The Shining Valley
by Malcolm Yates
View of Howe Sound from Brohm/ Photo by Kevin McLane
I moved to British Columbia in 1980. I left Vancouver Island for Whistler in 1991 and I moved to Squamish in 2006. And now, in this most moonstruck of years where nothing is certain, I can say with certainty that this is my home, and I shan't want for more. I didn’t appreciate my surroundings as a kid; if there was fun stuff to do, I didn’t care where I did it. Easy to say, of course, when one lives in a land whose beauty is a badge worn boldly. As a young man I began to appreciate my world a bit more, but mostly from a What can I do with this? point of view. In Whistler the “this” were mountains and the “what” was snowboarding. As an older (not wiser) man I saw Squamish initially as a means to an end: we can’t afford to live in Whistler but maybe we can buy a house in Squamish. It was only after the ends were met that the means gained meaning. This region, this corridor, this land that I love is so much more than a place to hang one’s hat. Lest I stumble over my own descriptions, let me instead quote the author, Kevin McLane, from the introduction to his book, Squamish The Shining Valley:
“Squamish lies at the head of a long fiord defended by steep rock walls that penetrate inland forty kilometres from the Salish Sea. The fiord merges into a wide estuary backed by high snowy mountains. And from those mountains a great river pours into the estuary. This is Squamish Valley.
A winding, precarious road snakes along the walls of the fiord, Howe Sound, and joins the world to this lovely place. The road, the Sea to Sky Highway, is the prelude to the Squamish experience, which was defined until 1958 by the solitude of no road, and then for a half a century by the road’s precarious grip on the walls of Howe Sound.”
Sounds impressive, right? It is. And if that were all there was it would be more than enough to write about. But in Kevin McLane’s book (available at many of Squamish’s local business establishments and online at shop.climbonsquamish.com) he takes a two-pronged approach to telling the tale. The first is an engaging history lesson that starts as far back as your mind can imagine. From the time of the dinosaurs, through the various geologic events that shaped the land we now know. This includes the recession of the last ice age, the first aboriginal settlements and the Skohomish People, the arrival of Europeans, the creation of British Columbia and all the joy and sorrow and heart and hardship of the people who persevered to create the diverse and wondrous existence we have today.
Highway 99, the road to Squamish/ Photo by Kevin McLane
The second section of Squamish The Shining Valley is a series of “photographic essays of today, expressed through life in town, people in exercise on the land, on water, in the wind, on rock and in the landscapes. The mood of the images is captured by vignettes to draw the reader inside the picture.” And draw you in they most certainly do: the photos are spectacular. Kevin McLane is an accomplished photographer and award-winning author of multiple mountaineering and rock climbing books and his eye for detail and love of the subject matter shine through in the recently updated version of his 1994 classic. Squamish The Shining Valley belongs on the coffee table of anyone fortunate enough to favour the Sea to Sky with a visit and curious enough to wonder how it all came to be.
Until the mid-1980s Squamish was a small, quiet logging town enjoying a content and secure
way of life. For half a century the forest industry had dominated its economy and culture, and
the horizons of forests that cloaked the mountains were seen as an endless resource to clearcut for a profitable life. Today, thirty-five years later, Squamish is a bustling city with a radically different economy and a lifestyle that has changed beyond recognition. What happened?
By the 1980s outdoor recreation was developing a broad movement across North America. Themountains around Squamish were a magnetic attraction, despite the winding, twisting highway and falling rock. Climbers and alpine wanderers were increasing every year and news filtered around the globe. Those who could, moved to live in Squamish. A handful a year became a few hundred. By the mid-1990s, Squamish was in an existential crisis, an angry battle of two competing cultures. The newcomers wanted an economy that also embraced recreation, heavy industry resisted to uphold its way of life.
Science was demanding more protection for forests and wildlife habitat, and ballot-box
pressures on government from voters were demanding more parks and protected areas. Global economic forces were at work too, crippling Squamish’s heavy industry. By 2006 the chemical plant, the pulp mill, and the sawmill had disappeared and the forest economy had shrunk to a much smaller, sustainable level. By 2009 the smooth Olympic highway was racing to Squamish and a flood of new people began to discover the quiet little logging town that was no more.