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Canmore to Charge Vanlifers, but Dirtbags will Still Dirtbag

The town will offer 50 stalls where people can park their van and pay, the spots will have bathrooms and security

If you’ve never lived in a van, then it’s hard to understand what it’s like. Imagine locking the doors while parked next to others under bright street lights with no bathroom until sunrise. Imagine it rained before you got into your van and you’re soaking wet.

Imagine working nine-to-five and dealing with the difficulties of living in a van, like no running water (unless you have one of those fancy vans) and very little privacy. It’s a hard way to live, especially in a town with very rich people acting in very rich ways.

It’s not that bad once you get used to it, depending on your situation. I lived in a van in Canmore, back before there was a #vanlife, and I worked fulltime as a labourer. I got used to being dirty and smelly, but I always had the option to crash at a friend’s or to simply rent a place.

That’s not an option for everyone, and many who live in their vehicles would rather live in a house. For some, it’s a lifestyle choice to save a few bucks, but for others it’s because there is no other choice. It’s a complicated issue.

In the summer of 2019, the strip of gravel road between Elevation Place and Save-On Foods in Canmore became the place where many people living in their vehicles parked. It became known as Vanmore. It sometimes had fulltime workers sleeping in rundown vans next to wealthy vacationers in pimped-out RVs.

Which brings us to the point that not everyone living in their van is working, most are just on vacation or taking the season off to rock climb, ski or mountain bike. Last May, the town instituted a rule where vehicle dwellers in Vanmore were forced to break camp each morning for a period of two hours.

Some campers only stayed for one night, but many others stayed for months. Most weekends saw over 100 vans and RVs parked in and around the area. Because the number of vanlifers seems to grow exponentially every summer, the Town of Canmore has announced a solution: to charge rent.

Beginning in May 2020, the town will permit camping in 50 parking stalls for $10 per night. The lot(s) will be patrolled by security and will be equipped with washrooms as well as bear-proof garbage bins.

I think it’s a great initiative by the town and that the 50 stalls won’t be enough. Nevertheless, most people who live in their vans simply don’t want to pay. They’ll sleep on side roads, in parking lots to recreational areas or trail heads to climbing crags. Hopefully they’ll keep access issues in mind while doing so.

Since the Golden Age of rock climbing in the 1950s, authorities have been trying to stop road-trippers, dirtbags and vanlifers from living for free. While this 50-stall program is a step in the right direction, the dirtbag will always find a way to dirtbag.