There was a time, says Art Skipsey, when you knew a sizeable percentage of all the people in Qualicum Beach by name.
Those days, said this year’s recipient of the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce-Coastal Community Credit Union Lifetime Achievement Award, are long gone.
Skipsey has seen a lot of other changes in the community since he moved there in 1966, and as the longtime head of the Qualicum Beach Historical Society, he is aware of many other changes before that.
“The biggest change is that this has shifted from a working community to a retirement community,” Skipsey said.
“At one time it was here because people worked here, whether it be sawmilling, fishing or farming. I guess as the accessible timber disappeared the sawmills shut down, one of them down the Little Qualicum River out on the point.
“That was in the early 1950s.”
The layout of the town, he said, was first done early in the century and was slow to fill in until right after the Second World War.
“In the block where town hall is, Craig Reid brought in some army huts and rented them out there,” Skipsey said.
“I think there were five of them.”
Prior to the Inland Island Highway being constructed (now known as Highway 19), the main access to Qualicum Beach was through Hilliers and onto Jones Street, while the original highway came along the waterfront.
“It took the path of least resistance,” he said. “Most of the original road was built homestead to homestead. There was no master plan. They built to connect up the houses and then they had a route.”
The business community, he said, has also changed markedly.
“Basically the businesses were mostly within a block of the corner where the Sawmill Restaurant is on Memorial,” he said. “It’s one of the original buildings. Where the Bank of Commerce is now there was a garage. That’s the second bank on that site. Before it was the same company, but a smaller version.”
Down at the beach, he said, the Qualicum Hotel rented out boats from their boathouse on the shore.
“At one time there might have been 40 boats anchored off there and they had a little amphibian which they would use to ferry people out to the boats to go fishing.
“They also had rowboats, but those were going out of fashion at the time.”
In the early 1980s, Skipsey said, the then-owners of the hotel killed a big maple tree at the beachfront and their lease was not renewed.
The Community Hall, he said, had served the town well for many years, but it was eventually just too small.
“It wasn’t so bad when there were 800 people living here,” he said. “You could have a community meeting and get 200 people into the hall, but as time went on it was just too small and there was no other place to meet.”
Although Skipsey looks back fondly at the history of his quaint community, he acknowledges there have been some big improvements.
“We have more amenities now,” he said. “After the war that really got started and things got going when they built the curling rink in 1964.”