Sandford, The Weekender Effect

Is Whistler Hell?

One gets stoked for pow, I get it, cray cray for when it pukes down, but Robert Sandford's little RMB book The Weekender Effect: Hyperdevelopment in Mountain Towns puts clothes around the anxiety and depression I feel when I'm enjoying myself there, even when I'm just considering another visit there.

The term that provokes much of the book's ire, though a term I hadn't come across before, was "amenity migration," by which is meant the movement of people (often the wealthy) in pursuit of the good, the cool, the beautiful, the tasty. This academic, bureaucratic term is meant to reflect a comparatively bloodless process, but that's not how Sandford experiences it:
We did not experience "amenity migration" in the mountain town I live in. What we experienced was outright dispossession. Locals, like the First Nations before us, have been made refugees in their own land. We are hardly alone in this. What is happening here is an infection that is sickening the entire mountain West. (p.87)
So, there's a lot to unpack in this book.

To be clear: the "locals" that Sandford supports are indirectly and, though less often, directly responsible for the dispossession of First Nations peoples and individuals with which he seeks to identify settler locals. I've plucked half a paragraph out of a 130-page book here, and elsewhere Sandford talks sensibly about alliances and First Nations rights, but I find the attitude in this paragraph just unacceptable. (He's much better on the same topic earlier in the book, pages 28-29.)

And the metaphor of disease is complicated when we're talking about nature and environments. Bodies go through youth and age, sickness and health, eventually dying, so disease is a crucial and foundational aspect of how a body lives. Even if we were to accept the metaphor, how is it possible to avoid the conclusion that "original" or "old-time" mountain towns were themselves early symptoms of this disease, or at least that they represented a disease that knocked down the mountain West's immune system such that this more virulent disease could take hold?

However, and however, and however. Mountain towns, and those growing non-mountain rural towns, have changed significantly over the last decades, often in just the ways that Sandford describes and attacks. I want to join the battle, and if I lived in his town, I'd be on board with almost all of the activist and communitarian initiatives that he describes.

It's just that, well, Whistler is kind of like Hell, looked at from certain angles, even from inside the determinedly resistant cocoon of the Squamish-Lil'Wat Cultural Centre. Is Canmore any better, or Valemount, just because it hasn't reached peak exploitation (pardon the pun)? Don't people identify strongly with all these towns who are cliquey, outsider-obsessed, me-first, "this land is my land, not your land" arrivistes, even if they're claiming special status from their experiences rather than their material wealth or power?

Sure, I'm jealous in all kinds of ways of these people, and I'm one of them. I've wistfully considered moving to Tahsis (I'm not moving to Tahsis) just so that I could feel on the edge of the world, a more settler sentiment there couldn't possibly be. I'm proud of my heritage in BC, with multiple descendants arriving here before 1900, though painfully aware that this means they were settlers in the truest sense of the word, and therefore directly responsible for colonial dispossession.

The Weekender Effect is a great read, seriously, and I think that Bob Sandford proposes all sorts of solutions and initiatives that could help a mountain town, or really any rapidly changing settler town, to evolve in positive directions. I just couldn't help reading it without a pretty large apparatus of doubt reaching over my shoulder and pencilling notes in the margins. If I trusted that Sandford had the same Jiminy Cricket, and I'm pretty sure he does, and if I trusted that all his readers had the same, which I doubt, then I'd recommend this book highly.


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