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Somenos Lake, Duncan and Cowichan Bay, as seen from the top of Mt. Prevost. Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse Cowichan

New In Town: Digging into growth and change where we live

For 200 years, the story of Cowichan has been the story of new people coming to town.

Shhweenustham ‘u tu Quw’utsun Hwulmuhw. The people of the warm land welcome you. That phrase greets visitors to the website of Cowichan Tribes, B.C.’s largest First Nation.

For 200 years, the story of Cowichan has been the story of new people coming to town. Cowichan’s Tribes’ welcome today is characteristically warm. That’s in spite of the fact that waves of immigration here have come at a significant cost to Quw’utsun people. 

Before colonization, the Quw’utsun people were a fierce and feared tribe with a population of perhaps 15,000 and territories covering much of southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and parts of the lower Fraser River on the Lower Mainland, too. Newcomers brought disease that decimated the population. By 1912, the population was down to about 500, according to The Cowichan, a book about this region by Georgina Montgomery. A foreign government confined survivors to reserve lands and enacted laws to restrict their movement, take their children and ban their way of life.

And newcomers kept coming. They came from Europe, Scandinavia, China, India, Japan and elsewhere in search of opportunity. They came to farm and they came to log. And they continue to come. The regional population grew by 30,000 in the last 30 years. And it’s expected to grow more than 20,000 in the next 30. Today, the new arrivals come mostly from within B.C. and Canada, attracted by work, weather, access to nature, family, friends and more.

How will Cowichan’s continued growth impact all of us, for better and for worse? What do newcomers need to understand about this region, its people and its history? How can we work towards healthier, more inclusive, more connected communities? 

With these questions in mind, The Discourse Cowichan is launching New In Town, a series of stories and information designed to help us connect with and learn from each other and make sense of the place we call home.

What we’re doing

As always, our coverage begins with asking what you want to know. A couple of weeks ago we surveyed our readers, asking about the communities where they live. We asked what makes them great, where there are growing pains and what questions we might be able to help answer. 

Informed by your feedback, from now through the new year we will offer:

  • Newsletters that answer your questions about the places you call home. 
  • What we know about how and where Cowichan is growing and changing.
  • Historical and contemporary photos that show Cowichan’s changing landscape.
  • On Nov. 30, an event on finding home in Cowichan. The goal is to gather diverse residents to build bridges and foster new understanding. RSVP here.
  • First Nations perspectives on what settlers should understand about the history and people of Quw’utsun.
  • Profiles of newcomers that shed light on the bigger story of growth in Cowichan
  • Spotlights on what makes Cowichan’s communities awesome, according to you

And we’ll continue to surface untold stories, hold power to account and provide insightful information and analysis on community issues that you tell us matter to you.

What do you think newcomers, past and future, need to know about the history and context of this place? Click here and let us know.

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