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Old Guard, New Directions, different tomorrow

The story of Ian Sutherland’s two terms as Squamish mayor



Where there’s character, there’s testimonial. Every town has its indicators, little clues about the people who live there. From the titles carried in bookstores to the busiest restaurants, from employers to programming, local papers to local politicians, there’s always an abundance of evidence for both newcomers and denizens should a need to define oneself suddenly arise.

For nearly 10 years, Squamish has been a character in flux. Being simplistic can be dangerous, but, if anyone cares for summation by symbol, look no further than the east side of Highway 99, right at the mouth of the downtown.

Among the first things northbound travelers will see is the Adventure Centre, resplendent in both sun and rain thanks to its architecture, which makes ample use of glass panes and flowing water. Almost immediately after, there’s the lumberjack statuary, a massive, coastal Paul Bunyan, bearded and brawny, foot resting on a bucked trunk as he breaks from the business of hard work, likely to ponder just what the hell this Adventure Centre spectacle is all about.

Opinions differ, but the Adventure Centre represents a new Squamish, one poised to embrace tourism and the sort of edificial opulence reminiscent of Whistler. It represents economic diversification, light industry, trails and film. While nothing happens in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be unfair to say it represents New Directions (ND), the slate that took over council in the general election of 2002, but lost members in 2005.

Now, consider the statue. In part a monument to all things forestry, it harks back to days mostly gone by, to a time when people earned their livings with heavier footprints, when the Woodfibre mill was still blissfully in business, development was slower and Squamish was something tourists drove through on their way to Whistler. Again, nothing happens in a vacuum, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say the statue represents the so-called Old Guard, those people in Squamish power circles who abhor New Directions and all its remnants.

Ian Sutherland’s two terms as mayor began along these fault lines. On a sunny afternoon in his district office, dressed casually in skateboard shoes as he is during strategy sessions, the bespectacled Sutherland remembers the year 2000, when Councillor Corinne Lonsdale was mayor and a woodchips facility was proposed for downtown.

“Downtown was starting to evolve and change as more young families moved downtown,” says the mayor, who will not be seeking re-election come November. “People were starting to like the thought of a vibrant downtown. And the concept of the chips facility just south of the Brew Pub — a lot of people became upset by that.”

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