On the Ground in Northwest BC

Solar power demonstration site, Hazelton BC

Cynthia McCreery, Operations Director at Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, with Leanne Sexsmith and Kelly Lerigny at the Storytellers Foundation solar demonstration site in Hazelton, a project was funded by the Real Estate Foundation.

Touring downtown Smithers BC with Mayor BachrachOn the afternoon of Friday, July 18th, I joined CEO Jack Wong and board member Kelly Lerigny on an exciting (read “bumpy!”) descent into Smithers, BC. We (literally) hit the ground running, tumbling off the plane into our first meeting – with airport manager Rob Blackburn, Mayor Taylor Bachrach, and former Foundation Chair Charlie Northrup (a local municipal councillor and former REALTOR®).

It was the first of many meetings across the region with people who offered diverse perspectives on the challenges and opportunities in northwest BC. This is a key objective of Real Estate Foundation road trips: to support on-the-ground change by getting on the ground ourselves.

Floating down the Skeena River, Kispiox BCFrom Smithers to Hazelton, and from the Kispiox Valley to Terrace, we met with mayors, REALTORS®, researchers and scientists. We met with individuals from grassroots organizations, First Nations communities and local governments. All are working to address issues and opportunities in ways that create more sustainable communities.

This is no small task. Pressures are multi-faceted and many influences are beyond local control.

Garden in Terrace, BCLand use maps of the Skeena region show extensive current and proposed mining, energy and forestry developments. They also show a globally unique watershed. At 54,000 square kilometres, the Skeena is one of the most important and diverse salmon watersheds in world. It supports a vibrant First Nations culture, Canada’s second-largest commercial salmon fishery and a world-renowned sports fishing sector. It also has one of the most significant agricultural areas of BC – Terrace used to be called the “Okanagan of the North” and supplied most of the fruit and vegetables from Prince Rupert to Edmonton.  
Today, many committed people are working to ensure the interconnected economic, social, cultural and environmental assets of the region are sustained and strengthened. In the words of one person, “There is a connection to place that brings real power to what we do.”
Meeting in the Skeena Wild office, TerraceIn the wake of the Mount Polley mine disaster, these words posted on the wall of Skeena Wild’s office are a reminder of the importance of supporting innovative leaders and groups working to find new approaches, models and practices for northwest BC and our entire province:  “The world will not evolve past its present state of crisis using the same thinking that created the situation” – Albert Einstein.
Here is a list of the leaders and innovators we had the pleasure of meeting with on our trip – a big thanks to all of them for sharing their insights and ideas:
Taylor Bachrach, Mayor of Smithers; Charlie Northrup, Smithers Councillor and former REALTOR® and Foundation Chair; Rob Blackburn, Airport Manager; Niomi Mio, Smithers REALTOR®; Rick Budhwa and Kala Hooker, Bulkley Valley Research Centre; Jeff Anderson, Bulkley Valley Community Resources Board; Alice Maitland, Mayor of Hazelton; Gail Lowry, Mayor of District of New Hazelton; Linda Pierre, Electoral Area Director of Kitimat-Stikine Regional District; Dr. Peter Newbery, Chair of Upper Skeena Recreation Centre; Gordon Sebastian, CAO of Gitxsan Treaty Office; Tanalee Hesse, CAO of Village of Hazelton; Cynthia McCreery, Operations Director, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (along with Greg Horne who met us “virtually” through a video on our Northern Solar Green Building Grant); Beth DeMaio, ED Operations of Storytellers Foundation (partner and host site of the Northern Solar demonstration project); Tania Millen, consultant on the SWCC Ecosystems Services Valuation project. Kispiox Valley - Shannon McPhail, ED of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (at the Bear Claw Lodge); Julia Hill and Greg Knox of Skeena Wild; Tara Irwin, Sustainability Coordinator, and Heather Avison, CAO of City of Terrace.

- Leanne Sexsmith