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December 13, 2017

Remembering a town that was

Story and Photos by David G. Williams

I was going to say goodbye to a little town called Jordan River on the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island, about halfway between Sooke and Port Renfrew. The hamlet is on a stretch of Highway 14 (also called the West Coast Road) that hugs the western shoreline, and happens to be a particularly delicious section of the infamous Cowichan Loop, a “must ride” for those who come to Vancouver Island. But big changes were afoot in the little town of Jordan River. I’d read that after a major seismic study conducted by B.C. Hydro, the corporation decided to purchase and demolish all of the homes along the waterfront. They had determined that in the event of a significant seismic event (and everyone out here is just waiting for The Big One), their dam upriver could burst, wiping out the small hamlet.

Danger Zone

Hazard Signs in Jordan RiverPoor little Jordan River is caught between a rock and a hard place, or, more accurately, a tsunami danger zone and a dam that could burst. Last spring, I called Ted Olynyk, spokesperson for B.C. Hydro, to find out about the future of this section of the Loop, which is also a surfer’s paradise. Olynyk says quite frankly that if there is an event strong enough to blow the dam, the flooding caused by the dam would be the least of the inhabitants’ worries. “It would take a catastrophic event to cause the dam to burst,” he notes. But of all their facilities across the province, this one has the highest probability of failure, owing to its proximity to a fault line, so B.C. Hydro decided to be proactive by offering to buy properties to try to move residents out of the danger zone. Only one man, 72-year-old Hugh Pite, who is an avid surfer, has refused to sell off his little bit of paradise. But he’s going to be awfully lonely.

I remembered Jordan River as a beautiful little stretch of the Loop and wanted one last look before it was all gone. As soon as camping weather arrived, I hopped a ferry on the mighty V-Strom and was riding the sinuous coastal road north to Jordan River, expecting to see a series of empty or boarded-up homes and businesses, but something still recognizable – a bit of a coastal ghost town that would at least make for some good photos as a reminder of what was. But what I discovered was a sad scene: Most everything had already been torn down and there was really nothing left of Jordan River. Where once had stood a town with a century of history that had survived multiple changes of fortune, with beloved cottages and flourishing gardens, now stood empty with dying gardens surrounded by construction fencing and No Trespassing signs. Other than Mr. Pite’s cottage, hemmed in on both sides by torn-up lots and wire fencing, it looked as though the town had been hit by bombs.

Sad State

Riding Past a Forest in Jordan RiverThe campground where I had intended to stay was gone as well – I was too late. A painful reminder that nothing lasts forever. I stood on the empty road in the middle of what used to be a vibrant little hamlet, remembering how bucolic a scene it had been. Today, it’s nothing but a memory along this now desolate piece of road. I needed to cogitate and decide whether there was a story here at all; frankly, I was saddened by the whole situation and wanted a bit of time to process it. I love small towns and…

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