Connectivity means different things to different people. For most, access to a high-speed and reliable network is about staying connected to friends and family, tapping virtual classes or simply streaming your favourite TV shows. For others, it means having the flexibility to work from home or to send out a few work emails from the road or from the cabin.
But for many residents of and visitors to the Sunshine Coast, it can mean the difference between life and death.
That’s certainly the case for Ian Martin, a search manager with Sunshine Coast Ground Search and Rescue in Sechelt.
“Our team is regularly dispatched to the Skookumchuck Narrows and Sechelt Inlet areas by first responders to find individuals who cannot be located, for whatever reason. These are exceptionally dangerous waters and the hiking trails in the area can be a little rugged. Because cell phone coverage has previously been non-existent, communications have always been an issue—both for coordinating operations within our team and for reaching the people we are searching for,” explains Martin.
With its immense natural beauty and quiet solitude, Sechelt Inlet is a paddler’s paradise located only two hours from Vancouver, with a 40-minute ferry ride in between. Nestled on the interior side of Sechelt Peninsula, the inlet is protected from open ocean waves and currents by the mountains that flank it. Those who find themselves there in the early morning or late evening are treated to the sight of green mountains reflected off an immaculate mirror of calm ocean water. With virtually no roads or villages along its shores, Sechelt Inlet is a place of wilderness and exceptional wildlife.
But those same natural conditions that make the inlet such an attractive place for paddlers are also what make it a potentially dangerous place. Critically, until recently, the area had no cell phone coverage, so paddlers had no way of calling for help should the worst occur.
That changed this summer when TELUS installed a new cell tower and wireless communications facility that will provide cell phone and internet service to the Sechelt Inlet, Skookumchuck Narrows and surrounding area.
“Improved cellular coverage allows us to communicate directly with people in need. But more importantly, the new cell tower helps us triangulate their position using their cell signal. It really makes all the difference,” says Martin.
Peace of mind for boaters, visitors
TELUS’ investment in the area follows requests by community members who know first-hand just how important safety is to the users of the Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park. The park is home to some of the world’s most impressive and turbulent tidal rapids. Twice daily, the rising and falling tide provokes a reversal of the saltwater flow, as it rushes in and out of the Sechelt Inlet. The difference in water levels between one side of the rapids and the other often exceeds two meters in height, with 750 billion liters of water flowing through the Skookumchuck Narrows. Famous for their spectacular whirlpools, the rapids attract adrenaline junkies from across the globe, including kayakers and divers, making it one of the great whitewater wonders of the world.
The arrival of TELUS connectivity to the area means kayakers, boaters and hikers now have peace of mind while enjoying this breathtakingly beautiful area.
“The new tower will certainly save lives at some point. Many boaters do not carry VHF radios on board, instead relying on cell phones. We often take cell coverage for granted, so expanding cell service in this popular boating spot is an important contribution towards safer boating,” says Gordo Bone, a crew member with the Royal Canadian Marine Search & Rescue team in Pender Harbour.
There are many areas just north of the Skookumchuck where VHF radio service is unreliable due to the terrain, “So cell service is an important tool for our marine search-and-rescue crew,” adds Bone. “As well as communication, cell phones also help us locate boaters who may not know their location—which happens more than you would think.”
Make no mistake, these investments are an economic boon. The natural beauty of the Sunshine Coast is a huge draw, making tourism one of the area’s biggest industries.
“But not all of our would-be visitors are looking to go completely off the grid,” explains Annie Wise, executive director of Sunshine Coast Tourism. “With the improved safety and security that TELUS’ network brings, we’re hoping we can enhance the visitor experience during off-peak parts of the year. In our view, the Sunshine Coast is one the most beautiful places on Earth and we want to ensure that visitors can experience it safely and responsibly.”
Summer is in fact the busiest time of the year for the Sunshine Coast, as vacationers flock to its beautiful beaches and mountain trails. But kayaking, hiking and diving are all activities that can be enjoyed year-round.
“Our hope is that improved connectivity gives people the peace of mind they need to visit the area in the shoulder season when there are generally fewer people around,” says Wise.