Search for B.C.'s best small town: Interior quarterfinals
Mountain resource towns have transitioned to tourism destinations, but with opportunities come challenges
"I'm a little conflicted. The official party line is I'm not supposed to say it's great because it's been a very well-kept secret," Dr. Ilona Hale said with a laugh.
She's lived in Kimberley for more than two decades, and over that time the community has made a major transition.
For a century, it was best known for its connection to the Sullivan Mine, the sprawling lead, zinc and silver outpost that employed a thousand people every year.
It closed in 2001 and since then Kimberley has pivoted — like a lot of former resource towns next to mountains in B.C. — to being known for its outdoor experiences.
Dr. Hale can ski out of her house every day, but she says there's still a lack of pretension in Kimberley.
"What makes Kimberley unique is it's a beautiful mountain ski resort town, but it's stayed real, it's stayed down to earth, and it's managed to escape all the flashing, fancy trappings of a lot of other ski resorts."
Maybe she was talking about Fernie, maybe she wasn't.
It's another resource town in the Kootenays — this one steeped in coal, near the Alberta border — and one that has a similar calling card as Kimberley's these days.
"We are the most authentic ski town in B.C.," said Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza.
She brings up the town's festivals and its historic library with pride, but says she knows it's the ski resort that's a major contributor to Fernie's new people, new opportunities, and new challenges.
"These resort communities are beautiful, and with that success comes real challenges on infrastructure and housing," she said.
"[We] have success right now with these coal mine expansions and new coal mine applications and some other industrial partners coming in town ... but it's with an exhausted housing stock."
It's those questions of affordability, authenticity, and keeping the town's spirit in spite of growth that link both Kimberley and Fernie, and many of the communities remaining in this competition.
The two communities face-off today in the Southwest B.C. quarterfinals in the Search for B.C.'s Best Small Town.
Each day from Tuesday to Friday, there will be a new series of one-on-one votes in a different region. Each week, we'll narrow the field down — from 128 to 64, 64 to 32, and so on, until we have a champion.
Voting will take place until 10 p.m. PT each day, with today's votes determining the final four in the Southwest B.C. quadrant of the competition.