewer boats and fewer people to catch the same amount of fish.”
But with her eye on wider horizons, McGuire plans more studies in hopes of crewing on a deep-sea vessel. And with her hearty laugh, she said that when Willie recently indicated an interest in fishing, “I told him it was too dangerous. He’s going to get his degree and wear a suit.”
Dwight Chan works in a business that has helped British Columbia defy the recession— real estate. The housing industry has spared the province, especially the Lower Mainland area, where more than half of British Columbians live, from
the worst consequences of the recession now gripping the country. A price index for new housing issued last week by Statistics Canada shows that in Vancouver prices rose by 8.9 per cent in the year to June, and by 4.1 per cent in Victoria. For Chan, and other British Columbians in the housing business, that indication of
sustained demand for new homes represents a slowdown from a hot market in the late 1980s. But it is stronger than in most of the rest of the country, where prices generally remained flat or, particularly in southern Ontario, declined. And Chan, 42, is among a growing number of entrepreneurs in British Columbia who maintain trans-Pacific links that enable them, and the province generally, to benefit from keeping their business eggs in more than one basket.
Chan owns and operates a Re/Max real estate franchise in Vancouver that employs 25 to 30 sales agents. In 1990, just as the local
market began to cool after two years of soaring prices, he opened a branch in his native Hong Kong. While awaiting an economic recovery in Canada, Chan says, “the opportunities right now are back there.” But, newly married and planning to buy a home himself, Chan adds that he has no intention of moving back to Hong Kong.
He says that he felt differently after he first arrived in Vancouver on a date burned into his memory, Feb. 22, 1974, with his parents, his brother and twin sisters. Their move fulfilled a dream by Chan’s businessman father, Lionel, ever since he had been captivated by Vancouver during a mid-1950s visit. But for Dwight Chan, “My first thought was, ‘I want to go back.’ ” Chan said that he had been prepared for a city that would surpass Hong Kong, with its modem skyscrapers. “Here, we were looking at oneand two-sto-
rey buildings,” he says. “Instead of 50 years ahead, Vancouver looked 50 years behind.” Chan, who had earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Hong Kong’s Chuhai College, began his new life in hotel jobs, from busboy to shift manager, turned to selling insurance and then, in 1980, to real estate, opening his present firm in 1986. His business has been helped by Asian property investment. Although that is a relatively small part of the total, he says, “it represents a strong injection of confidence, and acts like a motivation sometimes for the local market to keep going.”
On frequent visits to Hong Kong, its frenetic pace and its business opportunities remain fascinating for Chan, but he says that he no longer has a desire to five there. Referring to his March bride, Miranda, 28, also Hong Kongborn and whose maiden name also happened to be Chan (they met four years ago while she was attending Simon Fraser University), Dwight Chan says that “we have no second thoughts about living here: the people are nice, it is beautiful, cosmopolitan, a good mixture of East and West. I personally regard it as paradise.’b