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The rise of Squamish culture

As a younger demographic moves into town, a sea change in arts and culture is taking place

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"(Squamish) needs an identity, a cultural identity and one that hasn't been made before - one that's new, represents who are, for one," Josee St. Amour, owner of the House of RTS on Cleveland Ave, said last July. Her gallery - one of the few stores selling underground art in the Sea to Sky - closed later that month.

"People are suffering from bad economic times," said Karin Shard, editor and founder of Tongue in Cheek coffee paper.

"People aren't spending."

But, she adds, the vibe in the town has changed. There's all these really cool artsy, funky individuals breathing new life into the town, keeping it fresh and on its toes.

She's sitting next to Paul Hudson, her co-organizer in the SERF music festival, at Zephyr Café, a health-conscious eatery on Cleveland Ave. It's bustling on a Friday afternoon. Advertisements for yoga and artisan workshops are tacked in abundance on a bulletin board on the back wall.

Hudson moved to Squamish from Whistler in 2004 and he says the demographics were different then but already starting to shift. Much of the industry that defined the town, railroad and lumber, were suffering and had begun their exits. The people supported by these industries made the exit as well. By 2007 these industries had vanished, leaving a gaping hole in the community's economy.

"Squamish should have been devastated," he says. "Any town that has its whole economy and economic base disappear would have been devastated but Squamish seemed to survive as a result of the emerging outdoor culture that happened to move here."

It was all about timing.

The Olympics meant an upgraded highway. That meant new jobs. Rising housing costs in both Whistler and Vancouver were forcing young people out that wanted land of their own and many of them settled in Squamish, inspired by the desire for an lifestyle defined by the outdoors. That fuelled the real estate industry.

Squamish keeps enticing that middle zone. With that comes new independent businesses, new cafes and restaurants. Tech companies and entrepreneurs are replacing the labourers who once ran the town and almost all of it is driven by the youth. The new families moving in inspires in some the idea that there's an endless supply of beginnings, a sense that this is the only the beginning.