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October 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

SPOTLIGHT

Forest industry showcase

The city of Prince George’s future—after the mountain pine beetle—may include a $28 million tourism development called Heartwood, and plans call for it to include a showcase for the regional forest industry.

By Jim Stirling

Remember the name Heartwood. It’s the brainchild vision of the Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum Society. And if the imaginative and expansive project achieves its goals, Heartwood will become a major, year-round visitor destination.

The society team believes interpreting and celebrating the forest industry and its intertwined railway history will become a catalyst for other benefits. These include the revitalization of Prince George’s riverfronts and surrounding areas, and the emergence of Heartwood as a trigger point for visitor exploration of other attractions in the central Interior region of British Columbia.

The multi-phase Heartwood development is estimated to cost $28 million, including new building costs, between now and 2015. It will occupy about 40 hectares around the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako rivers in Prince George. The project is a work-in-progress, and the broad plan will be fleshed out and developed as financing and other circumstances dictate.

The not-for-profit Prince George Railway and Forestry Society was formed in 1983 and has since assembled one of the largest collections of its kind in Western Canada. But it had arrived at a crossroads. The museum opted to take a bold new direction and has been working on the Heartwood project since 2002, explains Alecia Greenfield, the society’s development manager. The Heartwood name was chosen to reflect both the strongest part of the tree along with Prince George’s geographical location in BC and its economic and cultural significance. “It’s a statement about the province and the area,” says Greenfield.

At the core of Heartwood is a determination to entice travellers to visit an attraction that uses involvement and entertainment to enhance its cultural heritage. Greenfield says Heartwood will comprise four main and interconnected areas. The first is the creation of a 1914 themed village, adjacent to the existing museum site. The year was a landmark one in Prince George history. A wild wave of land speculation had surrounded the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in that year. The steel connected the city and region to the rest of Canada and the continent, heralding an influx of newcomers. But the railway also ushered the demise of sternwheeler travel on the rivers.

The railway’s arrival transformed the forest industry. From supplying ties and lumber for homes and businesses, the fledgling industry could expand its horizons to service more distant markets for its wood products. Against the backdrop of those events, were the impacts of the Great War in Europe.

There are lots of stories to be told from those times, points out Greenfield. She says Heartwood visitors will be involved in performances and adventures reflective of those times. The experiences will transcend the more passive displays associated with conventional museums. She reckons there’ll be enough activities in the 1914 village to keep visitors engaged for a day.

The same kind of participatory approach will allow travellers to re-visit the Prince George era, circa 1950s and 60s. In the 1940s and 50s, there were more than 600 small, portable sawmills scattered through the spruce forests surrounding Prince George. Consolidation began rearing its corporate head resulting in fewer, but larger, milling operations. The Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE)—the Please Go Easy—finally arrived in Prince George in 1952, creating a rail link to Vancouver. New wood utilization standards introduced the pulp mill era to Prince George with the construction of three major mills in Prince George during the 1960s, accompanied by a population and cultural explosion.

The next section would be a sensitive development of Prince George’s riverfronts along the Fraser and Nechako rivers. It would include an amphitheatre for outdoor performances and skating in winter, a courtyard for kiosks and a place for local artisans to display their crafts. “There will be an interpretive centre to help celebrate the rivers,” adds Greenfield.

The eight-odd hectares required for this stage of the Heartwood development are owned by long-time resident Roger Klein, founder of R F Klein & Sons Ltd, a general contracting company. And he’s very much on board with the project. “I am so excited about Heartwood,” says Klein. “I have been working with the railway and forestry museum for years now. I will keep my property available for the project as long as Heartwood remains a possibility.” Prince George needs a project like Heartwood, he adds.

A fourth component of Heartwood calls for the establishment of a Centre for Wood. “This will be a showcase for the forest industry; the story and culture of forest and rail in the region,” outlines Greenfield.

She says the museum society has taken the time to do its homework on Heartwood. It knows where to concentrate its marketing. “The straight demographics are to the 45- to 65-yearold cultural travellers,” says Greenfield. “They demand a first class experience with first class comforts and opportunities for interaction. These are smart, welltravelled people.”

The Heartwood project may be coming at a serendipitous time for Prince George. The mountain pine beetle epidemic in BC has become an economic diversification issue, as well as a forestry one.

The falldown in timber supply predicted in the wake of the epidemic has forestry-dependent communities examining new ways to use the land base and develop long-term economic sustainability. Expanding the tourist sector is envisioned as a way of achieving that. About $9.8 billion was generated in 2005 from the visitor industry in BC and the provincial government aims to double tourism revenues in the next 10 years.

The Heartwood project is also viewed as a way to ensure invaluable riverfronts in the city remain publicly accessible. Greenfield says a visitor destination like Heartwood could help rejuvenate the surrounding downtown areas. And she sees it as a jumping-off spot for travellers to visit other regional tourist attractions.

Not the least of the museum team’s challenges is to secure phased funding for the Heartwood project. Greenfield says one of the main reasons for going public with the project at this time is to look at possible funding sources set aside by governments to deal with the beetle crisis and the resultant economic planning and diversification.

The society has developed and will continue to nurture partnerships with the municipal, provincial and federal governments and their agencies as well as those in the private sector, she says. To assist in that endeavour, the museum society is planning to explain the project at town hall meetings and seek feedback.

 


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