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Feature - A community in transition

With pressures on the land and a way of life residents grapple with change in Pemberton



Sitting in farmer Al McEwan’s backyard, shaded under a couple of trees, it’s hard to believe Whistler is just down valley. It seems like light years away.

Here in the midst of yawning fields, time could be suspended in place like the gliders floating on puffs of air high above.

The sound of insects buzz in time to McEwan’s gentle conversation of times gone by and futures yet to unfold. A few horses chomp on their lunch. An empty tractor sits in the yard in preparation for the day’s work ahead.

This farmer’s family has been here for five generations, toiling Pemberton’s rich fertile soil. You could sit here all day, just listening.

But this is a farm and there’s work to be done. Buildings need to be repaired, wood must be chopped, cattle have to be moved, veggies planted and strawberry fields watered.

Flash back in time to this farm 50 or even 100 years ago and the way of life hasn’t changed dramatically, save a few inventions along the way.

But step beyond the farm and Pemberton is transforming at a rapid pace.

New buildings, new people, a new direction for the economy are all a part of this evolving community, which is trying to move seamlessly into the future and at the same time preserve its past.

"We’re a developing community, developing with all the pains that come with it," said Mayor Elinor Warner.

Longtime locals don’t need census numbers to tell them things are on the move in their town. The unfamiliar faces say it all.

Pemberton is B.C.’s fastest growing community, according to the 2001 Census, and one of the new hot spots for recreation in the province.

They’re coming from all over to get a little piece of the country.

The town has grown so fast that it is bursting at the seams, with a sewer system that is not equipped to deal with the unprecedented growth.

Development is effectively on hold until the village gets a grant from the federal and provincial governments for a $6.8 million sewage treatment plant, with a capacity to service a population 6,000 strong in the future. The announcement about the grant is imminent.

"It’s amazing, isn’t it?" asked Warner, pointing to all the proposed developments on the colour-coded map hanging on her office wall.

The projects in the pipeline span from single-family homes on the Pemberton Benchlands to new lots at the industrial park, not to mention everything in between.

It’s staggering when you remember that there were only 350 people living in Pemberton in the mid-80s. In the five years prior to the 2001 Census Pemberton’s population increased by 91 per cent, from 857 people to 1,637. There are even more people living there now.