What does the future hold for Burns Lake?

UNBC host resource and community development meeting and present ideas for the future of Burns Lake.

Burns Lake could be the mountain bike capital of North America.

That’s just one of the ideas that was proposed during a ‘Managing For Tomorrow’ resource and community development session held in Burns Lake recently.

Marleen Morris, associate director of UNBC’s Community Development Institute said to a small group of local attendees and village staff, that there is unique opportunities for community development in Burns Lake.

“So much of where we are now, is based on where we have been,” she said, adding that Northern B.C. has been resource based from the beginning.

“First Nations oral history tells us that they traded good in all four directions. Those good were land based resources. B.C. has a long tradition of trading.”

Morris said the 1980s recession hit B.C. resource communities hard. “There was no jobs to be had. The entire province was cutting back … it was a very dismal time and it greatly impacted resource regions.”

New global pressures now exist for resource based areas, like Burns Lake. “There is international trade agreements, low cost countries manufacturing and producing and competing directly with B.C., as well as trade globalization. B.C. is now just another player in the global market,” she said, adding that there has also been a shift in technology where previously a sawmill that would typically employ up to 400 people, now requires a lot less employees due to technological upgrades.

From 1996 to 2001, 14 regional districts in B.C. lost population at a time when B.C.’s population was growing.

“There was a huge drain of people out of the Northern Interior and this was a direct repercussion of a global economy in B.C. the booms come faster and the busts go deeper. New industry is global and there is new areas of competition. Burns Lake is no longer just competing with the timber supply area down the road. So how do we compete? ” she said.

According to Morris there are three key aspects that will determine a community’s success.

The first of which; Burns Lake has to understand what it has that is different from everyone else. “You also need to look at the aspirations of the people that live in the community and create economic features around those aspirations. Burns Lake could be the mountain bike capital of North America for instance. Look at the assets and the aspirations and build on that and add new aspirations for economic diversity.”

Morris cautioned that diversification and economic development doesn’t happen overnight.

“Making plans is great, but the reality of plans is that they can quickly change. It’s not just the plan, it is the process you put in place. The whole community has to work together …. make this a community focus. It should be Burns Lake’s goal to find its unique place in the global market and to do this you have to look at the land and the people and collaborate your efforts. That’s how you achieve a sustainable economy. You have to reinvest in physical infrastructure and the next workforce and help them see their future is in Burns Lake. You also need to expand economic and business infrastructure so that local businesses can succeed. This will shift Burns Lake from resource dependence to a diversified economy,” Morris said.

She said Terrace and Valemont are two communities that have successfully transitioned from resource based economies to more diversified economies.

“It took about 15 years for this to happen in both communities. During the last forestry downtown, Valemont barely felt the repercussions because they diversified to tourism … they still have a focus on forestry, but they have added new sectors. “

Village chief administrative officer Sheryl Worthing said, “I have been to sessions, meetings, forums and training and we are working on economic development initiatives. All of the sessions have been good, but I have come to the realization that in Burns Lake we are four communities. We are a regional district, we are the village and we are two First Nation groups. I don’t know how to get everyone on the same page … I know that everyone is working hard and we do work together.”

Worthing said, “We are working on downtown revitalization plans that will be incorporating First Nations culture. First Nations  sculptures are in the process of being constructed and they will be incorporated in the downtown area. We have long term plans to enhance the trail system, not just in the village but also in Regional District of Bulkley Nechako area B and E. In the short term we are looking at expanding the Big Pig Mountain bike festival … that’s where we are at right now,” Worthing said.

Worthing later said to Lakes District News, “The First Nations sculptures are an initiative of the Burns Lake Band. They will be included in phase one of the downtown revitalization project however I am unsure of their arrival date. The hope is to have them in Burns Lake and on display for Aboriginal Day.”

Wesley Sam, Burns Lake Band councillor said there will be approximately eight to 10 carved sculptures depicting the symbols of the four clans, as well as others depicting First Nations traditional myths and lore.

“We still are working with the Village of Burns Lake to choose the sites for them and we think it will encourage tourists to stop in Burns Lake and walk through town. It is a project that the Burns Lake Band has initiated and has had on the shelf for a while and it is exciting that it is moving forward.”

According to Sam, a carver out of Terrace is working on the project. “The carvings are going to be five feet tall, but the rest is a surprise. We hope that this will be a spring board into more local First Nations tourism initiatives,” Sam added.

During the meeting, local resident Bernice Magee said, “I think that coming together is based on a matter of underlying trust, which is there sometimes and not there other times. Also if we are using mountain biking as an example, we have to look at the lifestyle of mountain bikers, what they eat, what shops do they need … perhaps a repair shop, bike rentals and transportation to the trails and then how the community fits in to that. I am not a mountain biker … where do I fit in to that?”

Morris said trust is always an issue when people come together. “Do some scenario planning just for fun … there is no risk in people participating and they will learn to work together with no risk involved.”