Life off the grid: What’s going on in Lasqueti Island?

By J. Strout with contributions from Michaela Ludwig

For some, the ideal retreat involves escaping the bright lights and big city, and diving into rustic living. It is a great way to spend a weekend away, but could you do it for a month? What about a lifetime? For the residents of Lasqueti Island in the Strait of Georgia, life is a never-ending break from the rules. This is a place without cars or plumbing, and it’s well off the power grid. The structure that most of us see as necessary, Lasquetians just find plain burdensome.

How to get to Lasqueti Island

By Ferry

By LasquetiRonnie (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

While Lasqueti is just 150 kilometres from Vancouver, and lies amid boat traffic and beneath regional flight plans, it’s logistics that make it ‘remote.’ Getting here isn’t a challenge, but it may require a bit of patience. Centurion VII, a 60 person passenger ferry services the island, with daily departures from French Creek Marina. In summer there are three round-trip sailings each Monday, and Wednesday through Saturday, with Sunday service reduced to two. (There is no service on Tuesdays.) During the off-peak seasons the ferry doesn’t run at all on Tuesdays, nor Wednesdays. The sailing time is 50 minutes each way, and longer in choppy conditions. When poor weather persists Centurion VII resumes its schedule only when the weather permits safe passage.

Cargo Limits

Be sure to check the ferry’s cargo restrictions before you go. Personal luggage limits top out at 100 pounds or five cubic feet. (Whichever is greater.) Cargo can include groceries, feed and seed, but not hardware items like chainsaws or anything that can be considered “dangerous cargo.” Undoubtedly, this makes transporting items a challenge for the island’s residents. However, no one said the simple life is easy.

See the ferry schedule here: Click here

By Boat

Of course if you have your own boat you’re held to no one’s schedule. There are two docks, one at each end of the island.

False Bay: a public dock with a float length of 36 metres. There are no dock facilities though food is available at the nearby Lasqueti Island Hotel & Restaurant. False Bay is the terminal where the ferry arrives and departs. It’s located at the north end of the island.

Squitty Bay: a small public dock on the island’s south end, Squitty Bay is contained within a provincial park. The float length is 47 metres and the dock has no facilities.

By Air

Float planes can tie off at either of the two docks.

Who lives on Lasqueti?

The number of permanent residents hovers around 425. Lasqueti Island isn’t an artists’ retreat or a “hippy commune” trying to make a point. Lasquetians live here because they want a simple life off the grid. According to the island’s website, residents are “accused of trying to put the clock back” with their chosen way of life. But despite this accusation, Statistics Canada reports that Lasqueti Island is the most highly educated community in the province. Residents represent diverse professions, from poets, artists, physicists, professional consultants and professional musicians to fishermen, loggers, tree planters and commercial agriculturalists.

Local economy

Michael Robertson

There are a few businesses on the island, in addition to the artists that sell their original works. You’ll find a soap maker, a clothing maker, a chocolatier, energy systems sales, construction, landscaping, propane sales, yoga, massage, and marine transport. Due to its unique location, the island has a few off beat businesses that likely wouldn’t thrive most other places. One such example is the cookie stand. You won’t find a smiling proprietor or baker selling fresh baked goods, just unguarded cookies and a box to drop your dollars into. The Free Store is unique as well. Everything on the shelves is offered without cost, allowing the residents to exchange items they no longer need without making the trek to Vancouver Island. The residents of Lasqueti Island work every day to create a sustainable life – not a life that’s purchased, but a life that is made.

Realities of life off the grid

Electricity – Life here is truly off the grid. Power comes from solar panels, wind generators, water generators or diesel generators; all of which residents have chosen to install or create.

Water sources – Some properties have wells while others take advantage of nearby streams to meet their water needs.

Roads & getting around – Few of the roads are paved and potholes get fixed when somebody decides to fill them in by hand. Bicycles are more common than cars, and residents rely on them for transportation.

Emergencies & medical attention – A volunteer fire department responds to emergencies, a nurse is available four hours a week and will take your calls 24/7 for non-emergencies. The nearest formal clinic is in Parksville, on Vancouver Island.

Garbage disposal – Your garbage is your responsibility and anything non-compostable should be taken to Vancouver Island for proper disposal.

Mail & deliveries – Mail can be picked up at the post office three days a week, two days after it arrived on island. That may sound like a lengthy process, but it’s a far cry from the original mail service. Way back when, residents had to row from False Bay in response to a bonfire in Nanaimo that indicated mail had arrived.

Although the sheep farmers who settled here in the 1860s did manage to improve the mail service, as well as build a school and post office, somehow they escaped power lines and plumbing. Today, the legacy of the settlers can be found in the wild sheep herds that roam the island, though modern Lasquetians prefer growing organic fruits and vegetables over rearing livestock.

Think you want to live the life Lasqueti?

Real Estate

Ready to shirk modern conveniences and live off the grid? The islanders would like you to know that there is no free land and they don’t take kindly to squatters. All of the 73 square kilometres that make up the island are either privately owned or designated parkland. Of course now and then the occasional islander will decide to sell their property and return to a traditional lifestyle.

Most parcels are 15 to 20 acres, and may include a structure, but not much else. Some dwellings have solar panels and some sort of running water – even if it’s only a nearby creek. Most heat is generated via wood burning stoves. Stoves may lose their romantic appeal when you realize you’ll have to devote a lot of time to the cutting, stacking, splitting and hauling firewood. Add to this the weekly chore of cleaning out your compost toilet, tending the vegetable garden and repairing everything you own yourself. You will soon understand why the islanders will tell you that “simple” does not mean “easy”.

Water Supply & Septic

Wait…cleaning the toilet? Don’t you just…flush that stuff? Well, no. The first issue is water – either you or your neighbour is drinking it, and you want to be careful about what ends up in the clean water supply. There also isn’t a lot of space for septic fields or other waste drainage, so the most common solution is a composting toilet that requires maintenance or an outhouse that will need to be re-dug every few years. Hard-core naturalists will use the compost material for flowers or trees after it has cooked for a few months, but most let it decay over the years until it is completely degraded. For a complete how-to guide, reference the official How to Shyte on Lasqueti. (We didn’t say people on Lasqueti don’t have a sense of humour!)

Food Sources

Islanders collect clams, geoducks, oysters, honey mussels and prawns to supplement the produce they grow on their own. In addition, there are a few farms on the island, providing seasonal goods like vegetables, orchard fruits, nuts and berries. ‘Specialty’ products include apple juice, eggs and maple syrup, to name a few. There is also a shellfish farm and a hatchery on the island.

Is there internet?

Parts of the island have high-speed internet, wich means life off the grid can exist with Netflix.

Visiting Lasqueti

https://www.flickr.com/photos/albatross_j/

Is it tourist friendly?

While locals don’t discourage visitors they don’t advertise the island as a travel destination either. It isn’t that the residents are antisocial (okay, maybe some are), or that they don’t have time for tourists (actually many don’t), it’s simply that they’ve deliberately made this their home and they want visitors to respect that.

Are there hotels?

There is one hotel and a handful of B&Bs, guest cottages and rooms for let. Find them all here. It’s likely been a while since you picked up the telephone to obtain a room rate! Note that there are no public campgrounds on the island.

WWOOFING

For adventurous spirits wanting to truly immerse themselves in island life, Lasquetians recommend WWOOF, an organization that matches volunteers with hosts on organic farms. WWOOF’ers can live on the island in exchange for a few hours of work a day. Arrangements vary and interested volunteers should contact the organization for details.

The best time to visit

To get a sense of the community’s ethos, plan to come for one of the few festivals held during the year. The Arts Festival on Canada Day Weekend is the largest and features local painters, sculptors and other artisans. During a festival weekend is also your best chance to find an open market, selling island-grown vegetables and other tasty treats.

Recreation

Kayaking & canoeing 
They’re some of the most beautiful yet challenging waters in lower B.C. Use caution as the tides and currents can become unpredictable, and the winter waters in the Strait of Georgia have taken many lives over the years. Make sure to explore nearby Jedediah Island Marine Provincial Park, one of the provinces’s largest, valued for its rich ecological diversity. Canoes and kayaks can be carried aboard the ferry for an extra fee.

Scuba diving 
Visitors can experience some of the best cold water diving in Squitty Provincial Park.

Still drawn to Lasqueti?

The rural lifestyle is not for everyone – it’s hard labour each and every day. But the rewards can be endless. Clean air and water, nature at your doorstep, friendly neighbours and a true community feel. These are just some of the reasons people exit their hectic lives and go “off the grid” in a place like Lasqueti Island. You can look out onto your vegetable garden, a product of your own labour, and know the origin of everything on your plate. Peace in nature often brings peace of mind. It’s a different lifestyle, and some might say even a different world. But that’s Lasquetians way they like it.

Interested in learning more?
Visit the website for more details about island life, the community calendar and Lasqueti etiquette.

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Christine Ly

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