This ‘Aint Texas, “Sun,” It’s Cascadia

The front page story in the Vancouver Sun last weekend was from Seattle, where British Columbians were told that Sonics excitement revealed an “America…where sports become a life’s obsession.” Interviewing–get this–“Milt” and “Merle” from Texas, the reporter had these two urban cowboys hanging onto the bar at F. X. McRory’s restaurant in Pioneer Square and speaking for the rest of us. “‘It goes back to the culture,’ Merle said. ‘Remember, in America, everything is capitalism. You’re paid to win.'” And “‘..winning is everything,” and if you don’t win, “‘you’re a goat!'”
Maybe in Texas. But we’re not in Texas. And we’re not in Chicago, either, where the mayor has to warn citizens not to riot when the home team wins. In Seattle, when one of our teams wins a playoff, we have a parade. When they lose, we have a slightly smaller parade.
We also wait for lights, don’t honk much in traffic, and on most days “would rather be sailing,” or skiing, or hiking –just like Vancouverites. So, I have a deal for the Vancouver Sun: don’t confuse neighboring Washington State with Texas and we’ll try not to confuse British Columbia with Quebec.

If the Sun’s reporter had walked two blocks to the waterfront and a few blocks north to the Port’s dazzling new Bell Harbor International Conference Center, he would have met some fellow British Columbians who, in heavy conversation with Washingtonians and Oregonians at Discovery Institute’s Cascadia conference, plainly understood that what we share is more interesting than what separates us.

One of those things is sports. Of course, British Columbians are fans of the (Seattle owned) Grizzlies, just as Oregonians cheer the (Seattle owned) Trailblazers. But our neighbors were at least vicarious Sonics fans these past two weeks, and I think we would return the favor if the situation were reversed. When it comes to baseball, the Mariners have the only major league team in Cascadia and are working to build a regional base of fans. According to Paul Isaki, Mariners vice president, “On average, 10-13 percent of our advance sales are from B.C. and roughly 8 percent are from Oregon.”

But, sports–and the tourism dollars they attract–are much more than pro ball teams. The whole region shares recreation distinctions. Our Canadian cousins are unquestioned first in hockey. In skiing, no Washington State resort can compare to the internationally acclaimed Whistler Village north of Vancouver. In horse back riding, two of the premier “western adventure” ranches in the West–Sun River and Black Butte Ranch–are in Central Oregon.

A panel of tour wholesalers from Germany, England and Australia explained to conference attendees that overseas visitors are likely to find a Cascadia two-nation vacation much more appealing than one to either Canada or the US Northwest alone. People interested in Native American culture, for example, would like to see the best museums and tribal activities on both sides of the border. Land-cramped Europeans will be equally intrigued by seeing Banff, Vancouver Island beaches, Puget Sound whales and the Mt. St. Helens volcano, so why not package them together? They also will be interested in tangible history that evokes our region’s unusual past, including the Oregon Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush. And they really will love movie sites, from the Portland high school of Mr. Holland’s Opus, to the houseboat in Sleepless in Seattle, and the growing list of movie location sites (often disguised as US cities) in Vancouver.

Part of our challenge, then, is to figure out how to make the attractions of Cascadia more accessible. Amtrak described its ambition to increase the present schedule of three trains a day between Seattle and Portland to some 14 trains a day and foresaw an eventual jump in the new service to Vancouver from one round-trip daily to three. (The obstacle is the $30 million needed for track improvements on the B.C. side.) The private Rocky Mountaineer railroad in B.C., meanwhile, wants to extend private excursion train service that runs from Squamish to Vanvouver, to Seattle and Portland. Everybody, meanwhile, wants to find out how to better connect the new train services to buses, cars and airplanes throughout the region.

Most of the development of Cascadia’s identity is taking place in the private sector and among non-profit groups. When you want to know what Cascadia is, just look at some of the organizations which are experiencing it, such as the regional airlines in the new “open skies” era of NAFTA, the Victoria Clipper, the new “Eco-Tourism groups,” the regional hotel chains, KCTS public TV (with boards in both Washington and B.C.) and varied arts and entertainment festivals.

There is a proper, if modest, government role, at least at the local level. For the first time we are beginning to hear Port officials from Washington, Oregon and B.C. talking about collaboration. A Port of Portland official even agrees that joint marketing of the region’s tourism facilities overseas makes sense now.

The Cascadian spirit, then, is a bit different from the stereotypical Texan. We do like competition, and we love winning. But in life–if not basketball–you sometimes can win most through cooperation.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.