FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH with Blake Melnick

"A Good Place to Be"

March 26, 2021 Blake Melnick Season 2 Episode 13
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH with Blake Melnick
"A Good Place to Be"
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH with Blake Melnick
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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to this episode of #ForWhatitsWorthwithBlakeMelnick, called "A Good Place to Be"

We are on location in the #Cityof Kimberley,  in the East Kooteney's of British Columbia, an area of extraordinary natural beauty,  steeped in the rich history of the Canadian west.

We thought that you might enjoy this short narrated travelogue leading in to our next episode of our #PasstheJam music series, called #CampfireJesus.

Be sure to check out the show blog to see the beautiful photographs which accompany this episode.

Coming up Next...

We are pretty excited about our next episode of #PasstheJam. It will be the first in person interview we've conducted since we launched the podcast back in June 2020 and we're stoked! We have an amazing new artist to introduce to you, and we've used a song he wrote when he was 16 years of age for the intro and outro to this episode to give you a flavour. We will also have the current holder of "the Jam", @BenHunter, join me as a co-host to "Pass the Jam" to our new artist, so make sure you tune in for our next episode called "Campfire Jesus" ...For What it's Worth

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Blake Melnick:  [00:00:00] sometimes we happen upon a place which captures our imagination to the point that it worms its way into our very soul, almost as if it was part of who we are, the yin to our yang so to speak such was the case for me, with the city of Kimberly British Columbia, the location for our next [00:01:00] episode of pass the jam.

Called campfire Jesus. I happened upon the city of Kimberly in the mid eighties. When in search of adventure, I flew into Alberta and to Divan and traveled to the Kooteny region in the interior, British Columbia to explore mountains. I'd read about, but never skied. Before we went to Kimberley Fernie, Panorama Fairmont red mountain Lake water, and then drove South into Montana to ski at Whitefish mountain.

I recall how blown away I was on this trip. I had never seen mountains like these, they weren't tourist resorts. Like the ones I've skied all through my life. They weren't like Whistler. They weren't like Lake Louise. They weren't white Chamonix, Vail, Aspen. These were undiscovered places. As far as I could tell.

Very few lift lines, very little commercialism, very little in the way of development, just wondrous mountains with huge amounts [00:02:00] of snow and no people. So take was I from this experience that I decided I was going to start a ski tour company and bring people I knew from Toronto, who would appreciate these fabulous mountains, the lack of lift lines, the great skiing as I had done the previous winter.

So I got on the phone and I phoned up all the resorts. I had visited and asked to speak to the owner. And in each case, the owner got on the phone and said, Blake, we'd love  if you'd come out here and visit us and we can sit down and talk about putting together ski packages for you. So that summer I loaded up my car and drove out West again and stopped at each one of the resorts I had visited the previous year.

And I sat down with all the owners and over a handshake negotiated ski tour packages for the following winter. This began 35 year long love affair with the [00:03:00] interior, British Columbia, and specifically with the city of Kimberley BC, out of all the places I visited during that winter, Kimberly made the strongest impact on me.

And I'm not sure why there was just something about it that was different from the other places. I've heard some say that Kimberly is a mystical place located between the Rocky and  Purcell mountains. It's an intersection point in the Rocky mountain trench, a beautiful Valley that stretches from British Columbia  right up to the Yukon.

It's location gives it a quality that many considered to be magical, a place where you just feel good when you're there. And that certainly was the case for me. In 1988, I bought my first home in Kimberly up on the mountain so I could run ski tours and I spent my first winter out there and that feeling never went away.

There was something about Kimberly that just made me feel [00:04:00] connected  like a better version of myself. 

The story of Kimberly begins in 1891 with the discovery of Galena, the natural mineral form of lead. It is the most important or for lead and an important source of silver.

This was founded Northstar mine. Now the location of the Kimberly Alpine resort. A year later four prospectors were drawn to the area to ultimately discover one of the greatest lead zinc mines in the world, Walter Bruchett, EC Smith, John Cleaver, and Pat Sullivan arrived at the base of Northstar mountain only to realize that the entire hillside had already been staked, undaunted they crossed Mark Creek to explore what is now called Sullivan mountain. There they found ore and staked three claims. In 1896 Burchett, Smith and Cleaver formed the Sullivan group mining company named in memory of Pat Sullivan, who died in a [00:05:00] cave-in in a mine in Idaho. In 1909 Sullivan money and was acquired by the CPR owned, consolidated mining and smelting company.

If Canada chelator became Cominco limited and Teck Cominco. For the next 60 years, the Sullivan mine was the biggest zinc producer in the world. Towards the end of the 1960s however, it became clear that the mines resources were dramatically depleted and they would have to prepare for shutdown. Recognizing that the mind would no longer be the economic base for the community the city council turned their attention to tourism and to shifting the economy away from an industrial mining economy to a tourist based economy. In the early 1970s in pursuit of tourist dollars, the city council decided to remodel Kimberly as the Bavarian City of the Rockies. And all of the architecture and buildings around the town were remodeled [00:06:00] to look like a small Bavarian village.

They built a walking area called the Platzel  and the world's biggest cuckoo clock. And they created a mascot by the name of Happy Hans. When I arrived in Kimberly in the 1980s, happy Hans was not so happy. The mine was clearly approaching end of life and workers were being laid off in anticipation of a full shutdown of the mine, and even though that did not occur until 2001, the big bulk of miners left the mine in the late eighties, early nineties, this caused a collapse of the real estate market. You could buy a house when I arrived in Kimberley for $10,000. Quite remarkable, but all that being said, the Bavarian theme continued for some time and it was kind of weird and kind of strange.

They used to hold the world's biggest accordion festivals in Kimberly with people from all over Europe would arrive for a festival in the Platzel with lots [00:07:00] of brautwurst, beer and accordian music. In the nineties, economic prosperity began to return to Kimberly. And in fact to the entire powder highway and area stretching from Golden, South to Fernie as Albertans recognized that the natural beauty of the East Kootenays was easily accessible by car to the Calgary market. Investments were made into the ski Hill. New base area was developed and a large number of condo complexes and high end, residential homes were built. There was also a planned expansion of the runways at the Cranbrook airport to accommodate larger commercial jets. However the prosperity was short-lived as the developer and owner of the Kimberly Alpine resort ran into financial difficulties in 2001, it appeared he had overextended himself with multiple development projects across the various resorts. He owned. As a result development in the ski Hill ground to a halt and fewer and fewer real estate development projects were undertaken. [00:08:00] As he negotiated a financial rescue package, which saw Calgary financier, Murray Edwards take control of the resorts of the Canadian Rockies ski properties.

However, well this news offered a ray of hope for new development in the Kimberley region. It was not to be. Edwards chose to further develop projects in resorts that were more accessible to the Alberta market. And once again, Kimberly suffered economic hardship. I was always worried the prosperity Kimberly experienced in the nineties was tenuous at best because this prosperity and development was essentially a real estate play dependent upon Albertan's appetite for vacation homes. No new hotels were built and all vacation properties were independently owned. I wasn't seeing any real growth in the local job market, beyond the trades, because while Kimberly saw a marked increase in travelers from Alberta, there was very little in the way of trickle down growth to the local [00:09:00] economy, Albertans, as a result of the lack of provincial sales tax tended to purchase all of their goods in Alberta prior to traveling to Kimberly and spent  little of their dollars locally

so while areas North and South of Kimberly saw continued growth and prosperity, kimberly languished. This lack of economic growth was further exacerbated by the global recession in 2008, which led to a significant drop in property values in the Kimberley region that lasted for many years, as Albertans sought to divest themselves of their vacation properties.

During those years, there were times when I would visit the ones vibrant Platzel area in Kimberly, and see not as soul. Many of the retail shops were boarded up in the Bavarian themed buildings look, tired, decrepit. Then something quite remarkable happened. Perhaps it's necessity is really the mother of invention.

Young people started to discover Kimberley. [00:10:00] These young individuals and families were drawn by Kimberly's affordability. It's spectacular, unspoiled, natural beauty, the myriad of lakes, rivers, and outdoor activities from skiing, camping,  biking, golf, fishing, whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, et cetera.

Essentially, Kimberly provided them with the possibility to live out their mountain dream and to their credit, the city council took notice and began to rebrand Kimberly to appeal to this new demographic. Gone was, "Welcome to the Bavarian city of the Rockies", replaced by a campaign designed to highlight Kimberly's mining history and youthful playfulness, "Kimberly, a good place to be".

Now Kimberly has one of the youngest demographics of anywhere in British Columbia and the focus is now squarely on ecotourism. Kimberly has the largest urban park in Canada at [00:11:00] 1,977 acres, the Kimberly nature park is the largest incorporated park in Canada. Wonderful playground for all of these outdoor activities.

Kimberly is located in the sunniest climate in British Columbia and enjoys over 300 days of sunshine per year. To take advantage of this natural occurrence and the sunshine that Kimberly affords in 2015, Kimberly launched the Sun Mine a $5.3 million solar project that has 4,032 solar cell modules mounted on 96, solar trackers, which follow the sun's movement to maximize the solar exposure.

This is BC's largest solar project and Canada's largest solar tracking facility, as well as being the very first solar project in BC to sell power to the BC hydro rent, the young demographic embraced the ecotourism vision [00:12:00] and brought with them a host of creative, new ideas to help shape their community.

Hiking and biking trails were built to connect the city of Kimberley with the City of Cranbrook. The trails around the ski Hill were expanded to provide visitors with access to the unparalleled beauty of the Kimberly nature park, new businesses emerged and the Platzel walking village, which catered to both the outdoor and cultural enthusiast.

And they brought the here music,

Kimberly hub for aspiring artists of all kinds. Young singers, songwriters and musicians. Music is everywhere, and it is such a fundamental part of the culture of Kimberly. Some ways. Kimberly reminds me of St. John's Newfoundland, where the music is so connected with the place, with the land, with the culture and the customs of the people you can't separate the two. And as St. John's is famous for their impromptu kitchen parties, where live music is played, people bring their instruments and strike up a band. In [00:13:00] Kimberly, this experience takes place outside around the campfire at the base of the ski Hill out in the Platzel.  And it's a welcoming experience everybody is welcome and it was just such a venue where I met the artist. for our next episode of passthe jam an outdoor venue sitting around the campfire and this young man pulled out a guitar and started to play, but he didn't just start to play by himself in a corner. He encouraged everybody else to get involved.

And soon everybody was singing and everybody was playing and everybody was participating in making music. Please join us for the next episode of pass the jam called campfire jesus. 

I hope you enjoyed today's show a little bit of a travel log and the Kooteny Valley region and Kimberley BC, and check out our blog where we have lots of pictures posted that represent many of the things we discussed in this episode.

[00:14:00] Have a look they're quite beautiful. We'll see you next time. On for what it's worth and the space in between