Promoting the Lakes District

This week I spoke with Rene Jaspers, a local artist who’s undertaking a remarkable project to portray the beauty of Hwy. 16.

This week I spoke with Rene Jaspers, a local artist who’s undertaking a remarkable project to portray the beauty of Hwy. 16.

This stretch of Hwy. 16 – from Prince George to Prince Rupert – has got quite a bad reputation over the years, and is now known as the Highway of Tears.

Although Rene asked me not to mention the ‘Highway of Tears’ when I talk about her project (and I didn’t… until now), I felt that referencing it was important for the purpose of this editorial.

Rene wants to show what we have to offer here in the north. She sees beauty living here and she is proud of it; she wants to talk about it, to show it, to paint it. She is not ignoring the issue of safe transportation – as she will donate the proceeds of her project for this exact purpose -, but she wants her project to bring attention to another important aspect of the highway: its beauty.

While learning about her project, I also spoke with Wayne Brown, Owner of Process 4 Circle Arts Gallery. Brown moved to Burns Lake from Montreal several years ago and he said that it frustrates him that Burns Lake is not doing more to promote itself.

This really got me thinking because this is something that I’ve noticed since I first set foot in the Lakes District.

Although Burns Lake is an incredibly beautiful village with many opportunities for outdoor recreation, world-class mountain biking trails, cross-country skiing trails, the Lakeside Multiplex, a brand new hospital, affordable housing, fun and interesting people from all over the country (and the world) that chose to live here, one would never know all of this unless they actually moved up here.

If you mention Burns Lake in Vancouver, chances are people are not going to know where that is (don’t even try mentioning Burns Lake if you travel to other provinces).

Well, I think that this could and should be different.

Lakes District News and the chamber have been doing a great job developing an annual tourist book that is distributed across the province. The village and the regional district are currently developing economic development plans, which include marketing strategies. But we can certainly do more.

The main challenge might be that many people who live in Burns Lake don’t actually believe that we have something special to offer. I noticed this during a recent ‘breakfast with the mayor’ event, when people were discussing marketing strategies for the village. Participants were talking as if Burns Lake was just like any other town, or if other towns had more to offer.

I mean, sure, Smithers is just around the corner and it is a phenomenal little town. But if I had to choose between Burns Lake and Smithers, I would definitely choose Burns Lake – because I believe there’s something special here, and this is what we need to sell.

Promoting where we live brings visitors, and visitors bring money. It means that more people will stay at our hotels, eat at our restaurants and shop locally.

Mayor Luke Strimbold recently asked members of the chamber of commerce for input on the development of priorities for the village. While discussing marketing strategies, one of the chamber members said the village should be taking more advantage of its mountain biking trails to promote Burns Lake.

He brilliantly said that while most small towns are desperately looking for something that they can promote, Burns Lake already has it.