Northeast Heritage Strategy
The Northeast’s heritage is everything from the cultural and natural worlds we have inherited, created and learned that we value and wish to preserve for future generations. It helps us understand what has shaped us and sustains us. Heritage also serves as a touchstone for decisions that will affect our future.
The Northeast Heritage Strategy will provide a foundation for communities to identify, protect, renew and promote the Northeast’s rich and diverse cultural, natural and Indigenous heritage.
The Alaska Highway Community Society (AHCS), which has led work on the nomination of the Alaska Highway Corridor, is now working with other organizations in the Northeast to explore the value of a heritage strategy for Northeastern British Columbia. A strategy would set out a road-map to create a viable future and sustainable foundation for community heritage in the region with links to tourism destination development, heritage infrastructure planning and Indigenous cultural employment.
Funded by the Peace River Regional District, the strategy will examine whether a pan-regional action plan is needed to promote, conserve and celebrate the history, nature and living culture of an area that encompasses the Alaska Highway Corridor, the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark, the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area and all associated local governments and First Nations.
Members of a volunteer working group include representatives from the Alaska Highway Community Society, the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark, the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, Fort St. John Tourism, BC Heritage Branch, BC Provincial Parks and the North Peace Museum.
Work on the strategy also supports Destination BC’s Destination Development Program, which will help develop and market cultural and natural tourism experiences in the Northeast, and Treaty 8’s Cultural Employment Strategy.
All groups with an interest in the cultural and natural heritage of the Northeast have an open invitation to participate.
Northeast Heritage: In the Company of Nature
There are no precise definitions of “heritage” or “cultural heritage”. In the most general sense, heritage refers to places, memories, practices and experiences that:
a) have a connection to the past; and
b) are deemed to have value today.
In European traditions, tangible heritage (things and places) are generally described as artworks, artifacts, architecture, gardens, engineering works and landscapes modified by people for their own needs and pleasure. In Canada and other parts of the new world, where we are more receptive to Indigenous worldviews and are strongly attached to the idea of ‘wildness’, we include places that might be physically unchanged over millennia but are critical to the identity and well-being of communities. We also recognize that cultures and communities can value the same place for different reasons, which means that we adjust our expectations about what conservation means and how it can be accomplished. As an example; the preservation of an old house might seem obvious in an urban setting, but the retention of an old building might have a negative impact on heritage where a landscape’s wildness is treasured.
Current Heritage Initiatives in the Northeast
Alaska Highway Corridor: The nomination of the Alaska Highway’s cultural landscape as a National Historic Site of Canada demonstrates how culture and nature are intertwined in the heritage of the Northeast. See our page Alaska Highway Heritage Project for more information on the nomination.
Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark and the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area: Two major initiatives within the Northeast, namely, the TRGG and the MKMA, were outside the scope of the Alaska Highway nomination, but are very relevant to the Northeast BC Heritage Strategy and to the conservation and interpretations of the region’s cultural and natural heritage.
Treaty 8 Projects: Treaty 8 communities are involved in three projects of direct relevance to the strategy and regional tourism: Tse’K’wa (the Charlie Lake Cave site), Treaty 8 Cultural Employment Strategy, and the Williston Lake Dinosaur Trackway. Treaty 8 (as well as Fort Nelson First Nation) is also represented on the board of the Alaska Highway Community Society.
Provincial and Local Parks: For the Alaska Highway Corridor nomination, three sites (Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, Liard River Hot Springs, and Old Alaska Highway Trail at Muncho Lake) are located within the boundaries of provincial parks. Other provincial parks and local parks, such as the park at Charlie Lake, have heritage value that will be considered in the strategy.
Cultural and Art Programs: Culture and art programs, including museums, art galleries, craftspeople, writers and musicians, in the Northeast are critically important to a heritage strategy. They help create a sense place in the Northeast, serve as the foundation for community involvement, and bring heritage alive.
Trails: Trails in the Northeast allow access to important heritage places and provide memorable heritage experiences. Trail development and management involves several jurisdictions; almost all trails intersect with Indigenous places and stories. While various groups have plans to expand trail programs, the identification of destination-quality trails could be one of the outcomes of the strategy.
Value of a Heritage Strategy
Heritage strategies describe the stories, traditions, culture and places that authentically represent a place (heritage assets) and link the assets to actions in various realms – cultural activities, land-use planning, recreation, economic development, inter-governmental relations and community enterprises – that can leverage the largest number of benefits. An effective strategy must match the actions with the capacity and desire of the communities to implement each part of the plan.
Heritage strategies take many forms, depending on their sponsoring organization and their physical scope. In cities, for example, a heritage district designation or plans derived from cultural mapping projects, can be a form of heritage strategy. In Canada, the National Trust operates the Main Street Program, which creates heritage strategies for small- and medium-sized towns and rural areas. A very recent example of a heritage strategy in BC is the Regional Heritage Strategic Plan – Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen completed in 2015. While the Okanagan-Similkameen plan focuses on the lands and activities within the scope of a single regional government, its format and scope are useful models for the Northeast.
The Northeast is ready for a heritage strategy. Several initiatives are underway that could work together to promote the Northeast as a destination, and collaborate on projects of mutual benefit. These four initiatives are:
♦ The Alaska Highway Corridor nomination will likely lead to the national recognition of the history of the area, but planning is required to ensure that it can serve as a platform for telling the full story of the cultural landscape, including elements that are best told by First Nations themselves with support from other groups.
♦ Tse’K’wa (Charlie Lake Cave) has potential as the focus of a cultural heritage program, but support will likely be dependant on a clear demonstration of the project’s broader impact and links in the Northeast.
♦ The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area has been well-served by BC Parks and other partners, but it remains all but unknown to most visitors to the Northeast.
♦ The Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark has made amazing strides in a few years, but its success depends on the promotion of its attractions as a Northeast destination.
The natural world plays the single most important role in defining the heritage of the Northeast. Experiencing the hundreds of places where history and culture meet involves exploring the waterways, forests, river valleys and mountains. A heritage strategy will bring trails in every direction and at every level, including air routes, into the story.
Destination BC Destination Development Planning Program
Destination BC recognizes that a strategic approach to destination development is critical to ensure that all regions and communities of the province are able to take full advantage of the opportunities that tourism offers them today and in the future. In 2016/17, in consultation with other parts of government and regional and community organizations, Destination BC will lead the development of destination development strategies across the province to enhance tourism experiences, businesses and jobs in British Columbia. These tourism strategies will consider the unique opportunities and needs of each region, including those that will be identified through the Northeast BC Heritage Strategy, and will align with the provincial tourism strategy.
The Northeast BC Heritage Strategy is critical to ensuring that heritage-related tourism opportunities and needs, including capital requirement, are identified.
Sustaining Heritage Programs and Places in the Northeast
Tourism is a natural fit with heritage. Authentic experiences enjoyed and supported by local communities are the foundation of a successful tourism destination. Tourism is a growing industry, with cultural heritage tourists being among the biggest spenders. Tourism can attract new investment and more grants, create new jobs, build community pride and educate communities and visitors about the region.
Indigenous communities in the Northeast are anxious to develop opportunities around heritage and tourism. Further, economic diversification and encouraging more people to make the Northeast their permanent home can benefit from activities that combine heritage, recreation and tourism goals.
To ensure that economic benefits can be realized, increased tourism around the needs of cultural, recreation, Indigenous, and nature/ecological tourism and heritage will be a key consideration in establishing priorities for the strategy.
The Northeast BC Heritage Strategy will use stakeholder input, economic development plans and research undertaken for tourism and heritage workshops, including community tourism plans and the Aboriginal Tourism BC workshop, to identify core themes that will be helpful for Destination BC’s development planning program.
Community involvement is key to garnering buy-in to advance heritage conservation, access and interpretation goals. The quality of a tourism destination depends in part on the local enthusiasm, talent and professionalism of tourism operators, services and attractions, and the volunteers who support heritage places and activities while presenting a positive image that helps draw interest in the area.
The Northeast BC Heritage Strategy will use lessons from Destination BC and input from tourism workshops and community plans to identify opportunities to strengthen community involvement.
Financial support comes in many guises, including direct capital and operational investments in assets as well as grants and increased general revenues. The strategy is likely to make recommendations for capital and operational investments, but it will also provide broad cost projections and options concerning funding.
Governance via an organization is needed to coordinate heritage and tourism activities in the Northeast that cuts across jurisdictions. The strategy will include recommendations concerning an organizational framework that may replace or be an addition to an existing board.
The Northeast BC Heritage Strategy will use materials collected in association with the nomination project during tourism and community heritage meetings between 2013 and 2015 as well as new information and ideas generated by the Strategy’s Working Group and ongoing community discussions. In order to facilitate the sharing of information, project documents will be posted here.
Community Discussion Sessions – September 2016
In September 2016, the AHCS hosted a series of community discussion sessions in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Tumbler Ridge and Fort Nelson. Presentations were also made to the District of Taylor Council, Fort Nelson First Nation and Treaty 8 Tribal Association. The sessions served as an opportunity to discuss the purpose of a strategy, its values and limitations, and the need for communities to take ownership of the project to ensure its future success. The workshops and meetings also addressed priorities and concerns presented by participants with regard to protecting and promoting heritage in their communities. Read more about what we heard!
In advance of these discussions, a Project Backgrounder was distributed. You can view that document here.
Developing a Heritage Assets List – Ongoing
The Northeast Heritage Strategy Team is collecting information on heritage places and experiences in Northeast BC. You can view our draft assets list here. This list is a work in progress. If you notice any errors or would like to provide us with a list of additional places and experiences, please contact us using the form below. Your input is appreciated!
Northeast Heritage Strategy Kick-Off Meeting – 12 April 2016
The Northeast Heritage Strategy Kick-Off Meeting was held on 12 April 2016 via teleconference.
In advance of the meeting, a Draft Project Description was distributed. You can view that document here.