Small towns tend to use the term “diversity” lightly. I heard it while I was living in rural Saskatchewan even though the white population there accounted for almost 99 per cent of its habitants, not to mention almost everyone had been born and raised there. So when I first heard about diversity in Burns Lake, I must admit I was a bit skeptical.
Only to my surprise, I was proven wrong within the first two weeks. I guess all I needed to do was attend the 2014 Municipal Elections All Candidates Forum that took place last Thursday in Burns Lake.
The diversity I noticed wasn’t made of different races, but in ideologies and backgrounds. A 22-year-old candidate for village council ensured that the voices of the youth in town were being represented. A First Nations mayoral candidate was making sure the Aboriginals were being heard. A pro-environment council candidate was making sure we were making conscious economical decisions that wouldn’t hurt future generations.
What also caught my attention was that most candidates, as well as most people living in this town, have lived somewhere else.
One of the candidates for council had lived in Asia for 10 years, and other candidates had lived in different towns in British Columbia and across the country. While some of them were born here, others moved to Burns Lake later in life.
I find diversity important specially for smaller locations. Having people that lived in other places not only makes the town more open minded and welcoming, but it also brings new ideas to the table and fresh perspectives. It makes newcomers such as myself think that Burns Lake is a place where everyone is heard, everyone is welcomed.
Another aspect unique to this town is that the tragedy and loss the town experienced a couple of years ago with the explosion at Babine Forest Products sawmill is still vivid in people’s memories. You can feel it when you talk to locals and hear their stories.
What is surprising, however, is that the town found a way to overcome the tragedy.
The resilience of its residents is manifested through the determination to build a better place. That newfound sense of pride and purpose comes across during all community events, as well as when new projects are taking place.
Every new project now has a meaning. Every achievement matters. Tragedy has united all residents and has given this town an undeniable sense of belonging.
What I also noticed during the debate was that candidates were engaged and willing to make a change. It is definitely exciting be part of a thriving community that is willing to shape its future and has so much to offer.
But all this value and pride should be made more visible to people who never visited the Lakes District. This is exactly what some of the candidates mentioned during the debate – the fact that Burns Lake needs to market itself better.
Maybe our best attributes are not being sold well enough.
Maybe we can do a better job spreading the word of our beauty, diversity, the resilience of our people and specially the youthfulness of this place. Our uniqueness should be our selling point.
There is certainly opportunity here, and maybe this is as good time as any for the new elected candidates to steer this town in the right direction and make sure our stories are being heard. Selling our uniqueness will attract more newcomers to our area. And when they move here, they will know they have just arrived at a great place.