Shucking Oysters: The Summers of Love
Living on Hornby Island can be seen as both a curse and a blessing. Loved to death and living in “paradise.” The perfect Molotov cocktail (with one of those tiny drink umbrellas). And this is not an isolated phenomena; this over-tourism theme is everywhere.
Hornby summers are intense (especially if you work on the front lines and need to go from A to B). The traffic jams at the four corners. The waiting to turn on Central after a ferry has unloaded. The line ups at the Co-op. The market. The market! The amount of cars parked in the vicinity, you’d think it was a Taylor Swift concert. And e bikes. After the paddle board, e bikes of course, are the next best thing. But when I have to speed up in my car to pass a bike going 30k, that worries me.
In the summer, many Hornby Islanders feel that they are living in some theme park. Most visitors think the entire island is Disneyland. (Those are the ones on their magical rides zig zagging down the middle of the road in blissful oblivion.) But, hey, how can you not love Hornby, “the Hawaii of the north”? When it’s too, too busy, perhaps?
I find myself staring at visitors like they are aliens from a foreign country: unfamiliar and disturbing. The incessant staring down at the glow of their smart phones. The inability to navigate themselves in a small grocery store. The challenges with reading signs, from the 60 kilometre speed limit sign to the “Sorry, no ice” sign. Parking their cars blocking entrances, driveways and beach accesses. Parking with no dog in the shaded “dog in car parking only” area or worse, leaving dogs in their car in the blazing sun, window open a crack in 24 plus degree weather.
And the garbage. Every public receptacle is stuffed to the max. Recycled signs are blatantly ignored and apparently it’s far too inconvenient to go up to the depot. Just toss the bags at the bottom of the entrance, someone will deal with them. And those green doggie poop bags? Tossed willy-nilly on the side of the roads and in the parking lots. I even see those poop bags hanging off branches on the trails, like some exotic breed of bird. Is that a green forest flicker? And let’s not forget the random used diapers that “accidentally fell” off the roof of a car, lying on the shoulders like road kill.
Working on the front line means I know too much. Waaay too much. Sure, you’re on holiday, but really? You didn’t do a Google search before you got here? It’s like playing Existential Question. “Is there a beach?” “Is the coffee fresh?” “Are these today’s newspapers?” Can both destiny and free will exist simultaneously? What is the location of the soul? Does it reside within you?
I know, I know, Hornby needs its tourism. But, as I keep saying, it’s the difference between four people showing up at your front door and 20 people.
A sobering Canadian documentary, “The Last Tourist,” darkly exposes the effects of mass tourism on our planet. The timing of the documentary’s spring 2022 release as the world’s borders reopened and people looked to travel with purpose, made it all the more prescient.
Executive Producer Bruce Poon Tip points to the “unconscious consumers” created by the vacation industry, and says while we live by a certain set of values at home, we often suspend those values when we go on holiday. When on vacation, “we tend to have more showers, we tend to be more wasteful, we tend to eat more,” says Ryerson University Professor Rachel Dodds.
It is no surprise that it’s the internet driving all this. “The advent of social media has completely changed the way we travel,” says Dodds. “We’re going after a photograph.” Filmed in over 15 countries, “The Last Tourist” is overpopulated with millennials posting Instagrams everywhere.
And warning, with its blunt coverage on the cruelty of animal tourism, the doc is not for the faint of heart. As Kim Hughes wrote, “It’s a tough slog, this film, partly because it delivers its arguments with a sledgehammer, and partly because we know what it’s saying is true.”
Closer to home, the Sea to Sky Destination Management Council, an offshoot of Destination BC, launched a ‘Don’t Love It to Death’ campaign in 2022. “Having access to beautiful spaces and vibrant communities is a privilege — one we will lose if we don’t change our ways.” The campaign reminded visitors that we “are all guests on these lands and waters. Respect the people, wildlife, natural spaces, and communities by exploring mindfully.”
Meanwhile back on Hornby, we continue to debate the uppers and downers of tourism. The employment benefits, all that money entering our local economy. The crowds, the stress on businesses and locals (human and otherwise). I’m even hearing from people who have been coming to Hornby for years, rethinking about coming back next year because of the huge influx of visitors. I know it’s not every visitor that treats this place with disrespect, but enough of them, that you see the evidence everywhere.
Are we loved to death? Or is it seduction and we should just lie back and enjoy it?