Friday, July 30, 2010

Chemainus: The Little Town That Did

People reinvent themselves on occasion, and so do towns. One of the most famous examples here in the Northwest is Leavenworth, Wash. In the early 1960s, the once-booming lumber town was in serious decline. The sawmill closing and departure of the railroad switching yards had left Leavenworth with an ailing economy and lack of jobs. As the town became more and more run-down, local business leaders and residents turned to the University of Washington’s Bureau of Community Development for help in saving the community. A number of ideas were tossed around, but the concept of creating a theme town was the most popular. There were already several successful examples in the country including “Danish” Solvang, California, “Swiss” New Glarus, Wisconsin, and “German” Frankenmuth, Michigan. While Leavenworth had no single ethnic tradition, it did have an attractive alpine setting and the idea of creating a romanticized, Bavarian village seemed to be the best fit. Great efforts were taken to make the town as authentic as possible, and the result has been a smashing success.
A similar story unfolded in the town of Chemainus, BC, about 50 miles north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Faced with a declining timber industry and the possible closure of the Horsehoe Bay Lumber Mill, the biggest employer, the town considered ways to lure in the many tourists driving up and down the island. They decided to turn the town into one giant, outdoor art gallery. Today, more than 35 murals and a dozen sculptures tell the story of the region's culture and history. Now, about one-half million visitors stop by every year to enjoy the show by foot, by car, or by trolly. Here are a few of the building-size murals:

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