If you love the island, please don’t come

You’ve heard about our legendary Salt Spring sasquatch? Long ago, about the time white folks first came to the island, a pioneer woman went for a walk in the woods and never returned. All they found was her handkerchief. And some enormous footprints. When I walk the island’s Emily Carr-ish forests, I keep an eye skinned for large hairy creatures — particularly shoeless ones. I know if it’s wearing gumboots, it’s just a Salt Spring Southender. If it’s barefoot, I’m screwed. 

Of course, Salt Spring’s changed. A century ago, there were only a couple of hundred souls, give or take a British remittance man. Today, we number at least 10,000 — maybe even 12,000. Nobody knows for sure, although everybody has an opinion.

Opinions come with the territory. Aside from our status as Canada’s Chosen People, Salt Springers seldom agree with each other about anything. Not even whether it’s Salt Spring or Saltspring. A few years back, Canada Post tried to tell islanders that the one-word version was mandatory on all mail. It hastily — and wisely — backed down, thus avoiding civil insurrection and flaming crosses on the post office lawn.

It’s tougher than it looksliving in paradise. We keep getting discovered. This month, Salt Spring is featured in 50Plus. Last year, Salt Spring was written up in Harrowsmith, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Readers’ Digest and the Times of New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s nice to be noticed, but there’s such a thing as overexposure.   

We’re already attracting a new breed of settler — mainly Americans — drawn by the soaring landscape and the fluttering loonie. On a headland across the water from my place, there’s a new, gawdawful mansion rising out of the treetops. It’s three storeys high, as tasteless as a Hugh Hefner wet dream, and boasts an elevator and an indoor pool.

That ain’t Salt Spring.

Then there’s the spread just down the road. A hundred and fifty acres, recently purchased by a brace of Washingtonians who immediately surrounded it with an eight-foot high Gulag-style wire fence and capital-letter signs for the formerly free-ranging deer to ponder: WARNING: THESE PREMISES PROTECTED BY A MONITORED SECURITY SYSTEM.

That ain’t Salt Spring either.

Not that it stems the tourist tide. The Chamber of Commerce reckons we had about 200,000 last year — 20 visitors for every islander. They descend by yacht and ferry and float plane and, yes, they put dough in the pockets of merchants, but they also overwhelm and somewhat flatten the place. Salt Spring wasn’t engineered to process large herds of transient flowing humanity à la the West Ed Mall.  The island wasn’t engineered at all. That’s the beauty of Salt Spring.

There is a growing testiness toward the tourist hordes. The Salt Spring Hysterical Society comedy troupe performs a song that includes the refrain: “If you love the island, please don’t come.” It gets standing ovations.

Elizabeth Nickson, an islander, once dissed our restaurants in her National Post column. “Microwave factories” she called them. I relayed this to my pool-playing pal, Arvid. “Excellent!” he exclaimed. And he’s a real estate salesman.

Frankly, it’s hard to see why people come here at all. The ocean’s forever frigid, ferry service is dodgy and costs an arm and a leg — if you’re able to get aboard. And once you arrive, there’s not much to do. No casinos, no nightclubs, no racetracks. Oh, you can take your dog for a walk — if he’s not too small (we have eagles) and if you’re not worried about the cougars that swim over from Vancouver Island from time to time. And the slugs. Ever seen one of our banana slugs? They say they’re harmless, but I’ve seen what they can do to a head of cabbage in the garden. I don’t want to think what would happen if a slug surreptitiously slimed under the brim of some tourist’s Tilley hat.

And the rain! Monsoons! Except during the fire season when it’s so dry you daren’t jingle change in your pocket for fear of sparking a wildfire.

Don’t even talk about The Earthquake. Scientists say we’re decades overdue for a Richter 10. And did I mention our resident sasquatch?

Arthur Black has been nominated and received just about every award for writing, humour and journalism available in Canada and maintains that he wanted to be a cowboy.