Former Mayor Touts Heritage as a Road to Economic Development

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
August 27th, 2009

With sustainability, the economy and the environment dominating the headlines and priorities of our governments, heritage, its preservation and promotion are often forgotten or left behind.

Former Rossland mayor and long time councillor Jackie Drysdale came before a committee of the whole (COW) meeting at city hall this Tuesday to put heritage back on council’s radar. Her mission is to have heritage once again looked at in Rossland as not just an extra, but as a means of economic development in its own right. Her delegation to the COW meeting was an effort to begin bringing together the key players in the economic development world with stakeholders in the heritage world in partnership with city leaders to produce something greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Invitations were sent out to the economic development task force, Tourism Rossland and the Rossland Museum for this weeks COW meeting however only the museum and council were in attendance.

“I felt that everybody just needs to be brought together on an issue that is maybe not getting very much attention and opportunities are being missed,” said Drysdale. “The idea behind it all is that in the 1980’s we revitalized Rossland, certainly the downtown area around heritage with an eye to increasing tourism for economic development.”

Drysdale’s mission was spurred on after a meeting with the director of the provincial heritage branch who while speaking about Rossland and heritage noted that

“Really since the 1980’s when Rossland led the province in revitalization around heritage, Rossland has since sort of fallen off the map”.

“It was that expression which I really thought, “Oh My God What do we have here?”,” recalled Drysdale. “In the meantime other communities in the province have got on board and are using heritage dollars and working with the heritage branch and they just figured we had dropped off the map. It wasn’t derogatory but just a casual observation from somebody outside the community looking at our community from afar. I felt you know, we just need to pursue this again.”

In the 1980’s, as pictures and memories will recall Rossland’s downtown area was “Just the saddest looking place you can imagine,” as described by Drysdale. In an effort to revitalize the town core and by doing that create and grow the tourism industry the city made a concerted effort to do that through heritage and culture. Three programs including the provincial Heritage Area Revitalization Program of which Rossland was one of only three communities in the province to receive provided approximately $2.5 million dollars to the downtown revitalization program. There was also federal money as well as local government dollars provided to fund the project as well. At that time the city combined all three grants and among other programs offered building owners the chance to upgrade their facade and receive architectural expertise for 25 cents on the dollar. This was the driving force behind the appealing downtown area Rossland enjoys today.

Also as part of that project the town square was constructed, $650,000 went towards bringing the Miners Hall back to life with a new foundation and interior renovations as well as the construction of a tea house for tour busses at the Rossland Museum. Plans were also made under that project to build a dam on Trail Creek in what is now lower Centennial Park to create a recreational lake in town. That project never moved forward but is an amenity many in Rossland still desire and push for today.

Drysdale believes what is needed today is a coordinated approach between economic development groups in the area such as the chamber , the LCCDT, the new highway 3 coalition and the heritage groups in town. Currently Drysdale see’s the heritage and culture in town as being a piece meal approach with many groups pursuing smaller efforts. Combining the many groups small efforts into one larger, more efficient approach could be the approach to make big things happen as the city did a generation ago in the 80’s.

A recent example of the need for a coordinated approach described by Drysdale was Tourism Rossland’s thought of installing heritage plaques on buildings around town. Drysdale communicated that she thought it was a great idea but cautioned that Tourism Rossland’s funding for the project was to come from CBT and the Rossland Museum is also heavily funded by the Columbia Basin Trust noting that they likely would only fund one project. Working together tourism Rossland could potentially have a greater chance of succeeding with the plaques if coordinated and run through the museum as part of a larger overall project.

“The bottom line is to bring heritage back to the fore in term of the economic development potential and hope some kind of action plan or attention may be given to this,” added Drysdale. “We certainly need to start addressing and dealing with opportunities to make the most of it.”

For an example of heritage in action, the provincial courthouse at the east end of downtown has recently completed a three year two and a half million dollar renovation to maintain the historic integrity of the national historic site. During Golden City days this year tours of the courthouse will be available for people to see the renovations and restoration that has been done.

In looking for the economic development path to the future, Drysdale suggests looking into the past and refurbishing, restoring and promoting our unique heritage in Rossland. What it will take is a plan, and a plan put together by all stakeholders. Twenty plus years after that last major development downtown, maybe it’s time to continue that effort and further revitalize our town to if not increase tourism, continue to make Rossland a more attractive place to live, play and do business.

“We’ve got the history, we’ve got the heritage and we’ve got phenomenal archives out at the museum second to only the provincial archive,” concluded Drysdale. “We’ve got these things. They are part of our roots. Why not continue to pursue the economic side of them?”

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