LIONS BAY, B.C.—Cayla Troyer looks out her living room window at the quiet beach below. These days, it’s unusual not to see some young people lying and swimming there but, like many places, Lions Bay has become quieter since COVID-19 descended.
Unlike many spots in British Columbia, which clamoured to reopen as the province emerged from its pandemic lockdown, Troyer is among many in her community happier with their solitude.
“I don’t quite understand it, because if I want to go somewhere, I’ll choose a provincial park; I don’t choose someone’s home,” Troyer said. “And yet it seems to me that other people decide to come to our home — which is not an established resort.”
A self-declared bedroom community with only one general store and fewer than 1,500 residents living in multimillion-dollar homes, Lions Bay doesn’t draw visitors for the commercial opportunities.
But nestled between Vancouver and Squamish on the Sea-to-Sky highway, it presents an attractive base to access hiking trails, towering cliffs and beaches on public land.
On a recent day, though, boulders line a waterfront street to prevent parking, and few people dotted the beach.
Residents say that for a decade, their concerns about the increasing levels of visitors to their community have gone unheeded. That changed when COVID-19 arrived.
At the height of the COVID-19 restrictions in March, the municipality was quick to shut its doors — installing signs at entrances to the village declaring parking lots and amenities were closed to everyone except residents. In a May special meeting, council passed new rules to triple the parking fines for those without a resident or guest permit. All public lots were closed.
Now, even though the province is well into Stage 3 of its pandemic recovery, and public places are opening for public use, a reticence has surfaced among some in Lions Bay.
Troyer reminisces about the days 20 years ago when the only casual visitors to this idyllic spot were the mild-mannered nudists who would say hello to her and her neighbours by name before heading to the locally famed “au naturel” section of waterfront.
And Troyer believes the influx of visitors to her community in Lions Bay, B.C., had become nothing short of a home invasion — with young people driving in from the city and parking wherever they can find space in the two-square-kilometre municipality.
At the end of June, in a video update to residents, Mayor Ron McLaughlin addressed the tension.
“Parking was not in this council’s agenda when we took office; COVID-19 changed that,” Mayor Ron McLaughlin said in a video update to residents at the end of June. “What we did before was ineffective. Casual visitors did what they wanted to, parked where they wanted to, and scoffed at our low parking fines.
“What we won’t do is put casual visitors’ desires ahead of those of our own residents’, or our residents’ safety.”
Following feedback from some residents, the five-person council agreed to open some parking lots closest to hiking trails. But despite recommendations from staff to provide more opportunities for visitors to enjoy the waterfront, council was unanimous in wanting to keep the parking opportunities there closed until they consulted locals further.
On a rainy Friday, the large rocky beach behind Troyer’s property lay practically empty, save the lawn chairs and kayaks left out by the homeowners with waterfront.
The big fear for the residents is that, due to its beauty and closeness to Vancouver, Lions Bay could lose the small community feel that drove many to move there in the first place — like the community of Deep Cove at the eastern extremity of Vancouver’s North Shore, which sees hundreds of visitors every weekend but 20 years ago was a quiet local haven.
“It has become invasive since the 2010 Olympics,” Troyer said. “It’s not me being exclusive and elitist because I understand that people want to feed their soul. They want to be in nature and I get that.
“But it’s just to think twice about coming to somewhere that’s someone’s house, someone’s neighbourhood, that doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it,” she said.
A desire to limit visitors is not universal in the area but it is the dominant perspective — one neighbour who said he thinks more people should be able to come and access the beach refused to give his name for fear of making “enemies” of his neighbours.
“We are quite privileged to live in a beautiful spot with numerous outdoor recreation opportunities at our doorsteps,” said Jon Wescott, another local resident who played a part in encouraging the council to open the village up to hikers. “These opportunities are not limited to only residents, they are open to all.”
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Wescott said he thinks the closure of nearby provincial parks — including the massive Garibaldi Provincial Park near Whistler — is diverting more and more people to places such as Lions Bay, and residents rightly worry how the small community could keep up with the demand without losing its character.
“There’s little tourism business here, just the marina and general store. The village is run primarily from property taxes,” Wescott said. “Therefore, it feels a bit like we’re subsidizing recreation for others.”
When Troyer thinks about the visitors, she worries about what would happen to her community if the traffic gets so bad that the neighbours don’t want to stop and talk, sometimes for hours at a time, on evening walks.
“It’s like me coming to your house and deciding that I’m going to do my thing in your backyard and invade you,” she said. “People don’t think about it that way. Yes, we live in a beautiful area, but there’s lots of provincial parks that provide that beautiful thing, too, that have access.”