Winning the West (and Other Small Achievements)

>> By Alison Lapshinoff

Winter 2012, Issue #31


Revelstoke was handed to us on a silver platter through the blood and sweat of our forebears. We are surrounded by natural beauty but not entrapped by it.

It would seem the west has been tamed; the vast tract of tangled, mountainous wilderness that is British Columbia has been rendered civilized, made a habitable place ordinary men and women might easily call home.

Towns are dotted throughout this densely forested, craggy landscape full of people with washing machines and cars, snow blowers and electric heat. Connecting such places, and perhaps the only thing from keeping parts of B.C. from seeming an utterly empty wilderness, is a thin strip of pavement and two parallel lines of steel: the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway.


Happily situated at a picturesque junction of the Columbia and Illecillewaet Rivers, Revelstoke is a mere dot of civilization in what is essentially a vast wilderness.

To abandon these monumental human-made achievements is to return to a different time, a time when life was more trying.

Not so long ago the Columbia River was the mighty highway. Unencumbered by dams, it made the journey from the mountains to the sea.

Stalwart men and their resolute wives, perpetually swollen with child, plied this thoroughfare into the great unknown, determined to carve out a small piece of this magnificent land to call their own. Bearded pioneers hacked through the devil’s club on horseback while tenacious mosquitoes tried breaking the settlers resolve faster than the tangled forest itself. The highway brings one back to modern times where surviving the elements is a non-issue. Semis barrel by moving loads from place to place and SUVs laden with sports gear accelerate toward the next point on the map. Some may even be bound for Revelstoke.

Happily situated at a picturesque junction of the Columbia and Illecillewaet Rivers, Revelstoke is a mere dot of civilization in what is essentially a vast wilderness. Yet groceries get in and tourists get out, albeit sometimes not always on time thanks to Mother Nature’s iron clad fist around these parts. Still, Revelstoke’s urban development has come a long way since its incorporation in 1899.

For the better part of the last century industries like logging, mining and the railway, were the town’s bread-and-butter, as well as the production of hydro-electricity through the damming of the Columbia.

Ask a long-time local about the good old “dam days” and they may get a nostalgic twinkle in their eye for a simpler time when living was cheap and Revelstoke a quiet little undiscovered gem. When the dam-building days drew to a close, the local economy took a downturn and people began eyeing the tourist trade as the next big money. Thus, a ski resort of grandiose proportions was proposed. When this dream, or perhaps nightmare depending on your standpoint, became a reality just a few years ago, the outside world really began to creep in with all its vices.

The little town on the banks of the mighty rivers entered a new era. Winter brings rambunctious sledders with thick wallets and shiny trucks, hungry for fresh powder, fat steaks and beer. Mention Revelstoke today to a young Aussie with a penchant for powder and they likely have a buddy working in the industry here. Heli-skiing brings an international crowd of well-paid thrill seekers who fill our restaurants on snowy nights. In the summer, Revelstoke’s streets are packed with RVs and road-tripping families.

The price of housing in Revelstoke is still beyond reach for many and entire subdivisions sit empty of homes, the sudden halt of the booming economy stopping construction in its tracks. Stores struggle to keep doors open and seasonal visitors from faraway places fill our lowest paying jobs, their scant income barely enough to support all the businesses trying to make good. Families who bought at the peak of the real estate craze are finding their homes to be worth considerably less today. Some leave to find their new Eden. Others stay, a warm place for the town still in their hearts, hoping things will change.

But perhaps a little perspective is in order: Times are hard but not that hard. The real work has been done by the folks who carved this place out of the wilderness. We no longer birth our babies in a snowbound wilderness by the fireside, only fate and the inept hands of a grizzled husband standing between life and death. No.

The hospital is just up the road. The winding strip of pavement that navigates its tortuous route over the high mountain passes affords us the freedom to come and go as we please.

IMG_8281We no longer have need for machetes and loaded rifles to keep the grizzlies at bay. Our grocery stores are full, even if our wallets are not.

Manual labour is largely performed by machines. And our jobs, although sometimes uninspiring and underpaid, usually require our attendance for a mere eight hours a day, a luxury the pioneers of yesteryear could only dream of as they toiled from sunup to sundown in order that their large brood might survive another winter.

Thanks to their sweat, we have time to play or simply relax and enjoy the view. Times are tough but we are not going to starve.

Revelstoke was handed to us on a silver platter through the blood and sweat of our forebears. We are surrounded by the natural beauty of British Columbia but are not entrapped by it. Opportunities abound if we just take the time and make the effort to find them.

Today is just a bump in the road. Revelstoke will continue to grow and change and evolve. Life isn’t always easy but the real hard work has been done by the folks whose tenacity forged a civilization out of the wild. Mother Nature still rules but the west has been tamed.

Now, if you will excuse me. I have spent enough time pecking out this article on my old laptop. The sun is peeking through the clouds and the snowy peaks of Mount Begbie are revealing themselves. Birds are chirping and the day is full of promise. I’m going for a sunny ski before my long and tiring eight-hour shift. How you see the day is your decision.