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Posted: January 19, 2020

Goodbye Jumbo; hello Qat’muk

Kootenay Crust

By Ian Cobb

Op-Ed Commentary

I watched a moving and historical ceremony yesterday in the Ktunaxa Nation gymnasium.

It was the culmination of 30 years of work – for me as a journalist and for many of the people attending the ceremony, which hailed the official demise of Jumbo Glacier Resort.

As divisive as the issue of a massive ski resort (5,500 beds etc.) rising in the high country wilderness 55 km from the nearest municipality has been for the Columbia Valley, the Kootenays and indeed British Columbia, it also helped bring Ktunaxa Nation citizens and many other area residents closer together. Important bonds were formed; a nice side effect of ‘the issue that refused to die.’

Another side effect was Jumbo brought out the indomitable spirit of the people who call the Kootenays home and a stand was made over an issue that far out-reached the presence of a simple ski resort, good for the economy or not, smack dab in the middle of one of the last remaining true wildernesses in southern B.C.

Jumbo appeared on the issues-to-cover board in my first year in this business, front and centre in Invermere. And there it sat, like a large doggie pile that keeps re-appearing at the backdoor every day for freaking decades!

I stepped in that damned pile so many times that I cannot provide a number.

And it’s about time someone bloody cleaned it up!

Yesterday’s ceremony was about closure and spirituality; about friendship and great hopes for the future. It was a good news story in our sketchy times, perched perilously close to Cold War tensions again.

Many dozens of people entered today without the weight of a fight they have been waging for decades – likely the longest running land use war in the woods in B.C.’s history – pushing down on them.

May you all enjoy your freedom and the satisfaction in knowing you have helped the right thing get done.

It would be utter peril to attempt to name people who deserve their names preserved in our region’s annals. I would likely irk some people by even suggesting adding the names of some people who supported the resort and offered reasoned and intelligent arguments for it.

Many regional residents experienced changes of mind and heart toward the resort over the decades, with most falling to the opposition side after coming upon one or more reasons in their own research or experiences; myself included.

At the end of the day, this resort did not die because of committed, well-backed and stern opposition. It died because the proponents were not able to build it. Oberto Oberti and company had the green light but the cement trucks got stuck in the road I was always told was good enough as it was for the resort when operational. Can’t help myself.

And that was a desperate feint. A last gasp, perhaps, witnessed by dozens of protesters at Mineral King one soggy day a few years ago. Many of those same people were in the now gone Lake Windermere Memorial Hall in Invermere 30 or so years ago to hear about Oberti’s great dream. Sooner after, then NDP Premier Mike Harcourt announced it was a go while ripping ‘er up in Italy. Then he backtracked with a glowing red face. Oh to be a fly on the wall.

The economy was warm at the time and Japan was especially booming. That translated to many investments in the region and nearby Bow Valley and the thought of another Panorama-plus-sized resort in Jumbo seemed like something that would take the Columbia Valley’s tourism industry to the next level.

But that take was not shared by the majority of residents. And on the issue raged. After initial backers bolted because of a cooling trend in the economic climate, Jumbo went dormant for a few years as a plan was prepared.

Then in 1995 it was back again – and it bobbed and danced in our visions for the next 25 years, even becoming a municipality with no residents beyond bears, moose and marmots and such.

The noise… the anger… the isolation and desolation of voices lost to Victoria. And the fight continued as new energies came aboard, while elder ones were laid to rest.

Millions of dollars passed through lawyers’ hands as courts continued to demonstrate how reconciliation was more about talking the talk than walking the walk. Or how the environment and important ecosystems mean less than big talk sans purse strings.

The Environmental Assessment Office review of Jumbo Glacier Resort showcased numerous bad aspects of Jumbo along with sweeping opposition but was approved and yesterday would not have happened unless the proponents seized the day and started enacting their plans.

There was constant head scratching stuff associated with Jumbo.

Independent studies declared it a lame duck to be.

Flagging economies made it make less sense.

Despite all major area tourism operations being desperate for employees to help run their shows, the prospect of the highly inflated job numbers as put forward by proponent literature was touted over and over by government and supporters.

The only ‘scientists’ I ever interviewed who thought Jumbo wouldn’t harm wildlife or ecosystems were employed by the proponent. One, Canada’s preeminent glaciologist, was flabbergasted that anyone would consider backing a four (then three) season ski resort based around steadily declining glaciers. She said the glaciers would likely be gone in 25 years. She was wrong. They’re still there but smaller.

I could cite about 50 more reasons. But logic and reason means squat when the cash sniffers are out in full hunt.

Money was the driving force behind Jumbo; it was the spine of its support.

In the end, the lack of money was its demise. That and a persistent presence of passionate and committed opposition that took high roads to courts and to blockades and in and out of the Legislature.

Rather than become a future ghost town – though one planned with bylaws n such – Jumbo will now become a protected area, with one cement platform located in an avalanche path, along with the old mill and mines bits n pieces, to remind future visitors of a time well past.

The pressure is now on to make sure this next process is done well.

As Jumbo is dead – we should cease calling it thus and moving forward always refer to the area as Qat’muk.

Sometimes the right thing takes a while to arrive.

Rest easy grizzly bear spirit. And rest in peace Jumbo. – 30

e-KNOW file photos

– Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW. And blah blah Jumbo blah blah blah good riddance!

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