Register Sunday | November 17 | 2019

Photo Project: Voices in the Wilderness

One small island in the Salish Sea, 350 people living off-grid. This remote community conjures a certain kind of nostalgia. But the island, whose inhabitants prefer not to have its name published, isn’t just an escapist utopia. The land and people who rely upon it are simultaneously connected and isolated from the modern, mainland world. 

Islanders embrace a countercultural ethos that values autonomy. In the 1970s, they rejected BC Hydro’s attempt to sell power to them, relying instead on alternative energy sources. While traditional currency is exchanged for goods and services, most islanders have also adopted work trades and other types of bartering. Because of its relative isolation, the island is subject to few regulatory restrictions and next to no law enforcement.

Power politics—hierarchies of race, age, and gender—are not left behind on the mainland. Neither is economic disparity, and many residents feel the financial strain when the boom of their island-created economies go bust. For example, in the 1920s and later in the 1950s, logging was lucrative for island-dwellers, but only for so long—natural resources dry up. The marijuana business of the nineties similarly waxed and waned. Steadily decreasing pot prices combined with steadily increasing RCMP raids on grow-ops stifled the industry. Many workers, trained only for this kind of work, were left adrift.

The island is still a microcosm of the wider world, and its inhabitants must balance independence with codependence. Survival necessitates collaboration among a diverse cross-section of characters—nomads and draft dodgers, young families and solitary retirees, artists and tradespeople, homesteaders and environmentalists. This work is meant to witness the complex harmonies and dissonances of their life in the wilderness.