Kootenay, Kootenai, Kootney… Columbia?

John Devitt

Late last week I was sent on assignment by another publication to the lower Kootenays.  I loaded up my car and along with my friend JM; we white knuckled our way down Highway 23 in one of the worst blizzards this season.  During the weekend event we ran into a number of fellow Revelstokians.  All of us cheered during a presentation in a packed local theatre, Greg Hill pointed out to all assembled that yes, Revelstoke is, in fact, part of the Kootenays.  It got us thinking about why this fact could be so surprising to so many people down there.

Why do people in the south not understand that Revelstoke is part of the Kootenays?  Is it because of our individualistic self-reliance?  Is it because we seem to hop from associations with the Kootenays, Columbia or Okanagan regions at will?  Is it because Revelstoke is much more conservative than our neighbours to the south of us?  Are we self-centred? When you’re late for something in Revelstoke, it’s said you’ve shown up on “Revelstoke Time,” whereas to the rest of the region it’s simply “Kootenai Time.”

On one hand it is refreshing that Revelstoke is unlike those other places.  When much of the Kootenays seems to be a stereotype of it’s self, Revelstoke can seem refreshingly unique.  Whereas travelling south into the heart of the Kootenays can almost seem like another planet.  Once you cross the ferry and begin your southern descent along the twisty highway, you begin to feel cut off.

The independent isolation of the Kootenays can cause us to forget our regional connections.  It took a film by local Vance Shaw, to remind us we’re part of a larger powder highway.  This network of snow and branding links us all to a greater mountain culture that is unique in British Columbia and the world.

What would the Kootenays feel like if the Okanagan highway system were duplicated here?  With safer, faster access to our regional partners, perhaps there would be more opportunities for trading of goods and services.  The powder highway could become a more viable tourism asset, allowing visitors from all around the world to access communities with epic powder and distinct culture.

Revelstoke is both less and more isolated than our Kootenay brethren.  Despite being on the main vehicular thoroughfare for the nation, Revelstoke is an oasis in the mountains.  With a friendly rivalry, but no real connection to Golden, we often turn to the Okanagan.  Unlike the rest of the Kootenays, we have no immediate neighbour that we identify with.  Our tourism linkages indicate we’re part of the Kootenays, but there exists very little evidence locally that we are part of the Powder Highway.  Our commercial links tend to skew us towards the Okanagan, even if no one wants to admit they shop down there.  We’re kind of just stuck in the middle on our own.

Cross-community partnerships are common in the lower Kootenays.  “In the Koots,” a popular website, provides commerce and event linkages for many communities in the region.   However, the Revelstoke page is distinct in that there is a significant lack of content compared to the other Kootenay communities.  “Invest Kootenay” is another website that connects investors with potential businesses throughout the Kootenays.  While Revelstoke’s involvement in this program has improved over 2011, it is still a highly underutilized tool that benefits the entire region.

Ultimately there is a great deal to be proud of in a community that develops its own solutions like we do in Revelstoke.  However is it possible that we are so prideful of our “in house”, independent solutions that we are unwilling or unable to be a strong partner with our neighbours?  Some people we spoke with in the lower Kootenays, while in awe of our new ski resort, stated it didn’t really have a Kootenay feel.  Revisiting the development history, they pointed out that RMR catered to the rich and elite upper class flying in and out of million-dollar on mountain homes, emphatically “un-Kootney.”  They felt only now that the resort is seemingly reliant on the grassroots Kootenay ski movement, is it beginning to feel truly like “one of us.”

Despite the questions we ask ourselves about belonging, there was indispituable evidence that we are all “Kootenaliens.”  Smiling, friendly faces with an easygoing attitude that welcomes everyone.  That and a massive love for the incredible powder that fell up and down this region last weekend.  With a universal language like that, maybe it’s time we just become friends without the rivalary.