Imagine a town, our town, with no mine – a vision for Kamloops

Old pit at site of proposed Ajax mine.

Old pit at site of proposed Ajax mine.

Below is an excerpt from my presentation at the Thompson Rivers University Clocktower Theatre on Sunday, November 24, 2013, entitled Imagine a Town With No Mine. Thank-you to the TRU Faculty Association’s Human Rights Committee for sponsoring the presentation. Please note that this excerpt is based on my speaking notes and may vary slightly from delivery.


I don’t believe in fear-mongering and demonizing.

I don’t believe KGHM is evil or that the people who work for it are bad people.

I know Ajax would provide very well-paying jobs, and that there would be spinoffs to the community, and that a lot of those jobs would go to local people who could be trained right here at TRU.

So I can’t subscribe to the panic, the doom and gloom scenarios that some people are painting.

But neither do I believe that if we don’t get this mine all our sons and daughters and grandchildren will have to move to Alberta to get jobs in the tar sands.

I don’t believe Kamloops will become a backwater, that it will mean we’re anti-industry.

I don’t believe Ajax is our last hope for prosperity. And I don’t think this giant open-pit mine will make Kamloops the economic envy of Canada and become a big tourist attraction, and that we’ll all go around listening for the next blast because it’s the sound of money.

So let’s approach this choice from a position of balance, logic, and our emotions in the right places.

“… We want Kamloops to be a place where we can live safely, work productively and play joyfully.”

I’m not sure which comes first – if we talk about our vision for Kamloops, we must talk about Ajax.

On the other hand, if we talk about Ajax, we must talk about our vision for Kamloops.

I wrote those words on the slide back at the turn of the century while putting together a document called A Strategy for Kamloops.

I also said this, when I was asked to elaborate during a campaign:

“My vision of Kamloops is manifested in our city becoming the most livable city in the province and, ultimately, the country.

“Kamloops will fulfil its vision because it has everything necessary to do so.”

Pete Seeger recorded a song in the ‘60s called Little Boxes. It was about conformity and the negative effects of the growth of suburbia.

Today that song could be interpreted as fear of the ordinary. I think we want more than “ordinary” for Kamloops. We want this special place to stay special.

When our son was just a little guy in the ‘90s one of his favourite books was one by Victoria children’s author Julie Lawson called a Morning to Polish and Keep.

We want Kamloops to be a place to “polish and keep.”

There are two kinds of cities — those with mines, and those without.

The biggest question in front of Kamloops today — very possibly the biggest question ever in front of Kamloops — is which one do we want to be.

Everything is in the right place at the meeting of the waters.

Everything is in the right place at the meeting of the waters.

We do have a collective vision for Kamloops.

As imperfect and incomplete a slogan as Canada’s Tournament Capital is, it’s very strong, and it does a pretty good job of reflecting the vision.

As we all know, the Shuswap or Secwepwemc people were here for thousands of years before Europeans showed up, living off the land and off the rivers and lakes. Then the fur traders came.

My great-great-grandfather was in charge of Fort Kamloops for the Hudson’s Bay Company and if anyone had asked him his vision, he probably would have said, “ Fur Trading Capital of New Caledonia.”

And then the gold seekers passed through. Some stayed behind and started ranches. We became the Cattle Capital of British Columbia.

In 1895 we incorporated and now we were a real city, with a coat of arms and everything, and the sawmill burned down so we made it into Riverside Park.

We had businesses, and churches, and a hospital and a fire department and banks and clubs and theatres and dance halls, and a civic band.

We had sports — baseball and hockey and cricket, lacrosse, rowing, tennis, track meets and cycling and horse racing.

The Kamloops Musical and Athletic Club put up a new hall in the 100 block Victoria Street — maybe the first multi-purpose facility. Kamloops was a Tournament Capital in the making!

Boris Karloff slept here and Robert Service worked in one of the banks before he went off to the Cremation of Sam McGee.

And then the automobile came. My mom used to tell me about her father, my grandfather, Duncan, buying one of the first cars in Kamloops and how exciting it was. It was a Chevrolet Baby Grand.

Except there was no place to drive it because roads were built for horses and pedestrians and people and horses shared the roads and walked around together in the dust and the mud.

So my grandfather took his shiny new car out to McArthur Island and he drove it around and around in circles on the horse-racing track.

Pretty soon we decided we’d better build wooden sidewalks to keep the cars and the pedestrians apart.

We had paddle wheelers on the river and tracks beside the river and pretty soon another railway — right down the middle of Main Street. How convenient is that?

We were the Hub City of B.C.

Then we had a couple of World Wars and Korea, and Kamloops and North Kamloops amalgamated, and then Kamloops and Brocklehurst and Valleyview and Dufferin amalgamated and took Westsyde and Rayleigh along for good measure.

And we built the bypass, and that’s the short history of Kamloops up the 1960s and ‘70s.

Then we entered our pulp town phase. Great employer, great corporate citizen but would we put it there again, that close to town?

Then our Kami Phase. We started thinking about who we really wanted to be – so we tried A Lake a Day for As Long as You Stay, The Heart of the West, Kami Overlander Days and Spoolmak Days and the Overlander Raft Race – and none of it stuck.

But nowhere in the branding sessions — and I attended a lot of them — nowhere in the struggle for a vision of who we are and what we wanted to become was there an image of a giant open-pit mine you could see from outer space.

Nobody raised a hand and said, “Let’s get that!”

No one ever saw a giant open-pit mine as part of the vision for Kamloops.

No one ever saw a giant open-pit mine as part of the vision for Kamloops.

The one thing that did endure and has endured throughout the history of our community is our feeling of connection with our surroundings, with the land and our lakes and rivers and grasslands and forests.

And with that, a commitment to an active and healthy lifestyle.

Lots of cities have water and land and air. It’s the arrangement, the placement of them, the package, that makes the magic. It’s what makes Kamloops special.

In the 1980s a light bulb went on. Tournaments were becoming a big deal. Our teams were doing a lot of travelling but a lot of teams from other places were coming here as well.

So City council got to thinking that if a good program was to be developed that would include marketing, a whole lot of volunteers and some financial support, tournaments could be more than just weekend fun.

Tournaments could become a big part of the economy.

In other words, let’s go back to what comes naturally to us and take a page from the Kamloops Musical and Athletic Club.

So in 1985 the City declared itself the Tournament Capital of B.C.

Just as sports facilities are for residents as well as visitors, tournaments aren’t just about sports, they’re all kinds of competition, from board games to theatre.

But that was just the start. In 1999 a new council was elected — just maybe the best mayor and council in history, but then I’m biased.

And one day the new mayor was in his office talking to one of the new councillors by the name of Dave Gracey, who said, “Why are we just the Tournament Capital of B.C.? Why don’t we go for all of Canada?”

So that’s what we did. We went from Tournament Capital of B.C. to Tournament Capital of Canada just like that, and we copyrighted it just in case other cities got the same idea.

But by giving ourselves that lofty name, we were making a promise, and to keep that promise we needed better facilities.

That’s where Sandy Watt entered the picture, from the Kamloops Community Society for Sports Excellence.

He said, “We need a field house.”

The public agreed.  They said we want that. They spoke with their wallets, approving a $37.6 million referendum. We got another $10 million roughly from the federal and provincial governments.

We’ve done much more than that, of course. As a community, we built a college and then demanded it become a university even though the provincial government didn’t see it at first.

We’ve got a fine regional hospital that’s about to become even better, and an airport with a runway and terminal building keeping up with growth in air traffic.

We have those things because they’re part of our vision.

We’ve made mistakes since 1893 when we incorporated. We were so excited about the automobile we started building for cars instead of people. We built suburbs instead of neighbourhoods.

But we can fix all that, over time. We proved it with McDonald Park, where we took a mature neighbourhood and worked with the residents there and brought it back as a template of what can be done elsewhere.

I was in my office one day, again, and Roger Barnsley from TRU came in and said,“We don’t think the gas station that’s planned across the road from us fits with our vision for a university community.”

He was right. We need gas stations, just like we need mines, but it matters where you put them.

But, some say, “We need those jobs! If we don’t get those jobs we’re finished!!!!”

Really? We’re doing that poorly, are we?

With the finest sports and recreation facilities and best tournament program in the country, with our art gallery and symphony orchestra and Western Canada Theatre, and our hospital and our university and our parks, and our shopping and community clubs and volunteerism and our climate?

And what about this economy that’s supposedly on its last breath? The one that keeps winning awards as a great place to invest.

Awards to Homebuilders, and Communities in Bloom, and a winery that recently won a silver medal in a national contest. Who would have thought a few years ago that we’d have an award winning winery?

And Mike Miltimore who builds guitars?

We were named the Best Interior City to Invest In a couple of years ago, and one of the Top 10 Micro Cities of the Future.

Ajax, if it were there in full production, would show up somewhere towards the bottom of the screen (Kamloops’ major employers, Venture Kamloops website).

I would like an economist to stand here, where I’m standing, and tell me where we’re going wrong. Why, if we don’t get these 380 or 500 jobs, these jobs, why we’re doomed as a community.

Where’s this community of ours going in the future… with no mine?

We’re going to work safely, live productively and play joyfully. We’ll have a new performing arts theatre, eventually a new City Hall and maybe a civic convention centre. Public art, and we’ll be greener. Bicycles and drivers will get along — image a city where bicyclists and drivers get along!

Our tourism, high tech, manufacturing, agriculture, retail, small businesses will co-exist with our existing resource base and expand and go in new directions we haven’t even thought of yet.

We’ve proven that we can be whatever we want to be. We know where we’re going.

At a time when there’s all kinds of angst about disengagement and low voter turnouts, Ajax is a clear exception.

People seem pretty engaged, because it isn’t just about dust and noise and air and water. Either we believe in those particular jobs, or we believe in the vision.

“Just saying it’s too close doesn’t cut it.” — Mayor Peter Milobar, CBC Radio, Oct. 28, 2013.

“Location is everything, as they say in real estate.” — Danny Kaspar, football coach, April 4, 2013.

I’m with the coach.

Proximity matters, because the closer it is the more the mine will be part of us. The tougher it is to balance off economic and environmental interests.

The City asked a straight-forward question: “What will be the impact (positive and negative) on the quality of life for Kamloops residents as a result of mining operations?”

This is what the company answered: “This is a very difficult question to quantify and may require additional research once the mine is in operation.”

Does anyone here think that might be a little too late?

If Ajax built the very best open-pit mine in the world and mitigated to its heart’s content, it would still be ugly in the morning. It would still be in our front yard because KGHM International doesn’t have any say in where the ore is.

But surely we should have a say in whether every ton of ore must be mined. And whether every job is the right one.

Kamloops Daily News editorial:

 “… with this issue the open exchange of ideas is lacking and attitudes seem only to harden.

“An impartial approach to publicity and presentation could have drawn a more representative mix of the population, which remains deeply, even bitterly, divided.”

The editorial is absolutely right that we are a city deeply, even bitterly, divided. In fact, it may be that impartiality is impossible, past the point of no return.

But the editorial makes an excellent point about us needing a way to compare the two sides of the argument.

Some people don’t like town hall meetings. Some don’t like open houses. Some people don’t like one-sided presentations.

So let’s get the two sides together and debate like civil human beings.

There are many things the studies can answer and that the company’s application will be helpful with but contrary to KGHM International and its “let’s all just be patient” approach, there’s a great deal we can talk about right now.

We don’t have to wait. We aren’t jumping the gun, we don’t have to be patient. This is our community.

I would issue this challenge:

Let’s get pro-open pit on one side, anti-open pit on the other. Get a good big room, teams of three apiece. A neutral moderator agreeable to both sides, proper debate format.

Then we can talk about whether it’s worth the risk and does it fit with our vision. Whether it’s too close, too big, too ugly, too much.

We can debate the economic benefits vs. the environmental impact.

Let’s talk about Kamloops lifestyle and quality of life and why we love this place so much.

We’re open for business but we’re also Canada’s Tournament Capital, and a cultural centre and a high-tech centre and proudly a university town and we’re Playtime Redefined and we’re Making Kamloops Shine here in the Wild West, and so much more.

All those things are fundamental to our vision. We can’t possibly capture it in a three-word branding slogan but we all know what it means.

It’s a strong vision but it’s not strong enough to overcome being labeled as a mining town.

An open-pit mine on our doorstep is contrary to the core of the collective vision that has developed and grown and formed over the entire history of our community.

I can imagine a Kamloops with no mine.

What I can’t imagine is a Kamloops with one.

About Mel Rothenburger (9230 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

5 Comments on Imagine a town, our town, with no mine – a vision for Kamloops

  1. Robert George // December 18, 2013 at 11:22 AM // Reply

    Jamie Presley must be, if nothing else,an aspiring comedian.

  2. Cody Gotobed // November 27, 2013 at 4:52 PM // Reply

    I was raised in kamloops and I had to move to Alberta. In kamloops a vehicle is a nessessity beacause of the poor service of public transportation. It is imposible to live on your oun and pay for a vehicle with the amount you get paid at jobs when working full time and then be able to enjoy living there aswell. Now kamloops is my vacation destination but not my home.

  3. We don’t have to imagine Kamloops with a mine, it’s already like that. It’s also a city with no employment, dropping home values, families leaving for Alberta. Kamloops is a relic of the 70’s, nothing has really changed other than jobs leaving and a sense of stagnation. This town sucks if you’re a young person trying to get ahead and start a life.

  4. Thanks for this Mel. A lot of well thought out, clearly articulated points. The point you made about the bitter division between the camps is a resonant one. I think that people often get sidetracked by reducing things to “good” and “bad.” Once something has been identified in the mind as bad it is often difficult to see beyond that.

    A better approach is to assess things as competing “goods.” In this case, on the pro – mine side, the mine will bring employment and spin off income and those are goods, measured economically. However, this measure will benefit only a small number as I perceive it.

    Competing with the economic “goods” the mine will bring, are the “goods” identified on the anti – mine side. These include many of the things touched upon in your presentation. Some are aesthetic – like the appearance of the city, its general reputation etc. Some are more important but still not easily measured in the way that economic value can be measured. These include health, absence of noise pollution etc. However, all of these “goods” positively affect a great number of people, far outstripping the number who will benefit economically from the mine.

    Finally, we have to consider whether the mine will negatively impact those things in the wider community that may be capable of economic measure. This may include reduced tourism, people moving away and lost opportunities in other areas of endeavour. Lost value in real estate. It is difficult today to assess these or accurately predict these. But they are goods and should not be ignored.

    If you add up the value of the competing goods, I believe one must side against the mine. When one considers the ratio of people who will lose “goods” against those who will benefit, the ones who will benefit from the mine are greatly outnumbered.

    That should be enough, in my view.

  5. Sean McGuinness // November 25, 2013 at 2:53 PM // Reply

    Dear Mel,

    Thanks for the great talk you gave yesterday — you hit the nail on the head. Your arguments against the mine are strongest I’ve seen to date, and you did it without attacking anyone, without making too many assumptions, and without resorting to too much speculation. A lot of people are sitting on the fence, waiting for a verdict from the EAO. However, what you said affirms what I’ve already thought; that it is not unreasonable to say no to the mine, just based on the detrimental affect it could have on the image of this city.
    What you said also supports the argument that there is a distinct difference between building a town around a mine, and building a mine around a town. One of KGHM’s arguments has been to refer to cities such as Timmins, Sudbury, etc as evidence that mining operations can live in harmony with cities. But these places started out as mining towns, and as such, I do not think they serve as a good comparison.


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