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Will Squamish be able to maintain its identity despite its growing population?  

Long considered a simple stopover between Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, the Municipality of Squamish is now a vibrant destination where more and more people want to call home. However, being one of the 20 fastest-growing communities in Canada comes with its own set of challenges.

No matter where you look in Squamish, there are cranes and construction: it’s a symbol of a municipality that is growing and changing.

Pascale-Anouk Rivest-Gadbois, who has lived in Squamish for 20 years, sees the benefits. I think it’s exciting because it gives us more opportunities to meet people and cultural diversity,” she says, referring to the new faces in her community. It believes that community values and values related to respect for nature and the environment remain unchanged.

However, she laments the changes in Squamish, because of the cost of rent and the outside activities that make the area so attractive. It costs a lot of money, going skiing in Whistler, mountain biking, all of that,” she explains.

However, these choices have become impossible for a certain part of the population. Squamish’s big problem is housing. It’s very expensive, admits Sarah Ellis, director of the Squamish Community Housing Society.

Rent prices have risen by almost 50% in five years, and real estate prices have risen by about the same amount, which is really extraordinary, she says.

Sarah Ellis hopes that the affordable housing project in the Northyards area, a few kilometres from downtown, will be accepted by BC Housing. She also welcomes the recent announcement of $7 million from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to accelerate housing construction in Squamish.

Numerous construction projects

Yet, in Squamish, there is already housing being built. Many projects are underway, such as Finch Drive. In all, there will be 250 apartments, townhomes, duplexes and housing, all carbon neutral, some starting this year.

Developer Jason Wood, president of Diamond Head Development, has also had to do his part to address the housing crisis. Part of the Finch Drive complex has an affordable rental building, at the request of the District of Squamish, he said.

Jason Wood, who has lived in Squamish for 20 years, says the community has been transforming over the past five years, with new restaurants and businesses coming in. He hopes that the development of the waterfront will come to fruition. He also wants the transport network to develop, while protecting the environment.

All the difficulties associated with growth create a real headache for the authorities. Squamish District Mayor Armand Hurford, who was born in the community, has seen the city change over the years. He argues that, at the speed of change, problems often come quickly, but solutions take time. In addition to housing, they cite problems with recruitment and retention of staff.

Armand Hurford, however, believes that his city manages to keep its essence. According to him, the people who live in Squamish have made a conscious choice to live there despite the difficulties and will therefore do everything to enjoy it. They’re struggling to live in a very expensive place and to maximize the benefits of being here, which is to live the lifestyle, the [social] impact, the creation of an artistic community,” he said.

Squamish seems to be a municipality still appreciated for its sense of community and local initiatives. However, with a projected 50% increase in population over the next 15 years, it remains to be seen how these values will be transformed.

Without wanting to be pessimistic, Pascale-Anouk Rivest-Gadbois is still asking herself questions. In the long run, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I don’t know if it’s going to change the core values of what Squamish stands for,” she said.

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