By Kirk Somers
Colin MacRae had been living in Victoria, where he grew up, when he came up to Powell River to visit a friend. This was back in 2008. Having never been here he started looking around, and was intrigued by what he saw. Here was this pristine, beautiful little town tucked away, like the Shire out of Tolkien, but stuck, he says, in the 1970s.
Powell River was flatlining economically. With the future of the mill uncertain, the town seemed at a crossroads. It couldn’t go back to the glory days of the mill, with all the jobs and tax revenue, and yet it seemed unable to choose, or perhaps even find, a new path forward.
“I was just enamoured with Powell River’s beauty and natural surroundings – perched above the ocean with a beautiful mountain backdrop – and the people were incredibly friendly,” Colin said. “There was an obviousness that the mill wasn’t going to support the town anymore, so the best route forward was to invest in small local business ideas, and re-establish that aspect that was once flourishing.”
Also obvious, he said, is that this is a place where people would want to come. But diversification was key. Because of the beauty and affordability, the potential was great for people to start businesses, go to school, attract tourists, grow food, and so much more.
In Powell River, he bought a building, previously the home of The Powell River News. Then he got to work, building an apartment for himself and a studio. With a hardworking team, he gutted, rebuilt, and painted the building.
The location of the building on Marine was perfect to start to recreate a ‘strip.’ It was to be a reflection of the urban sensibility coming into town, and the unique wilderness we live in. It was about revitalizing Marine Avenue.
Now BaseCamp is a successful cafe and hub for local artists, musicians, and everyone who wants to gather and meet.
And it’s just the beginning. Eventually, BaseCamp will produce its own food, to help stimulate local agriculture. It’s a cafe, but it’s also a symbol for Powell River’s economic and cultural diversification.
“A new vision”
Colin wondered if Powell River could become a role model for other towns in a similar position, shifting away from a single industry economy, to one anchored by diverse small to medium businesses, light manufacturing and a tech industry. Maybe even a movie industry.
A part of this is Marine Ave. Working with a few local like-minded people, and all of it very grassroots-based, he wants to bring about a revitalization of Powell River’s seaside stroll. Let’s bring in more young people, he said, create more jobs through small independent businesses. Make it a tourist draw. They’re starting to blossom, and it’s showing that economic change and diversification is underway – and it’s healthy.
He credits Townsite Brewing for being the first to make an impact and to signal a possible future based on a new business model.
Now he is hard at work developing a network of local and sustainable foods that can be sourced and used by BaseCamp.
Colin is proud to show me all of the reclaimed wood and metal used in BaseCamp, all produced in his shop in the back. Probably one of the hardest working people in Powell River, he has three projects on the go at the moment.
Always improving BaseCamp, he has plans for lodging upstairs; the new library, where he is finishing up a children’s installation; and the Red Lion, where with a few partners, they have plans for a big renovation. You may also have seen his metal art work around town: a friendly octopus at Willingdon Beach, and bike racks, all in inventive designs.
Of his work, he said, “The whole idea is to create a theme that reflects the beauty around us and to stimulate people.”