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An interview with Dave Putterill


How long have you lived in Sandspit?
We've lived here 22 years, We lived in Thurston Harbour originally, the Frank Beban Logging camp there. 1973 in Sandspit originally. Its quite a few years.

What were your reasons for the move?
The reason for staying on the islands basically, was just the sheer wildness of it all. We were living in Port Alberni and Frank Beban phoned us up and offered us a job in a logging camp, on the Queen Charlotte Islands. He was interested in a teacher. A friend of ours, who was working for Frank, recommended Audrey (Dave's spouse), and the next thing you know we're up on the Charlottes.

Are the things you moved here for, still here? Do you continue to live here for the same reasons?
Sandspit is physically a really beautiful community, and there is lots of work opportunity. It's a really easy place to settle into. Are the things we moved here for still here? I guess they are to a point.
I was one of the few loggers in town, if not the only one that was openly in support of a park being made of the South Moresby. Of course at the time that I was rooting for that, the Forest Practices Code was such that you just couldn't support any logging down there. Now perhaps, having been exposed to Parks Canada I wonder at which was the lesser of two evils. And today with the present Forest Practices Code, I think that probably we could have had the best of both worlds. We could have preserved the best of this and logged a bit of that, and got on with life. But that's all history now.

Do you see yourselves as permanent residents?
Hmm, I think so. Although, I don't know, I'm obviously starting to see it differently because of the illness I've got, and the fact that I've reduced mobility. I'm wondering whether the Islands might not seem really small, because physically I'm not able to do the things I came here to do. But I don't know how that's going to work out, that's something only time will tell.

What do you enjoy about the community now?
I've always appreciated the people on the Islands. I find them to be a pretty friendly bunch, for the most part, pretty helpful, quite supportive. I've especially noticed that since I've been sick. There's a lot of support here. You don't realize how many friends you've got, though in small communities its very obvious when you need it.

Did you have that difficulty adjusting when you came here?
Not at all. I left Liverpool, and I had had enough of big cities. Every time I go to Vancouver or any big city, the novelty wears off in about two-and-a-half-hours. And if I don't have a reason for being there, buying something, or some sort of medical treatment, I want to get the next plane out of there.

Do you have any sense what Sandspit might be like, might look like, in the next 10 years, the next 25?
When you [earlier] touched on things like the Dover Trail, and the spit, as a sort of nature walk for people who are interested in bird life and wild life-I think that we should, as a community, really develop these types of things. Tie this into the fact that we would hope to get a lot of visitors in the summertime utilizing the dock. Make this, our good weather and really beautiful beaches a feature of the community. I know that in the community there's some resistance to [promoting] things like bird life on the spit. People see it as restricting their access with their four-wheel vehicles, but I think it's something we've got to work out as a community and become mature about. It's a real asset, and we don't realize how valuable it is.

Do you see a future for the timber-related industries here?
Yes I do. And I think it's really important that we keep a focus on that, as long as we develop the nature and tourism side of it. I think that it would be really sad to see [Sandspit become] solely a tourist town, because I don't like what that leads to. Look a few generations down the road: what are you if you are solely a tourist guide? It's got a hollow ring to it. I'm not interested in that. But I'm interested in that as an adjunct to a fairly solid forest industry.

Hopefully, local entrepreneurs will develop along the lines of secondary industry. What that would be, I don't know, some form of manufacturing, or re-manufacturing. That would be up to the local entrepreneur, or perhaps money from outside. I think we are always going to see some type of forestry here. There is nothing but trees out there, and there's always been a demand for it, and hopefully there always will be.

The silvicultural side to it could be a boon to the community. It'll be interesting to see how that goes.There is no doubt about it, [the forest industry is] the mainstay breadwinner of the community. Despite the fact we get a bum rap now and then, loggers are skilled people with a long and proud history. How many industries do you see that actually set aside a day every year to go and play at that industry. We're proud of our skills. There's a long history there, and its part of British Columbia's and Canada's history. There is nothing more Canadian than a logger. What would we be if we were just a bunch of people who catered to tourists. In my opinion there is no soul there. A lot of people would differ, but I think that the woods industry has a proud history, and if done right, and it seems to be going that way, with these new forest practices codes, we have nothing to be ashamed of, and should develop it to the full.

Do you see a downturn in the Sandspit economy? I wonder how long the larger operators are going to be around for, and if the smaller entrepreneurs will be able to kick in fast enough?
I think the big guys right now are playing politics. I think we're just seeing an adjustment to the Forest Practices Code. The reason we're seeing that glitch in Charlotte [with the closure of the Skidegate log sort] right now, is not so much a shortage of wood in that area, but a shortage of access to wood. And this is politics. This is the game these companies play: lay off 20 guys, put a bit of pressure on, and 6 months later we'll see how that plays out. The same games are being played in Sandspit with access to places like Government Creek. Whether or not you believe in the rightness of logging that area, it boils down to politics.

I think the new Forest Practices Code is basically going in the right direction, but I think that it's bureaucratically top heavy. And its not running smooth enough. The mechanism for making it run a little bit smoother is the political shenanigans of the big companies, its the only way they can play: we've got to lay off 20 guys, boo hoo, write a letter to your M.P. sort of thing. We're all basically in the same boat, the companies and the guys that work for them, there's quite a bit of sympathy going both ways. It is a bureaucratic mess. But the working nuts and bolts of it are not bad. I think that even most loggers feel that way. I don't think we're cynical about it. I think most people in the bush, bar a few crackpots, think it's timely. They just don't like the bullshit that goes with it.

Are you optimistic about the community then?
I'm optimistic. I know that the cut (Annual Allowable Cut) is slowly being reduced. That has to be. I know there are going to be fewer jobs. There are going to be fewer jobs because the companies are talking about all sorts of technological change. The companies are talking about feller-bunchers, and helicopter logging. But basically what we have to do in the community is insist that the people that operate these new technologically advanced jobs are people that come from the community. Not import silvicultural crews, or helicopter logging crews. The people in the community can be trained to do it no problem.

Besides the bureaucracy of the Forest Practices Code do you see any other impediments to Sandspit being a healthy community.
I think that while on a personal level you can get an awful lot of support here when you need it, when it comes to politics and which direction the community goes, we often seem to be really polarized. It seems to me that people's personal issues get in the way of progress in this community. I would like to see us incorporate. I don't think that's a majority view. I'm not scared of incorporation-simply because you have more control over your local amateur politicians. My feeling is that we are not particularly well served by the Regional District. I think that what would be good for this community is more say locally and politically, and more access to finances. The way I see it right now, we basically don't exist as far as the powers-that-be are concerned. I think that we have to take the step of incorporating which will cost us as individuals some freedoms and perhaps some revenue will disappear out of our bank accounts in local taxes. I think that until we do that we really can't complain about our political shortcomings. It's a tradeoff. But at least we would have some control over our local politicians: i.e. 'cut the mustard, or your out of it.'
The Greater Masset area has to do exactly the same thing that we are going to have to do. They are going to have to develop the potential that they have, go there for tourism and they're also going to have to fight tooth and nail to access the woods industry in the Duu Guusd area, and the area currently controlled by Husby, are basically, as far as I'm concerned, their forestry birthright and they should have access to it. That's something that all the other communities on the Islands should support them in.

Another thing I'd like to see more of on these Islands is the development of this community forests idea. I think that this is a positive thing. What's positive about it is, the communities at least seem to understand that we have to support each other and not have this community rivalry that we often have. I do see a lot of undercurrents of people who are trying to undermine this process. I like to see the inter-community support.

Do you see any positive developments on the horizon that would help the community to grow and thrive?
I see a slow development based on the spit, the harbour, the trails, and hopefully on the silvicultural activity and the logging activity. But I see that what's good for Sandspit is good for all the communities. Just the fact that there's some coming-together of the communities in relation to the community forest thing. Without that community feeling Island-wide I think that all of the communities will suffer. That is really important. I've lived in Sandspit for 20 plus years, but I've always seen myself as an Islander.

[The interviewer makes the point that many of the people on the islands still think of their own town or village as 'the' community. They tend not to think of the Islands as a whole as one not-so-big community. At this point Audrey joins in.]

Audrey: A lot of people here still don't think of themselves as Islanders. They look upon themselves as being here on a temporary basis. Whether that's ten, twenty years, a lot of people don't see themselves here for life. Its just that mentality: "why should I have any say in this because I don't really live here. I'm just here for a while."

Dave: We seem to be getting top heavy with bureaucratic jobs on the Islands and most of those people accept that they're only here for a couple of years. I think that lends a flavour that's not very healthy to the Islands.

Audrey: But there are lots of people who have spent many, many years here who still talk about "when they get out of here," and in my opinion I don't feel that they think they're really a part of the community.

[At this point Bubby and Wesley Pearson drive up for a visit and a cup of tea, and the interview ends.]
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