Julie Sperber from Gabriola Island is the Executive Director of the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce and a Board Member of the Rural Islands Economic Partnership (RIEP). We talked to her about her choice to move to a rural island, Gabriola's resilience during the pandemic, and why RIEP matters to her.
A Unified Voice: Attending RIEF and Being A Part of RIEP
Julie got involved with RIEP before its official formation, attending the inaugural Rural Islands Economic Forum (RIEF) in November 2019:
"The Forum was super energizing! To see the similarities of strengths and challenges with other islands and to learn from their approaches. It also had many of the regions funders, executives and elected officials coming to the islands and not the other way around."
On the formation of RIEP and its importance to the rural islands:
"Having an organization that unifies and identifies priorities for the islands is crucial to our community well-being. Each island is governed differently and often the island community in a regional district is an afterthought in terms of policy and mandate development. RIEP will play a huge advocacy, information sharing and support system role for rural islands to tap into. RIEP understands that island life and islanders approach things differently. Each island has unique qualities, characters and ecology but our values overlap."
The excitement of being a part of RIEP:
"Islanders are the ones creating the organization! RIEP will be invited to the table to represent rural island values, challenges and desires. The unified voice will have a greater impact."
On The Pandemic & The Economic Challenges Of The Future
The impact of the pandemic on BC's rural islands was enormous. Julie is grateful for the community on Gabriola Island:
"The businesses dug deep and the community rose up to support their efforts. There was more collaboration, more helping each other out and more partnerships developed to support each other. Couldn’t have picked a better place to ride out a global pandemic."
The rural islands continue to face many of the same challenges for economic recovery in the face of the pandemic and climate change. For Gabriola Island, Julie identifies one of the keys to long term economic resilience:
"We need to diversify sectors, creating new sectors with living wage opportunities. We need more than customer service jobs."
Gabriola Island: Vibrant Community & Natural Beauty
Julie moved to Gabriola Island nearly 14 years ago:
"My husband and I had a baby on the way and wanted to move from Victoria and Gulf Island living had been a long time dream for us. We initially looked at Salt Spring Island as we have good friends living there, but were not able to get into the housing market quite as comfortably as on other islands, so we started to look from there. Gabriola had good and central accessibility to Vancouver Island and the mainland. The island had a vibrant community with a population of over 4000 and beautiful natural surroundings. It had enough amenities, a medical clinic, school, and community groups to support a young family. One of my key ways to evaluate a community was by looking at the bulletin boards to see what was happening. Gabriola had a great mix of hippy and not-hippy postings. The second time we were sailing to Gabriola (this time to actually look at properties with a realtor), I told my husband that it felt like we were coming home."
A special event that absolutely encapsulates Gabriola's vibe is the annual "Farm to Table Feast" where locals work together to put together an evening of local food and live entertainment (pictured in the header). While the Feast is on hold due to the pandemic, Julie looks forward to its return:
"This has only become an annual event in the past 4 years, but it captures the spirit of the potlucks and the importance of the local food values. One year, the emcee reffered to it as the best wedding reception ever – with no bride and groom!"
Thank you Julie for sharing your island story. We'd love to hear your island story. Submit it here.