EDITORIAL:Chinese gardens, the western birthplace of skiing, and a legacy of mining: Rossland's past points the way forward

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
November 24th, 2010

Often when discussion turns to how to grow an area’s economy, broad questions such as /what type of city do we want to be?’ are among the first to come up. This week, for the sake of discussion, I’ll offer up a bit of a paradigm shift on that way of thinking. Perhaps a large part of the conversation on how to drive economic development in Rossland—and, indeed, the greater West Kootenay region–should be looking backwards at how did we become what we are and how can we use that to take us into the next stage of growth.

Two recent developments in Rossland that are likely to come to fruition in the near future have brought up a great conversation about celebrating the heritage and culture of our fine mountain city and may just lay the groundwork for growing our economy.
One key learning that has come to light, particularly in the last decade, for resort towns in which tourism is a key economic driver is that culture, history, and heritage are critical components in attracting both residents and visitors. The basic gist here is that people will go to a place once to see the sights and have the adventures. Tourism marketing then has to battle the ‘Been there, done that, got the T-shirt’ attitude that can ensue. Culture, history and heritage have been one tonic for that issue in terms of bringing back repeat visitors. 
Rossland already does fairly well in exploiting one aspect of our cultural history–gold mines and miners. That’s not to say we couldn’t do better, however, and indeed there are signs of improvement and expansion of the historical cultural side of our economy.
In particular – the new statue of Olaus Jeldness currently being proposed and new connections between the Jeldness family formed through last year’s Winter Carnival and with the Norwegian Embassy through the Spirit of Red club could very well be key building blocks in an expanded cultural economy. All of a sudden, in the eyes of tourists, Rossland goes from being a former mining town turned ski town to a city with Scandinavian roots. Indeed, that one statue may cause questions to be asked: who is this guy, why is he on our main street and why should we know about him?
This can and should provide a real boost to our winter tourism. More than just a place to ski, Rossland can be seen as a place to learn about the very beginnings of skiing in Western Canada, to learn about the connections to Norway, perhaps to sample food, wear and see clothes of that era and develop a real narrative around winter tourism in Rossland apart from epic ski mountains, deep snow and small crowds.
In some fashion or another, every ski town can claim great skiing, but not all hills can claim to be the birthplace of Western skiing.
Windsor Nova Scotia may just be an example to look at in this respect. Since the early 90s they’ve taken a small town of about Rossland’s size with a stagnant and recessed economy and ramped things up by touting their status as the birthplace of hockey and developing spinoffs from that narrative. Marketing is all about telling a compelling story–one that is unique from competitors’. In that vein, our history and roots separate us from the resort municipality pack by leaps and bounds.
One suggestion here: how about re-enacting and creating an annual race to commemorate that first National Ski championship back in the 1890s? Sunday River in Bethel Maine has a great model. The basic gist–a ski race in which your time is handicapped based on the age of your gear. If you’ve got hundred year old skis, for example, you may be handicapped a 15 second head start over someone wearing today’s gear. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in bonus points for best 1890s Norwegian ski attire.
There’s one more signature event to add to our existing roster. It’s not everyday you see folks bombing down a mountain side in three meter wooden skis, turning pole in hand, dressed in their finest hand-made Norwegian sweater. It all adds to the Rossland narrative as a fascinating place to visit and live.
Our mining and skiing heritage, however , are only the two obvious examples. A less talked about, less well known cultural calling card we can develop is around our former Chinese population. To that effect, the recently competed and tentatively named Trail Creek Trail is heading in the right direction. While it’s not yet official, the Heritage Commission is working on plans to call it the Lui Joe Trail in honour of the Chinese gardeners and their contributions to our city.
Along similar lines, Rosslanders’ long tradition of growing their own food in a less-than-friendly climate is one that many folks both from here and from away may not be overly familiar with. As sustainability continues to catch on around the world, more and more people are getting the gardening bug. The desire to supply a portion of one’s own food is only going to grow.
Imagine a teaming up of the old and new in this scenario. Rossland REAL Food, which has been one of the most active groups in town in terms of walking the sustainable walk and creating real results in that direction, would be the obvious group to team up with the heritage people to create something really unique.
Walk with me in your imagination for a moment if you will. You’re a tourist, you’ve been to Rossland to ski before, you’ve done the mine tour and you’ve seen the quaint and charming downtown. Maybe you’re aging out of the mountain bike and powder skiing demographic or maybe you’ve just got an interest in sustainability and food and haven’t thought about coming back to Rossland.
Now imagine an interpretive walking tour including the new Luis Joe Trail and perhaps other new trails by then lined with signs and displays detailing the history of the Chinese Gardens. Couple that activity with a Foodies tour of the existing farms and gardens in and around Rossland: Happy Valley, the new community garden and the many backyard garden gems around town. Perhaps the next day you get your fingers dirty in courses and seminars on growing your own food. You then follow that workshop up with a meal in a new restaurant specializing in locally-grown food. Later that evening you take in a presentation on the history of the Chinese gardens.
Before you know it, the marriage of our cultural history with modern trends has created a whole new draw card for people to visit and move to Rossland.
If you really wanted to push that idea to its maximum potential, who knows? It could literally grow into a sustainable agricultural college. In the early days, this could team up with Neighbourhoods of Learning and help save our schools while at the same time boosting the local economy and attracting visitors. Longer term, it could fit in with the idea of bringing a small post secondary institution to Rossland. With some real effort behind it even more partners could be brought together to create an entire sustainability institute.
All these ideas begin with the idea of celebrating the historical culture of Rossland. As is commonly said in different ways, knowing where you’ve been is a great way to decide where you’re going in the future. Rossland has a relatively short history by global standards, but in that short time some fascinating people have come and gone and done their part to build the city we now know and love; some of them are better known than others. Celebrating that historical culture and then capitalizing on it going forward can and should be one more piece in the puzzle of growing our Mountain Kingdom’s economy.

Categories: Op/Ed

Other News Stories