The CBT symposium. Can we really shape the future together?

By David F. Rooney

Can the different communities of the Columbia Basin really bootstrap themselves into the future? Can they really find common approaches to common problems?

This might sound a little airy-fairy to outsiders, but these are serious questions for the thousands of people whose villages and towns depend on the Columbia Basin Trust for leadership, guidance, assistance and, too, financial assistance.

There are about 174,000 people who call the Basin home and whether you live in Rossland or Revelstoke everyone shares common concerns: loss of young people, the loss of major industries, rising food costs, the loss of agriculture, the need for new approaches to economic development, major demographic change and more — much, much more..

How though should people approach them? Re-invent the wheel from town to town? Or learn from each other and strive to adapt to the challenges that are just now looming on the horizon: technological change, the needs of rapidly aging populations and, whether we’re ready for it or not, racial, cultural and demographic changes on a scale that has probably not been seen in Western Canada since 1900?

These are some of the major questions being considered by about 300 people who have been attending the CBT’s Shaping Our Future Together Symposium at the Revelstoke Community Centre this weekend. This is a major event for the CBT and it has a deep purpose. Whether it will be successful remains to be seen, but it’s first days — Friday and Saturday — were interesting.

Friday afternoon’s activities were the kind of get-to-know-one-another things you’d expect: a mingler and a dinner at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

But there was serious stuff, too. The Canada-US Columbia River Treaty that resulted in the damming of the Columbia River, the subsequent flooding of our river valleys and the destruction of villages, towns, farms and homes all along its length, is formally  due to be renegotiated in 2014. Increasingly, though, there is discussion of simply terminating the agreement and letting everyone go in their own direction. This sounds simple enough, but our homes and towns were burned and then drowned so that the Columbia could be dammed here and American homes, farms and towns protected. The Americans paid British Columbians a settlement for this, but the future of the agreement is now open to question.

As one participant said afterwards: “It’s just like politicians. They start to introduce things and terms like ‘termination’ and then they talk about it more and more. Weasel words.You know how it will end.'”

Well, maybe and maybe not. But it does have a bearing on our communities in one way or another.

Fortunately, the CBT helps mitigate some of the consequences of all that burning and damming. Yes, it took a long time to develop it, but it happened and the CBT does work to benefit the communities that are, in one way or another, dependent upon the Columbia River .

The hundreds of millions of dollars that the province agreed to give the CBT when it was formed almost two decades ago, forms a pool of money that has been invested in hydroelectric power and social and economic development up and down the river’s length in Canada. Think it doesn’t matter here? Then consider the fact that millions of CBT dolars have been invested in community programs and projects in the Revelstoke area alone through just the Community Initiatives Program over the last decade. Ad it doesn’t end there. The CBT provides seed money for a lot of things everywhere, from housing to business advice.

But by itself it cannot overcome the challenges that face all of our communities. That is something that only the self-reliant people of the Basin, who increasingly see themselves locked in an urban-rural divide, can do. That the CBT exists may make it easier to face the future, particularly when it works to build a sense of regional identity and common approaches to common problems.

This story could regurgitate all kinds of facts and comments made by presenters and participants, but I think the best way to do describe the symposium to this point is to tell you about the last hour of Saturday’s formal activities. After hashing out issues in sessions dedicated to  1) Building Smarter Communities Using Broadband; 2) Effective Community and Stakeholder Engagement; 3) Building Strong Organizations for Strong Communities; and 4) Alternate Energy and Energy Sustainability, participants were asked to name the top 20 “drivers” they think will shape the future.

Those things most people thought would most shape the future were: technological change, environmental stewardship; aging populations, climate change, economic development, the increasing urban-rural divide, energy costs, provincial debt, the black windows phenomena, sustainable planning, sustainable agriculture and food security, tourism, collaboration, global economic developments, the wealth gap, the existence of the CBT itself, education, the erosion of cultural organizations, transportation and water.

Everyone rated these issues in terms of their importance. The numbers are being crunched by CBT staff overnight and the results, along with more discussion will emerge at Sunday’s concluding session.

Do you think these are the things that will drive the future?

Inspirational speaker Paul Edney makes a point during his speech at the dinner held at Revelstoke Mountain Resort's Mid-Mountain Lodge to celebrate the start of the CBT's major symposium, Shaping Our Future Together. David F. Rooney photo
Rachel Rosen of Rossland Real Food talks to participants at a session of the Columbia Basin Trust's symposium, Shaping Our Future Together, at the Community Centre on Saturday. About 300 people are attending the weekend-long event, in an effort to begin crafting a common approach to the issues that affect — and afflict — the Basin's different communities. Agricultural sustainability and food security are high on just about everyone's list of priorities. David F. Rooney photo
Golden Town Councillor Christina Benty (second from the right) enthralled participants in a session on engaging stakeholders with her description of the way that the Town of Golden crafted its Official Community Plan. The community relied heavily on youth to both get the message out and to help provide direction for the future. The Town won an award from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities for the way it galvanized the community. David F. Rooney photo
CBT Community Liaison Lynda LaFleur (left) speaks one of the other attendess at the symposium on Saturday. People from all walks of life attended the symposium. David F. Rooney photo
Sylvia Wood (left) or the Mountain Caribou Education Program speaks with one of the symposium attendees as Neills Kristensen of the Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier (center) speaks with another. Many of the syposium participants were eager to talk with the representatives of Revelstoke's active community organizations about how they motivate the community. David F. Rooney photo
Mayor David Raven chats with one of the bartenders at the Water Bar in the Knowledge Fair section of the symposium. David F. Rooney photo
Columbia Basin Trust Chairman Garry Merkel (center, gesturing), CEO Neil Muth and the board of directors field penetrating questions from symposium participants in a very candid Q&A session. David F. Rooney photo
Revelstoke Arts Council Coordinator Gary Pendergast (left) talks about Culture Night as members of the audience and, at the head table, Cindy Pearce, Juliette Fox and David Beurle listen. Fox and Beurle had just led a packed audience of almost 300 people in a brainstorming session on common "drivers" for the future. Pendergast was warming them up the CBT Basin Culture Night activities at Grizzly Plaza, the United Church and local museums that saw people dancing in the street. David F. Rooney photo
Just to get people in a Culture Night frame of mind, the audience was treated to an advance performance by the Moving Mosaic Community Samba Band from Nelson. David F. Rooney photo
The infectious beat of Moving Mosaic's music had the audience on its feet and almost dancing. David F. Rooney photo
Revelstoke Community Economic Development Director Alan Mason and his son Gavin enjoyed a visit to the Art First artists' coop on First Street during Basin Cultural Night. Scores of out-of-towners visited it, while others went to the Railway Museum, Revelstoke Museum, the Nickelodeon Museum and the Visual Arts Centre to see what passes culture in Revelsotke. David F. Rooney photo
Heather Gemmell of Cranbrook was one of the dynamic musicians who performed at Grizzly Plaza. David F. Rooney photo
Revelstoke's Maritime Kitchen Party had them dancing in the street at Grizzly Plaza. David F. Rooney photo
Maritime Kitchen Party was hugely energetic. From left to right are: Dave Tataryn (fillin gin for Shannon Sternloff who was at a music agents' convention), Trevor Wallach and Steve Smith. David F. Rooney photo
The Nickelodeon Museum drew record numbers of visitors to its world-class collection of mechanical musical instruments. David F. Rooney photo