“The Persistence of the Visionaries”: Forestry, Ecotourism and the Commodification of Nature in Powell River, BC
Throughout the twentieth century, Powell River, B.C. has been a textbook example of a “company town.” With the incorporation of the Powell River Paper Company in October 1909, a prosperous pulp and paper mill shaped the emerging community. Today, rapidly changing social and economic realities have caused many forestry-driven communities to look for new ways to diversify their economies. Ecotourism represents one way for company towns to re-commodify nature, which involves changing how it is utilized and valued. The Sunshine Coast Trail, for instance, demonstrates the potential for ecotourism to transform Powell River in new ways. While it can be a challenge for single-industry communities to redefine their relationship to nature, it is a worthwhile to explore the possible role of ecotourism in Powell River’s future.
The following essay explores the economic and social impact of Powell River’s mill, and the challenges it faces today. Then, discussion turns to the opportunities and risks that ecotourism offers, particularly through an analysis of trail-building. Finally, two case studies of company towns in B.C. shed light on the possible outcomes of re-commodifying nature in a Powell River.
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