Regional Rundown: In praise of the Columbia Valley’s festivals

The Wings Over the Rockies Festival is one model to follow as we work toward further economic diversity in the valley.

In my continuing discussions about socio-economic development in the valley, I think about the success of the Wings Over the Rockies Festival. In my opinion, it is one model to follow as we work toward further economic diversity in the valley.

The visionary Wings founders wanted to create a better awareness of the importance of protecting and celebrating our renowned Columbia Wetlands and the valley’s environment. By engaging volunteers from our communities and the business sector, the Wings philosophy was to create a long-term vision of sustainability “balancing the needs of human and natural systems”  and a boost to local businesses at a slow time of the year. By itself, Wings attracts only a few hundred people a year, but those visitors — astounded by the beauty and biodiversity of the valley, the range of our businesses, and the passion of our volunteers — pass this on to others. This year, when Wings bookings were posted online, many of the events were sold out in the first week.

This “sense of place,” which is fundamental to the success of the Wings Festival, is a key element in the Columbia Cultural Tourism Association (CCTA)’s study of the socio-economic importance and benefits of arts and culture in the Columbia Valley. The CCTA has been working on this concept for several years and, last year, contracted one of Canada’s foremost cultural tourism consultants, Stephen Thorne, to study and report on the place-based tourism potential of the valley. [Editor’s note: See this Friday’s Pioneer for the news story on this report.] Mr. Thorne reported on his findings a few days ago at a meeting at the Copper Point Resort and is enthusiastic about the development of this tourism strategy in the valley. Over the past year, he met with many people and organizations and was impressed with their passionate comments about our valley environment, heritage, culture, and economic opportunities. Just as in nature, where biodiversity enriches ecosystems and ensures resilience, the more economic diversity we establish, the more sustainable our socio-economic future. I urge you to learn about the CCTA’s initiative.

More place-based than any other event is the Salmon Festival in Invermere. Managed by our Ktunaxa Nation neighbours and held in September when the Kokanee are spawning, the festival reminds us that salmon, which were an important food source for the Ktunaxa, came up the Columbia River to Athalmer to spawn prior to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. The festival celebrates this memory, and provides an opportunity to learn about Ktunaxa culture and the possibility of re-introducing salmon to all reaches of the Columbia River.

I have to mention the third annual Steamboat Mountain Music Festival being held on Saturday, July 5th in my home place — Edgewater. With a backdrop of the wetlands, Steamboat Mountain and the Rockies, well-known groups headline the mix of folk, ethnic and bluegrass music. An important aspect of this festival is the opportunity for local musicians to participate. This year, nine local musicians will take to the stage. Here’s to a festive year!

Gerry Wilkie is the Regional District of East Kootenay director for Area G, and can be reached at