It looks like they’ll let just about anyone post on The Urban Dictionary, because this is what the illustrious online resource has to say about the term Squampton:
“Also known as Squamish. Squampton is a small red neck town north of Vancouver, British Columbia and south of the sky resort of Whistler. The name implies that the factory town is somewhat similar to Compton, LA. This is partly true seeing as the honkies that live there are familiar with drive-bys.”
They didn’t exactly nail it. Nevertheless, that ludicrous definition does serve a purpose in the etymology of the name Squampton.
Squamish, as I’m sure you know, is not a neighbourhood in South Central Los Angeles. It’s a town at the furthest reaches of Howe Sound, flanked on either side by mountains that jut right out of the sea. And at the far north end sits Mount Atwell, the jagged overseer of the communities below.
Atwell looks down from one angle and the Chief keeps an eye from another. Rivers and creeks roll in from every direction: the Mamquam, the Squamish, and the Cheekye to name a few.
And as per the Honkies referenced in the Urban Dictionary, they’re relatively new to the scene. The townsite of Squamish is part of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation’s territory, which extends from the Squamish Watershed down into the Greater Vancouver Area. The Nation is comprised of the local indigenous people, a group of the Coastal Salish people whose oral history goes back as far as the Great Flood (some couple thousand years before Christ).
Indeed, Squamish is a mosaic of many different cultural identities. There’s even a Sikh temple on 5th Avenue that will both feed and house anyone who needs it regardless of their religious background.
The term Squampton is in fact rooted in a tougher time within the history of the town. “Squampton was used by out-of-towners (ie: mostly Vancouverites) to explain how horrible Squamish was in the early 2000s,” says Sheila Jane Cassels, a local mom, musician and staple within the athletic community. “The downtown was hideous and the theft was rampant, especially during the [crystal] Meth epidemic that occurred here for a good five years. Not unlike our sister city, Compton.”
Of course, Squamish is not the sister city of Compton. Aside from a phonetic similarity and a few sketchy elements that arose from a local drug problem, the two places couldn’t be any more different. “Who came up with Squampton or exactly when, I don’t know,” says Shane ‘Stainer’ Carmichael, a big mountain skier, carpenter and metal musician who was raised in Squamish and still calls it home after 30 years. Stainer does feel like the phrase has changed over the years. What was once a reflection of an us-versus-them mentality is now a sticker that’s placed proudly on the family Delica.
“These days, I feel like saying ‘I’m from the mean streets of Squampton,’ would be more a thing an out-of-touch late 30s dad would say as a joke, as opposed to some kid who’s high on drugs and wants to kick your ass.”
The stickers are still available at Tantalus Bike Shop; they have been for years. And though they’re planning on doing another order sometime soon, getting your hands on a T-shirt or a hat requires a bit of luck. That’s because the term has been adopted by the people who live here as a point of pride.
Maybe that’s because the term Squampton actually scared people away for a number of years. It kept country country, as they like to say on Oahu’s North Shore. Of course, the word’s out now. But maybe people have embraced the moniker because the change in its meaning is representative of the change that’s happened within the town itself.
“I remember when I first rolled into town with my parents there was a sign that said, “Welcome to Squamish, Don’t Meth Around,” remembers Rory Bushfield, a pro skier, amateur pilot and all-around badass who moved to town about a decade ago.
There’s no such thing as the perfect place to live, but for a lot of people, Squamish is pretty damn close. The streets are fairly safe from the aforementioned drive-bys. And the drug problem is the same as any other small town of 17,000 people; there are issues that are being worked through as a community.
Progress has been made and a lot of the people who live in Squamish consider it to be their own personal version of paradise.
“The mix of world class athletes, First Nations, working folk, and young families creates a unique bunch of people,” says Cassels.
“At first, people were offended [by the name Squampton]. But soon we all knew how amazing Squamish was and we didn’t really care what people called it.”
It’s funny, really. A place that basically got singled out as a ghetto outside of Vancouver is, in fact, a meeting point of minds, cultures, athletes, mountains, rivers and the sea.
“Now when I hear the term ‘Squampton’, all I hear is home,” says Bushfield.