Three Days in Cumberland - Day One
You started out as a land grab by a savage British immigrant who knew that the land hid massive seams of black gold far beneath the surface. For a time Cumberland was the largest settlement in Western Canada. Its Chinatown (a segmented ghetto where the Chinese immigrants were allowed to live), was described as the second largest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco. Dunsmuir was given a massive amount of land and rights to resources on the condition that he build a railway from Victoria to Campbell River. Dunsmuir gave up after getting the line to Courtney. At its zenith, the mines employed 600 of the 3000 residents.
Life in the mines was hard. Deaths were common. In 1912, a brutal two year labour action began. A cannon was mounted at one end of the street to cut down strikers. Albert ‘Ginger’ Goodwin came to Cumberland in 1910. Shocked by the working conditions (64 workers died in one year alone), Goodwin became an advocate for workers rights. In 1918, he was murdered by Dunsmuir henchmen to stifle dissent. Instead, he became a martyr and inspired Canada’s first general strike.
The 1980s saw a revival Goodwin's legacy in Cumberland, with the start of Miners' Memorial Day, in 1986. The Cumberland Museum and Archives, holds an annual event to celebrate the memory of Cumberland's 295 minors who died in various mining accidents over the decades. A section of Vancouver Island Highway 19 that passes through Cumberland was briefly named Ginger Goodwin Way. The signs were quietly removed by the newly elected BC Liberal government. Workers rights don’t fly with the BC government.
Coal mining is long gone. There is talk afoot of reviving the mines. Likewise, there is talk of fracking to get at the methane trapped in the Earth. Those contentious practices may come back. It’s hard to say as the energy sector has a friend in the Christie Clark regime-- even economical resources cannot be extracted, the tax credit program makes unsuccessful projects more lucrative than fruitful ones.
Cumberland is home to over 3400 residents. It is 15 minutes away from Courtney and Comox. Royston is 20 minutes away. Union Bay is 30 minutes away. Living in Victoria, I sometimes forget what its like living near other separate by nearby communities. Whatever you cannot get in the small village, you can likely find in nearby Courtney. If you want to get away from it all, the Comox airport has 20 minute flights to Vancouver, and departures for Calgary, Edmonton and other destinations.
The population skews young-- it is the youngest community demographic on the Island. After living through the systemic amber of life in Victoria, it was refreshing to see people come to intersections and obey the traffic laws. It was nice to see people approach doors, then open them immediately and walk in (really, Victoria, this should not be a thing-- twice this week I have stood behind people who encounter doors and meet them with abject confusion-- WALK IN or MOVE ON!). You don’t notice the lack of miasma immediately, then it sinks in: people aren’t confused up here.
The planning nerd in me ran wild. The streets are almost entirely laid out in a grid. Many of the intersections are four-way stops. I don’t think I saw a traffic light. Most of the blocks sport alleys. You don’t notice that you need alleys until you live in the compressed confines of Victoria where alleys are uncommon. There is a new subdivision going up-- blocks and blocks of new homes. In Victoria, secondary suites sit in the same quadrant of municipal acceptance as meth labs. In Cumberland, all of the properties are zoned to accept secondary suites by default. The low housing prices is thereby made even more affordable.
Inside of two hours. I found:
- A turnkey restaurant on the main drag for $400k. The property, the equipment. The whole deal.
- A gallery where I could rent working space for $100 per month (also on the main drag).
- Riders Pizza, a bike themed pizza place where wheels make up table tops; and serving platters.
- (well, refound) the Village Bakery, home to the BEST donuts. Period.
- Cap guns. I found a corner store that sold an array of cap guns and caps. I thought they were outlawed. $3 later, I have a cap gun again for the first time since 1981. Admittedly, the ease of access of cap guns seems really petty, but after listening to a 45 minute debate over whether cellphones, payphones or Skype are valid ways for Victoria City councilors to literally phone-it-in when they cannot attend in person, I think a $3 toy doesn't seem to be petty by comparison.
- A house THREE TIMES the size of our current home for $125,000 less than our current matchbox.
- A second hand clothing store with clothes she found for very little.
We both found:
- Iced coffee.
- Good eats.
- Nice people.
- No Starbucks.
- No pretension.
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