What we learned about the changing valley from our first panel

Four panelists shared their expertise and thoughts in a discussion on how the Fraser Valley has changed, and what is to come for the region. Here is what they had to say.

By Tyler Olsen | April 6, 2022 |5:00 am

The Fraser Valley is a changing place. So what better topic to pick apart with four expert speakers during The Current’s very first panel last week?

On March 31, we spoke with Indigenous podcaster Aaron Pete, Archway’s Director of Multicultural and Immigrant Integration Services Manpreet Grewal, UFV political science professor Hamish Telford, and The Cascade editor-in-chief Andrea Sadowski to hear what they’ve seen in the changing valley over the past decade.

This is what they had to say.

(Want to learn more about the changing valley? Read our series on the topic here.)

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We started by talking to Aaron Pete to try to situation our discussion about change and growth within the overall history of the Fraser Valley, both pre- and post-colonization.

“I think it’s first important that we recognize that Indigenous people actually did have economies prior to colonization, that we were actually trading via the Eulachon grease trails. And that we keep that in mind when we’re talking about change and growth and whether or not Indigenous communities should or should not develop: that it’s actually part of our culture to be able to have entrepreneurship, to have trade and to have growth over time.”

Aaron said the recent Sts’ailes reconciliation agreement is promising and shows “Indigenous communities are working on developing economically in a way that works for them, often in a sustainable way.”

He continued: “We have this belief in Indigenous culture, particularly in the Stó:lō area, called Seven Generations. It’s a principle that we look back seven generations to understand what our families and what our ancestors went through—whether that was the 60s scoop, Indian residential schools, other events that have taken place, perhaps with colonization—to keep that in mind, and then to look forward seven generations into the future, to start to try and plan and develop in a way that works for the seven generations moving forward…

“I think that that gives us a lot of hope when we’re talking about development and what that means, because a lot of communities are working with other municipalities or other government levels to try and develop their community to try and bring about tourism that works in a sustainable way. For me, I think we have a reason to be very optimistic about the future.”

Click here to watch more from Aaron

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The migration of people  has been a driving force in how the Fraser Valley has evolved over its history. Such migrants come both from within BC and Canada (as we have covered) and from outside of it. We asked Manpreet Grewal how the immigrant experience, and the composition of newcomers, has changed in recent years. She spoke about the range of change and pointed to how world events have shaped our corner of the globe.

“Everybody other than First Nations were settlers or immigrants. So obviously, when people leave their own countries and come to another place that affects the geopolitical, cultural lifestyle of that place. So just going back to the last few decades, Abbotsford used to predominantly have audio minorities, but not visible minorities as much.

“It was primarily a community of white settlers, very strongly a Mennonite community. And then things shifted in the 70s a lot. Again, the Sikhs were here for a very long time ago—the [historic] temple which stands on South Fraser is a testimony to that—but still predominantly a white culture, or Anglo-Saxon culture.

“But there are various factors playing into how this little place changes. So one is the world events, whatever is happening in the outside world, then Canada’s immigration policy, and then also what our host communities look like here and how they interplay with people back home, or what they call their transnational sort of identities.

“So if we look at the events in the outside world, the Vietnam War, impacted how the Fraser Valley changed. Then after that, it was the Balkans war, there was also the conflict in Nicaragua, El Salvador. And then, of course, after that, we’ve seen Syria and then lately Afghanistan and Ukraine. So all these things have an impact on the existing community here.”

Click here to watch more from Manpreet

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We next turned to UFV professor Hamish Telford, who spoke about some of the political implications of changing demographics—and particularly from migration from other parts of the Lower Mainland.

“My eyes and ears in this community are my students. Over the last 21 years, I’ve taught well over 4000 students now and they’ve taught me a lot about the Fraser Valley and I’ve seen changes in my students and our group. They’re not necessarily a representative sample but I’m certainly seeing changes there. And I’ve observed anecdotally changes in the community as well, downtown Abbotsford coming kind of hipster-ish you know, there’s there’s some good craft brewery places to go, neat coffee shops, neat little restaurants—and I think that’s also testament to the migrants who are coming in and starting new businesses and finding this an attractive place to settle in and work. This is a rapidly changing community. And I think that we have seen political changes happening fairly rapidly.”

Telford used vote tallies from recent federal and provincial elections to underscore how the region’s politics may be changing.

“The community’s still Conservative but much less so. And why is that? Well it’s through these demographic changes that we’ve been talking about and Manpreet referred to as well. We have internal migrants, people like myself, people moving out, mostly from Vancouver, out into the valley seeking more affordable community and they, by and large, bring with them more progressive urban values.

“Demographically, the younger people growing up in the Fraser Valley are less Conservative than their parents and grandparents were, and I’ve witnessed that at the university. And then we’ve had immigrants from outside of Canada settle into the Fraser Valley as well. And the Liberals have had a pretty good lock on new Canadian voters since Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, and Justin Trudeau has maintained that. And I think many new voters or new Canadian voters also find Jagmeet Singh appealing. So these demographic changes are beginning to play out in the politics of the valley.”

Click here to watch more from Hamish

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Of course, change brings challenges, especially for those looking to start a life in a place where housing costs are rapidly rising. We turned to Andrea Sadowski, the managing editor of UFV’s independent newspaper, The Cascade, to share her thoughts on the changing valley from a youth perspective.

“I moved out here originally because I grew up in Delta. And the cost of living is cheaper, gas is cheaper. Rent is cheaper, school is cheaper: like one tuition or one semester at UBC will get you an entire diploma at UFV, so everything’s cheaper. But everything is getting more expensive. When I first moved four years ago, you could easily find a one bedroom for like $900. And now the average price is $1400/1500.

“And it’s a little cheaper in Chilliwack, like $1,200 is the average price. But Mission, forget about it, unless you know somebody who can rent to you, the housing market is so small. Even here, if you find a good place that’s a reasonable price, you’re going to be put on a list of 25 other applicants and the homeowner, of course, is going to choose the most secure-looking or -seeming applicant. And that’s not going to be somebody who’s moving out of their parents house or has a dog or is a single parent, or is transitioning from homelessness or into recovery.”

Sadowski said that is causing her peers to think about their future.

“I think the dream has changed a little bit than just the generation before me. Like, the dream is not to own a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house. The dream, at least for me and my peers and a lot of people I’ve talked to, is to own a piece of land that will allow you to have a vegetable garden and chickens and whatever else you need to be self-sustainable, because people are starting to realize that 20, even 10 years from now, we’re going to be increasingly on our own whether we like it or not. Cost of inflation, supply chain shortages, mistrust of the government, climate change factors all contribute to that.

“So people are more looking for solutions that lead them to be self-sustainable, and even live in a community like a lot of young people. I think about Atangard Community Housing in Abbotsford, where all these young people are living together and creating a community together.”

Click here to watch more from Andrea

To watch the entire panel from the start, see the video below.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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