“She said kiss her where it stinks …so I drove her to Squamish”
I was reading the book Hard Core Roadshow by Noel Baker back in 1997 when I came across this “epitaph”. Baker’s book chronicles his work while he wrote the screenplay for director Bruce McDonald’s film Hard Core Logo, a hilariously dark rockumentary about a fictitious punk band. It’s a Canadian classic and Baker’s Roadshow is a wonderful glimpse into the zany life of movie making in Canada. In one chapter, Baker describes how he and McDonald write the discography for the band. Lo and behold, on page 136, the sixth offering on Hardcore Logo’s second album is this unfortunate yet creatively titled song: She said kiss her where it stinks …so I drove her to Squamish.
I’d lived in Squamish a few years at this point. Like many others, I came here to rock climb, mountain bike, ski tour, kayak and hike, and I even learned how to raft guide, of all things. Squamish was a rugged little gem back then, about half the population of today, mostly undiscovered by the outside world but starting to become a mecca for thrill and adventure seekers. And yet it was still often belittled by the communities to our north and south for being too rough around the edges, just a logging town. The forest industry dominated the economy and the landscape, and yes, the pervasive smell from the pulp mill was our overpowering lexicon. There was some tension between newcomers, tourists and the people who had lived here for generations but Squamish was going through the typical growing pains of a community in transition, like a teenager on an emotional rollercoaster or a gangly cygnet not yet a swan. I however, like many of us back then, saw a wonderfully eclectic warts-and-all community with opportunities galore.
We knew we had an image problem back then, and to some people that didn’t seem to matter. But I don’t think I really appreciated how insidious this perception was until I read it in this random book about a fake punk band’s reunion tour and their bogus discography that featured the above mentioned fake-punk classic.
A few years earlier, I had started a small graphic design/publishing business and I was working with my business partner Natalie Wall on 99 North, an outdoor recreation tourism magazine in the Sea to Sky Corridor. I was also working with another young upstart Barb Cummings, who was establishing a tourism promotion business, and we collectively brainstormed how we might redefine or rebrand Squamish to help stimulate a tourism economy.
“The outdoor recreation capital of the world” was our first tag line. Credit is due to Barb and Wolfgang Richter of Garibaldi Allen Resorts for really advocating for this bold gem. Our goal was to be provocative; we wanted Hood River or Aspen or even Whistler to challenge our self-coronation because then we could prove it emphatically. We made postcards and launched magazine campaigns and dial-up-worthy websites. Brent Leigh, who was the Economic Development Officer for the District of Squamish at the time, joined in the fun and bought ads in 99 North and commissioned a variety of promotional materials with a slightly modified adage: The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.
Citizen activists under the cover of night put up signs on the highway with this intrepid declaration. They were so well done that the municipality actually thought their staff had put them up. Soon the politicians of the day were on board, claiming it as the new brand for the District of Squamish. The municipality registered the trademark, and the community began using it to foster new economic development opportunities and promote tourism, including a pitch to Dr. David Strangway who was looking for a home for his university with an innovative pedagogy, now Quest University Canada, a bedrock of our community today.
For more than 15 years this brand served us well. It changed how people perceived our town and how those of us who lived here viewed ourselves. It gave us pride. It connected us to each other because one thing we could all agree on, logger and journalist, construction and service worker, was that Squamish had an unparalleled environment and a plethora of world-class outdoor adventure. And after all, forestry was a large part of this because it was how we accessed our backcountry to bike, hike and rock climb, and our community embraced this connection. It drew in a new demographic of people looking for a lifestyle founded on the outdoors, and a new diverse entrepreneurial spirit began to slowly emerge.
It was a back-of-the-napkin approach to community branding, but it worked.
The mantra Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada was a shot of adrenaline at a time when we needed it. It was a significant catalyst in our evolution as a community but 15+ years after we claimed it, more than 150 communities in North America were using a similar tagline to describe their community. It had become generic, commonplace and restrictive in how we could leverage it to help stimulate our economy, attract visitors and grow our talent base.
A community brand is so much more than a logo and a tagline; those are simply marketing messages used to support and reinforce the brand.
We needed to define ourselves and our brand by exploring the spirit and personality of Squamish, to find ways to articulate what is compelling about this place and the DNA of the people who live here, articulate convincingly our unique attributes that make us the destination of choice to visit, relocate and grow a business. And to do this, we needed to tap into the collective wisdom and inspiration of the community, to really engage and tease out our competitive advantage. The themes that came to the forefront of this comprehensive community engagement process were: outdoor lifestyle, youthful, active, vibrant, creative, grateful for our natural surroundings, unscripted, down to earth somewhat rugged lifestyle, entrepreneurial, proud and respectful of our heritage and our first peoples…and from this we developed the brand strategy.
This time instead of a handful of ad hoc initiatives conjured by upstarts and provocateurs and embraced by government, it was a full-fledged community engagement effort that saw more than a thousand people participate to develop a comprehensive strategy with an actionable roadmap not only for destination marketing but a foundation for how we do government and business and how we express ourselves as a community.
And although a logo and a tagline are not a brand in and of themselves, we worked hard to top off this compelling story with an exclamation point. Our logo, unique among municipalities across BC, honours our first peoples with the Coast Salish eye of the creator icon. And our tagline, Squamish. Hardwired for Adventure, has become a rallying cry for the organization and the drum beat of our economy. After all, Squamish is hardwired for business, and the evidence is in the business growth, and acknowledgements and accolades the District is experiencing province-wide. And this economic growth and sector diversification is really attributable to the talent of the population that lives here. We’re hardwired as a community, as a people…it’s in our DNA.
I like to think that if I was reading Baker’s book reflecting on Squamish today, on page 136, the sixth song on Hardcore Logo’s second album would be: She told me to kiss me where it’s awesome…so I drove her to Squamish.
And maybe, just maybe, the eponymous punk band Hard Core Logo would be called Hardwired Logo instead.
Mayor Heintzman grew up in Montreal and spent her university years at Ontario’s McMaster University where she received a BA in History. Patricia continued her studies and graduated from Sheridan College with a diploma in Photojournalism. She has spent most of her career in the publishing world as a journalist, editor, publisher, photographer, graphic designer and freelance writer.