As the tumbleweeds roll through town

John Devitt

Almost overnight at the close of Easter weekend, Revelstoke went from being a thriving resort community full of visitors to a relative ghost town.  Speaking to business owners, many began seeing a slowdown as early as the mid March.  Warm spring weather and the impending, impromptu early closure of Revelstoke Mountain Resort contributed to a quicker transition into the bi-annual “shoulder season”.

For many of us in town, the change was palpable the Tuesday after Easter.  There were noticeably less vehicles, people and colourful toques cruising around downtown.  On one hand those of us who live here permanently really love the calm that comes after a big winter.  Some people can be heard saying that things are going back to normal, implying that the busy winter season is still unusual.  It is true that it is nice to have “our” town back.  Starting now and for the next few months we all start running into friends we may not have seen during the winter.  Those of our community, who take hibernation to heart and keep their heads down for 5 months are so, are now sprouting back up.

While it’s great to see old faces again, what about all the new faces moving on?  That’s part of living in a resort community.  Just recently looking at old photos of my years in Revelstoke, I was a little surprised at all the people I’ve counted as friends who have come and gone from this place.  Some have left to chase endless winters, or endless summers, as the case may be, but many have had to pull up roots in search of stable jobs and living wages.  When the benefits of a tourism-based economy were discussed with the community pre-RMR days, was there an asterisk that said “but only for 5 months a year?”

Whether or not the early closure of Revelstoke Mountain Resort had a large impact on local business is debatable.  No doubt it impacted accommodations that likely lost spring bookings, not to mention the food and beverage sector.  Many other business owners will tell you that they’ve never seen a change even during the “busy” winter months.  Business is as business does, in Revelstoke.  Maybe it’s time to shake things up a little bit?

Once upon a time there were rumours about a technology park development that would be developing land on the west bank of the Columbia River.  Alas, it seems that the only remnant of that rumour is an old blog entry dating from 2008 (  Whether or not this project is still languishing in recession era hell is unknown.  What is known is that the project could have added further diversity to the Revelstoke economy, creating a multitude of jobs at a variety of levels.   Arguably the tourism industry has only served to create a plethora of low paying, entry-level positions.

Over the years the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Revelstoke Economic Development department have slowly been exploring ways of encouraging investment and developing diverse new industry in Revelstoke.  This would make our economy more resilient, and create more opportunity for residents.  Communities throughout BC incorporate incentives when marketing to potential investors.  Whether through reductions in development cost charges or temporary tax relief, incentives are endlessly creative in encouraging investment and thereby growing the municipal tax base.

A larger tax base can lead to more equitable taxation, ending that ongoing argument.  A larger tax base can lead to improved City services, perhaps putting to rest some concerns about planning and recreation priorities.  Introducing new industry that develops higher paying employment opportunities, reduces the impact of people leaving town in search of living wages, affordable housing, the perceived high cost of goods and services, and more.  In no way should this be interpreted as a silver bullet solution to the woes of Revelstoke.  However a proactive strategy to economic enhancement could go a long way.  We are lucky to have an Economic Development department in our community.  This is not an office that exists in all municipalities.  That age-old adage, “You have to spend money to make money”, rings true in this situation.  Perhaps it is time we as a City support that office with more resources to move forward progressively?

No doubt there will be some who decry this column as challenge to change the community we love even further.   However, it is a fact that at one time Revelstoke was the largest economic centre in the interior of British Columbia.  Maybe we should try to return to our true roots?

To be continued…