Rural and First Nation communities across B.C. often rely on tourism to support economic development opportunities. With the pandemic hitting industries hard across British Columbia, the $14 million in grant support is welcomed by communities in the Thompson Okanagan.
In late June, the provincial government announced nearly 150 projects across B.C. would receive help to fund economic development and recreational opportunities for rural British Columbians, many of them tourism related. The grants include approximately $5 million for 39 trail and recreation projects, and almost $9 million for 114 projects that support rural community development.
Currently, many rural and First Nation communities are struggling with the economic downturn due to COVID-19, including Sun Peaks, whose municipality received $270,000 to collaborate with the Little Shuswap Indian Band.
The funds will go toward a Skw’lax cultural and economic installation in the new Sun Peaks Centre. More details are expected in the coming weeks, but a release from the province said the grant would result in direct employment opportunities for band members and increased awareness of the skills and product offerings of band members.
While the province has stepped in to provide funding, other projects have been delayed by the pandemic.
Effects and delays to grant projects due to COVID-19
The community of Logan Lake received $100,000 to celebrate the town’s 50th anniversary and construct the first stage of the Mimi Falls Legacy Bike Trail, a trail network around the lake.
“We had our 50th anniversary celebration planned for this year but we’ve had to postpone it so we won’t be able to be doing the actual celebration until the next year,” said Robyn Smith, mayor of Logan Lake.
In the Thompson region plans have also been stalled due to COVID-19 and are scrambling to get back on track.
Community Futures Shuswap in Salmon Arm, B.C., received nearly $10,000 for their Secwépemc Lakes Indigenous Tourism Project 2.0.
“The project builds on the Secwépemc Lakes Indigenous tourism development strategy, which focuses on entrepreneurship, youth involvement and employment, events creation, and developing an artisan collective, partnership creation and outreach to other Secwépemc communities,” read the release from the provincial government.
“We already have a number of artisans that are already doing work through the region. It’s a bit of a challenge right now due to COVID-19,” said Robin Cyr, the new project manager for the Secwépemc Lakes Tourism project. “We are finding that a bit of a challenge but what we are going to do is work with the artisans and determine where they are with their product and then work with them to help them increase their business exposure.”
However, amid many project challenges, one project in the Thompson region has seen great success.
Near Chu Chua, B.C, the Simpcw First Nation’s Simpcw’ulcw Trails Facilities & Amenities Development Project received $50,333 in funding.
According to Tom Eustache, maintenance manager of the Simpcw First Nation, the community is excited about the project, and have already been using around 15 km of completed trail. A running group and other community members use it to improve their physical and mental health, especially useful during the COVID-19 lockdown.
According to Eustache, the trail will allow for pedestrians to travel between communities safely and attract tourists.
What remains to be completed
As the province has moved through its phased reopening stages, and communities gear back up to complete their individual projects. Logan Lake is looking to utilize the funding to create a new presence.
“…This particular project was identified because we’re traditionally we’ve been sort of known as the mining community,” said Smith, adding they want to move away from dependency on one industry.
“Building on our trail system has been one of the things that we’ve been working really hard at, and this particular trail is interesting because it’s got some Native [Indigneous] history along the way that we are hoping to incorporate an interpretation piece into that.”
The Secwépemc Lakes Indigenous Tourism Project is focusing on two main objectives moving forward.
“The first we’re working on right now is increasing the Indigenous cultural presence for the region and then the second will be tourism business development with the four Indigenous communities throughout the Secwépemc regions,” said Cyr.
Final steps to utilizing funding
As projects set back in motion many communities are looking at fall as their goal for completion.
The Logan Lake mayor said there would be a grand opening of the trails during their 50th anniversary celebrations once they’re complete.
Cyr said due to COVID-19 and management changes, the new Secwépemc Lakes Indigenous tourism brand will have to reintroduce the project but a website which features the artisan’s work is currently underway in addition to an artisan database. Cyr said their main focus currently is working on self-guided Indigenous cultural experiences and helping artisans market online ready-to-go products.
The project on Simpcw territory continues to take great strides, while the trail is completed section by section as work crews are available.
“So we’re doing it in portions,” said Eustache. ”We’ve done one section already and we’ll have it done and the other section done by September.”
The project will continue following the inspection of culturally sensitive areas.
The full list of selected projects can be viewed here.