I grew up at a time in the Comox Valley when the economy revolved around natural resources.
Coal from Cumberland, timber from the valleys and mountains, salmon from the ocean, and dairy, beef and produce from the farms.
Rusty old ships from around the world would tie up at the port in Union Bay to fill their holds with what was at the time considered the best, hottest hard-rock coking coal in the British Empire. I can still remember the unforgettable smell of the coking ovens there.
The Comox Logging and Railroad train still huffed and puffed through the centre of Courtenay on its way to the Royston log dump. The narrow gauge, steam-powered locomotives pulled endless cars of logs — only one or two per car — as they were monstrous old-growth timber; the kind you only see in museums or on a few small reserves that are left like Kitty Coleman Park.
Sawmills, like the old Field site, needed the endless log booms that were anchored, waiting, all over and across the Comox estuary from one end to the other. The old “beehive burners” would sometimes create smoke so thick that you couldn’t drive on the Dyke Road unless you followed the taillights of the car in front of you.
Fishing consisted of raking a few herring out of the kelp beds, hooking a few on a line and bringing home a couple of nice salmon in a matter of an hour or so. The Comox Tyee pool regularly produced award-winning monsters of 50 pounds or more.
Some of the more successful schoolmates were the ones who dropped out and bought a logging truck/backhoe/fish boat and got to work. All you needed was to turn up at a logging camp on Monday morning with cork boots and a hardhat and you were working that day.
Today — of all those things — only farming remains. Now, you need millions of dollars to buy the spread, and then a willingness to work endless hours until you retire and try to sell the farm.
Things are different today.
People commute to jobs in the North and are called “satellite dads,” returning home every few weeks with a paycheque. Others work “online” from their home in their pyjamas, commuting to the city only when they absolutely need to.
Recreation and tourism produce service-sector jobs that don’t even cover the high cost of living here in the Comox Valley. Military and public-sector jobs are the exception, with education and health care topping the list.
In the words of Bob Dylan — The times they are a-changing!
Editor’s note: Edwin Grieve is the Comox Valley Regional district chair and director for Puntledge-Black Creek (Area C).