Over five terms on Cumberland Council, Gwyn Sproule has shifted her agenda from saving trees to growing the village’s commercial base with light, green industries along Bevan Road. And she wants to see the wastewater treatment project to completion
What does an immigrant from England with a degree in Greek and Latin who became a hippie tree planter in British Columbia 42 years ago do for an encore after nearly two decades on the Cumberland Village Council?
For Gwyn Sproule, her agenda for a sixth term on council is quite a bit more pragmatic than it used to be.
“I was all about saving trees in the early days,” she told Decafnation. “My goal now is all about diversifying the village’s tax base, mainly attracting light industry and creating jobs.”
The village budget relies heavily on residential property taxes, so a recent building boom in the Coal Valley Estates subdivision has helped village finances. But Sproule says commercial development is needed for long-term balanced growth.
She hopes to promote light, green industries for some lands along Bevan Road that are already properly zoned. Hancock Timber Resource Group owns the properties.
And Sproule recently learned that funds are available for infrastructure and technology projects from the BC Commission of Innovation. She hopes the village can use those funds to help attract high-tech companies.
“It’s galling to me that young people have to go away to get jobs,” she said. “Vancouver Island is well placed to develop its own economy in green industries. We could create real jobs, with living wages.”
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Cumberland also holds the first option on methane gas from the nearby landfill, which Fortis would capture and refine. The village could then use the gas as a power source for some of that light industry, or sell it as fuel for buses and trucks.
The village already has two small industrial areas closer to its downtown and next to residential areas.
One of those, along Royston Road, is home to the Muchalat Group that builds modular homes. They are currently building 30 self-contained housing units and five shelter spaces for the City of Port Alberni at an estimated cost to the province of $7.4 million.
Sproule was the driving force and co-founder of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. She lives along the forest lands and would invite the new forester to tea every time the property changed hands — Dunsmuir then Weldwood then Hancock — which is how she got the inside information about their logging plans.
“I was a troublemaker in my early days. I really believed I could take on everything,” she said.
She recalls the first fundraiser for the society was a plant sale and dance at the Elks Club.
Sproule also served on the original board of the Comox Valley Lands Trust.
But the candidate also has other objectives for her next term that include continuing to develop the village’s safe walk-bike network. She’s happy to have the water treatment project completed and hopes to see the wastewater project through to a similarly successful conclusion.
And she continues to work on her most personal project: keeping alive the memories of Cumberland’s industrial days, its coal mines.
She has recorded hours of interviews on audio tape with the village’s oldtimers and miners before they passed on.
“We need to keep our history alive. It’s the reason why Cumberland exists,” she said.
She regularly speaks to groups and teaches classes on the history of the mines and Chinatown. She does walking tours of the mine sites, and advocates for the preservation of the last remaining concrete structures marking the mine entrances.
Sproule taught primary school in England before moving to Canada in 1976 to live in an old gold mine shack and plant trees in the Cariboo where she met the camp cook, her future husband. She moved to Cumberland two years later.
Her first visit to Cumberland was to attend the Renaissance Faire in 1978.
Sproule’s history of settling on Vancouver Island in the 1970s is one of the stories in the new anthology Dancing in Gumboots, just released by Caitlin Press Inc.