Three Days in Cumberland - Day Two

  • Posted on: 14 June 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe
Cumberland BC

Victoria In Amber

Cumberland seemed to be an easy place to live in-- like a video game level where the developers didn’t plunk in too many NPCs. Most of the shops are open and the merchants are friendly. I didn’t go into all of the rooms, but I didn’t encounter anything untoward.

Courtenay is like Langford. Lots of stores, car lots and conveniences. Downtown was vibrant with lots of shops, lots of shoppers. I spoke with Courtenay merchants. They have the same rigamarole that you get in Victoria. But somehow, after you get over hurdles of the same size, businesses can flourish. I read a report recently about Victoria. Many businesses are in their first year; almost as many have been in town for 10+ years. There is a valley of death for businesses between when their initial start-up cash runs dry and those able to tough it out to last. This is what a downtown looks like when you don't try to kill it. Lots of variety, lots of shoppers, lots of benches and parking. #yyj should take note of #courtenayVictoria seems use new businesses as a way to support the old. When a new shop opens it needs construction, inventory, marketing, signage, staffing, memberships to the local tail-chasing associations. All that supports Victoria’s old players as well as the taxes and the general economy. That’s a big hit. All businesses do it because the alternative is hanging the going-out-of-business sign. It seems like Comox Valley business can get a return on that investment in a way that Victoria businesses cannot.

Cumberland is lean and mean-- just enough government to keep law in effect. Courtenay much bigger and it has its share of Victoria-isms: a 6 week process to get approval to lay down a laminate floor; grumpy locals who don’t like anything. Comox is further over still. Maybe it’s the heavy military presence or something similar going on. The ability to do simple tasks effectively that seemed easy in Cumberland was shown to be impossible by locals in Comox. Inside of an hour, I saw people unable to work out four-way stops; someone took five tries to execute a left hand turn; a biker mama tried to flag down the Fields staff to show off something. Oh yeah: there was still a Fields store in Comox. Go figure.

We judge normal and outrageous by our own standards. I heard of people moving from the Provincial government to the Federal government and they were shocked by the stagnation and slow pace in the Federal government. What if the drawn out processes and inability to move from concept to action were a symptom of Victoria being a city of bureaucrats and military? What if the region were locked in its spin cycle because the locals value procedures over results? What if 35-hours per week of wheel spinning at work has ruined Victoria’s palate for what action tastes like? When people hear of in-fighting, trivial debates and drawn out battles, maybe they swallow it instead of taking to the streets in protest?

Earlier this year, I had a chance to get a job in Nanaimo. We did the math: it would take 20 months to catch up. If Cumberland is in the cards, what’s the difference?

Doing Business in Cumberland

Cumberland is smaller than Nanaimo. Blocks adjacent to Dunsmuir Ave. (eg. Penrith) are assumed to be zoned for commercial. I can hang out a shingle for any business I would desire. The 4,000 residents cannot support most businesses. We have learned that locals from Courtenay and Comox come to Cumberland for a get away. It’s a tourist stop, akin to how Sidney has some tourist appeal to the rest of the Greater Victoria area. The customer base for a business is bigger than 4,000.
Cumberland has almost no franchises. The closest they come is an Esso station. If you need a Timmy’s or a Starbucks fix, drive 10 minutes into Courtenay. On the Gulf Islands, they too have a disdain for franchises. In Cumberland you get the capacity for disdain and easy access when that pointless indignation runs its course.

Cost of Living in Cumberland

Our Victoria house is a 1600 sq. ft. 1-bathroom, 3 “bedroom” pressure cooker valued at $475,000. Cheryl spotted a home on Penrinth (eg. one block over from the main street). $350,000 for 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, a shed and a gatehouse (5171 sq. ft. of finished space).
Were one to rent, they would see small wins in Cumberland. Victoria renters are squeezed and the landlords are sporting thin margins that impede maintenance. In Cumberland, that lack of pressure cooks into prices closer to the prices seen in Victoria.
While the local groceries are offered by small shops, all of the big stores are 10 min. away in Courtenay. The grocery prices and food quality are very close to Victoria’s standards. The variety is a little slimmer-- but then that’s not a surprise. I think the zenith of variety comes from Vancouver; Victoria is a couple notches down; Courtenay below that; and Cumberland more so. You can order stuff.
Gas in Courtenay is cheaper than Victoria; but it’s higher than Victoria in Cumberland (meh-- I likely would never drive inside of Cumberland, travelling by foot, by bike and the overtly excellent public transit system).

The Politics of Cumberland

I am cannot get a read of Cumberland’s politics. On the surface: four councillors, 1 mayor. Their recent council meetings played out in two hours with many agenda items and (if I recall) all motions were passed by unanimous passage. That’s a double-bonus: if a matter is brought before council, it’s a solid concept. If it’s brought before council, passage is as speedy as the system should allow. Substance, speed and uniformity. Three alien concepts in Victoria.

The difference between Victoria, Nanaimo and Cumberland is this:
Victoria Nanaimo Cumberland
  • I know Victoria.
  • I have lived here most of my life.
  • Most of our family is in Victoria.
  • Most of my friends are in Victoria.
  • It has lots of conveniences.
  • It’s very expensive.
  • It cannibalizes new businesses for old businesses to persist.
  • It stops progress.
  • It seems a little biker friendly (in a bad way)
  • It seems a little studded starched baseball cap friendly (in a bad way)
  • It’s cheaper than Victoria, but not by much
  • It’s close to two ferry routes to Vancouver (for a few more months, anyways).
  • Houses are cheap.
  • There’s not much government.
  • The government keeps pushing transparency.
  • It’s growing in all metrics (more people, more business, higher incomes, etc.)
  • I will have to BYOO (Bring Your Own Opportunity).

The Transplant

What would have to happen for me to move?
Confidence. Am I resolute that I don’t want any more work from locals? I am. But still, I need the flow of money.
A Job For Cheryl. We would have to replace Cheryl’s income, quickly and well. That helped to jam the brakes on Nanaimo.
A Home. We can likely find a kick-ass home easily. Still, we need one.
The Migration. I would have to hatch a good plan to get as many friends and relatives to relocate. Likely I’ll have to set up a “Victoria expatriate” system to facilitate their introduction to Cumberland. Cumberland has about 1000 households. Wouldn’t it be cool if 50 of my family and friends found a life there?

...or Not

What would get me to stay in Victoria?
A Seismic Shift. It can happen. Landscapes can be remade in minutes after an earthquake. Social and political landscapes can be remade. I actually think that Victoria has a population of people who will make a different city out of Victoria if they find their voice and use it.
Affordability. We look at Vancouver and say, “we’re cheaper than Vancouver.” That’s like saying, “Genocide is worse than homicide, so homicide isn’t that bad.” There is no reason it’s not cheaper to live here.
Jet-setting. What if my life becomes busier and more jazzy? I’ll need to be closer to the conveniences of a modern megalopolis… or, even a Victoria. I actually think technology has mostly closed this gap already, but for now people need to travel for meetings.
Photo by Cheryl DeWolfe

Last updated date

Sunday, June 15, 2014 - 23:03