May 6, 2008
SEATTLE -- I first heard about the idea of changing the name of the Strait of Georgia to the Salish Sea in this American city.
It was a month before B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell made headlines by asking citizens to consider the switch as a gesture of respect to aboriginals, whose ancestors lived here before the 49th parallel was created.
The concept of the Salish Sea was being enthusiastically advanced to me in February not by an aboriginal, however, but by an influential American with ties to the Republican party, a man who dreams of "bulldozing" the border between the U.S. and Canada to create a more efficiently linked economic empire called Cascadia.
Bruce Agnew, energetic head of the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, finds British-rooted names such as the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound quite silly.
He promotes the Salish Sea name as a symbol of a closer economic and even political destiny for Americans and Canadians.
Agnew denies he's a vanguard for American imperialistic designs on Canada. And he's probably sincere.
But it's fascinating how the concept of Cascadia creates odd bedfellows.
People from the political left, right and centre are drawn to a more interconnected Cascadia.
There are many who dream of more economic and cultural partnerships connecting Cascadia, also known as the continental "Pacific Northwest."
Since Canadians and Americans are inextricably linked by the impossible-to-ignore landscape of the Pacific Northwest, proponents of Cascadia note the region's Americans and Canadians often find more in common with each other than with so-called representatives in our capital cities, Ottawa and Washington, D.C.
Vancouverites can drive to Portland, Ore., in much less time than they can to the next major Canadian city, Calgary, a.k.a. "Cowtown." Propinquity creates kinship.
A separatist sensibility has long imbued the moist air of Cascadia.
In an age of globalization and cultural homogenization -- sometimes called "the strip-malling of the world" -- there remain many who believe that a healthy, more robust culture can be nurtured in this corner of the planet by focusing on a "sense of place."
There are teams of ecologists on both sides of the border who justifiably see the giant temperate rainforests and rivers of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon as a unique, awe-inspiring land, to be protected by mounting a united, two-country front.
(Cascadia is often defined as including Alaska, the Yukon, B.C., Alberta and the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. For the purpose of this series, we're confining it to B.C., Washington and Oregon.)
There are also everyday people who travel across the international border by the millions each year, pursuing a bi-national shared life of outdoor recreation, shopping, ferry connections, aboriginal art, soccer tournaments, cosmopolitan cuisine, Seattle Mariners baseball, independent music and sidewalk cafes.
Even though some dismiss Cascadia as a naive dream that has suffered from heightened border-security fears since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many people still have the Cascadia bug.
I'm one of them. It's in part because I was born here, as were my parents.
I've often had the sense there are things we offer each other in this experimental "frontier" land.
This series explores some of those possibilities.
Today's article looks at growing political and economic links within the region, which has 14 million residents (about the same as the Netherlands), an economy bigger than than many nations', and sees three million people a year cross the international border, not counting those who cross by plane or boat.
Tomorrow's feature looks at cultural connections among Cascadians, who share a love of fleece jackets, tough music, non-institutional spirituality and nature-revering art and literature.
Undeniably, Cascadia is also a distinct bio-region. It's defined technically as the watersheds of the rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean through North America's temperate rainforest. The third day of this series will look at Cascadians interconnected ecological fronts.