Flash Back Fridays

CANADIAN URBAN DEMONSTRATION PROGRAM

By Judy Wright, 1975

A student with one of Judy’s puppets.

Judy first came to the Lodge with Laurie Wood. A former teacher and skilled craftsperson, she made the puppets featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) film “Living on the Edge”. She met her husband Jeff Kingston at the Lodge. Judy raised her two children on an island homestead off Cortes. Judy is a marvelous cook. She has returned a couple of times to help us out in the kitchen over the years.

1975 was a lean year at the Lodge and the winter saw a young, unpaid staff who worked for food, room, postage stamps and the occasional ride to town. Life was good but on long winter evenings we gathered around the library stove and dreamed of funding to relieve the financial pressures of the moment. By the light of oil lamps, our long discussions gave birth to the idea of the Rural Resource Village as a way to support our idyllic lifestyle and also to introduce the world to a better way of life. The concept was refined and developed by the writing of a grant proposal to the ‘Canadian Urban Demonstration Program’. Although the grant was not awarded, we were a close runner up. The idea of a Rural Resource Village stuck, the proposal became the long term development plan for the Lodge, and today it is an interesting record of Lodge history. Following is a summary of the ideas presented in the grant proposal by a group of early environmentalists and idealistic educators.

Many of us came from cities across the country and, with our immersion into the wilderness environment of the Lodge, we realized how disconnected urban dwellers were from the natural world and how their attitudes and social interactions were skewed and their quality of life diminished by their isolation from natural reality. Because urbanites had no control over the most basic infrastructure of their lives – food, water, shelter, fuel- they were forced into an unimaginative submission to society’s mastery of their thoughts and actions. They sacrificed their creative and adventurous spirit to the seductive demons of physical comfort and inertia. A city dweller was cocooned in his private pod, alienated from both nature and his fellow beings.
With no physical challenges, the urbanite sought satisfaction from the accumulation of material goods and the artificial excitement of the entertainment media. This all took an absurd amount of energy but, without a conscious connection to their energy sources, urbanites flagrantly and unknowingly wasted their society’s precious resources.
As more people gravitated to the soft comfort and glitter of cities, the rural landscape lost its stewards. With no watching eyes, industries were able to mine and exploit natural resources without effective regulation or policing, and their malpractice caused wilderness ecosystems to lose their integrity. There needed to be an economic base in the wilderness to keep people actually living there. The ‘Rural Resource Village’ was our answer to this situation of natural and social alienation and we hoped that Strathcona Park Lodge would become a prototype for similar villages throughout the country. Located as it was at the gateway of a wilderness park, the village would bring city dwellers into a transition zone where they could initiate a reconnection with nature, with each other, and with their natural selves. The location of similar villages, country wide, would be determined by their accessibility to both natural ecosystems and urban centres, but in all cases villages would have viable, sustainable economies.

The village would not be a tourist service facility but rather an educational, hands-on living place. It was important to make the experience available to a wide base of people; diminishing social inequality, by keeping the costs as low as possible. Visiting groups of school children, university students, elders, corporate executives and urban families would be housed in minimal, relatively crowded rooms and cabins which would demand complete interaction, cooperation and participation with each other to create their own comfort. Problems of privacy and community would be balanced and solved by the groups themselves as they interacted in unusually sustained contact. Some meals would be taken communally with the whole village and participants would enjoy the new experience of a very nutritious, largely vegetarian, whole food diet. But mostly, the groups would do their own cooking, cleaning, wood

chopping and heating, in addition to the planned activities. They would learn to compost and recycle garbage, to cultivate and harvest some of their food and to participate in the varied maintenance chores of the village. From this, they would learn about the generator fuel consumption and the benefits of a micro-hydro Pelton wheel, about the use of recycled or local natural materials to build energy efficient buildings, about potable water sources, water conservation and sewage treatment. Combining pioneer skills with modern, environmentally sound technologies would demonstrate a new level of self sufficiency and a higher quality of human settlement. The open education experience encouraged by the village would free visitors from a set structure and allow them to design their own systems and to learn by doing.

But their interaction with the physical plant of the village, and with each other in this sheltered environment, would be only a prelude to their launch into the surrounding wilderness.
Experienced leaders would take groups by kayak, canoe, sail boat, and on foot into the forest, lakes, rivers, oceans and mountains of the area. As their spirits were soothed by the natural beauty and clear air, the immediacy of physical survival and individual responsibility would become more pronounced. When a person arrives at the top of a mountain and has to build an igloo to sleep in that night, his personal survival requires the direct and immediate application of his strengths and the cooperation of his group. Through the adventure, by improvising and by facing the real dangers of nature, they would build confidence in their own abilities and gain courage to face the world more creatively.

Their awareness of the natural world would be expanded and they would see first hand the resources that were being so rapidly depleted at the hands of their bureaucracies and large corporations. Meanwhile, back at the Lodge, the long term residents, (staff and their families), would monitor the effects of damaging industrial activity in the wilderness. The information collected would be passed on to village visitors: including groups from government and industry, school and university students and ordinary folk on recreational holidays. In this way, stewards, those who kept an eye on what was going on in the so-called wilderness, would be returned to the land.
The village would also be a site of accommodation and liaison between government departments, (like Parks, Forestry, and Mining), scholars, educators and common folk, as bureaucrats stepped into the real natural world where the impacts of their decisions were most felt. The village would be a place to experiment with new environmental technology and alternate social solutions.

With all the many functions and benefits of a ‘Rural Resource Village we felt good about asking for government funding and planning for other financing options like mortgages. Although this grant was not awarded, funding was found elsewhere and over the years Strathcona Park Lodge has developed largely in accordance with the fireside dream and has achieved many of those early goals.

Sketch by Rob Wood