Kimberley voted B.C.'s best small town by CBC readers
128 communities and more than 850,000 votes later, the Kootenay town finishes top
A sign heading into town says, "80 ski runs, 63 golf holes, 42 restaurants, 1 traffic light."
And now, Kimberley can add another thing to the list: the best small town in British Columbia.
After a seven-week competition between 128 B.C. communities of 500 and 12,000 people, Kimberley emerged victorious in the Search for B.C.'s Best Small Town, defeating the Vancouver Island town of Ucluelet 57 to 43 per cent in the championship match.
"It feels pretty, pretty awesome," said Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick, reacting to the news Friday morning on CBC's Daybreak South.
"There are so many great communities in B.C., in particular the communities that we were paired with throughout this competition, and I'm just very proud that we prevailed."
In the early rounds, the mountain community north of Cranbrook narrowly defeated a number of Kootenay communities that may be better known to tourists — including Rossland, Fernie and Nelson.
But it then had bigger wins as it went on, aided by plenty of votes from their neighbours, while Ucluelet failed to garner as much support on Vancouver Island in the finals.
The win was made public early Friday morning and prompted diners at local breaky spot Our Place Restaurant to erupt in cheers.
George Radelja summed it up for the crowd: "Right on! Thank you."
He said his hometown has plenty to offer visitors such as camping, hiking and fishing and is also a wonderful place to live because the community is always willing to come together for others in times of need.
When asked about the friendly competition that led up to this point, Radelja did not mince words: "We're the best. There is no more talking smack."
Zena Williams was making her way to work when she was told the big news. When asked what was great about Kimberley, she explained, "it's the vibe" — and suggested people come vibe with them.
"It's a secret. You have to come here to find out," she said with a chuckle.
She was looking forward to others hearing the news so celebrations could get underway.
"The town is just waking up because we are a very relaxed town here and, once they wake up, it's going to be so fun."
It is a Friday, after all.
McCormick said the support of voters in communities across the East Kootenay region helped Kimberley snag the victory.
"I think that helped push this over the top," said McCormick, adding social media became a strategic campaign tool.
"'Vote and share became the battle cry."
The mayor said the tourism town attracts many visitors from Alberta and hopefully this win will encourage more people from the B.C. coast to come and check out what Kimberley has to offer.
Watch | A short jaunt through Kimberley with CBC's Justin McElroy:
From mining to tourism
In some ways, Kimberley is unique for a successful small town in British Columbia: it's not on a main highway or next to the ocean. There are no big international marketing campaigns going for it, and it's more than a three-hour drive to any community with at least 50,000 people.
But it has a similar origin story to many communities in British Columbia: it was settled around natural resources and railways.
When deposits of zinc were found in mountains between the Rockies and Purcell ranges, the area was named Kimberley, after a huge diamond mine in South Africa, and people hoped this new mine would one day be as successful.
A subsidiary of CP Rail (Cominco) eventually bought it, and it soon became one of North America's biggest mines, with Kimberley in many ways resembling a company town for several decades.
But as it became clear the mine would eventually shut down — which it did in 2001 — Kimberley transitioned and adapted with a more tourism and recreational mindset.
It's created a town where different generations have different attachments to Kimberley — all of whom have embraced what it is today.
"I hear a lot of people saying, 'god, we'd love to live here.' Well, why wouldn't you?" said Bill Roberts, who worked in the mine for more than 35 years, and in his retirement tells stories of the past in the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway.
"It's five minutes to work. Five minutes to the ski hill. Five minutes to the golf course. What else do you want in life?"
It's why Kimberley has grown faster than the vast majority of communities in the province in the last decade.
And it's why they're now B.C.'s Best Small Town.
B.C.'s Best Small Town final standings
- Salt Spring Island
- Hornby Island
- Bella Coola
With files from Brendan Coulter and Daybreak South