As told in the Nuxalk creation story, before the first mortals descended to Earth on the eyelashes of the Sun, the Earth was dark – in the colour of Copper – until Raven stole the Sun from Nusmata (Heaven) to enlighten the world. The Copper, in the form of a flattened three-part shield, came to represent prosperity and to honour those in the spirit world, with its slanting rays on the lower plates emblematic of the sloped rafters of the Big House, sheltering a whole community under one roof.
This Nuxalk story explains the design of the logo for an exciting new Bella Coola business: The Copper Sun Gallery which recently opened in the former RCMP Building on the Townsite. More than that, it describes a cooperative venture taking place in a space where Mounties used to live and work. The iconic red-brick building, in a style erected by the dozens across Canada in the 1950s was vacated by the RCMP decades ago.
It recently sold to an “outside” entrepreneur whose generosity has given the building a new life. It is now home to the Copper Sun Gallery, an office for the Nuxalk cultural tours, Copper Sun Journey’s, the Bella Coola Music Festival, Coast Mountain News, and Bella Coola Valley Tourism’s Visitor Information Booth.
“It’s amazing!” says Randy Hart, CEO and President of the Nuxalk Development Limited Partnership. Hart, who oversees a number of projects aimed at developing new businesses and improving the economic opportunities for the Nuxalk people and the wider community, says a community-based gallery for Nuxalk artists “has been needed for a long time”, and to see the various groups working together under one roof is “an exciting example of intercultural community building.”
As Hart envisions it, the venue will give the participants an opportunity to run a business, and the artists involved will have a highly visible opportunity to market their work, leading in time to web-based marketing.
The Nuxalk Development Corporation is the Nuxalk “umbrella” company that since 2010 has managed the Nuxalk Forestry Limited Partnership (a community forestry enterprise), and since 2013, its Totem Sawmill Limited Partnership has been producing kiln-dried dimensional lumber, timbers, and specialty wood products. The corporation also manages Bella Coola Traffic Control Services and is working on a pilot project to develop an indoor, all-season, hydroponic gardening business which might be producing vegetables by this summer.
This latest enterprise, “Copper Sun Journeys & Gallery,” enjoys the support of Aboriginal Tourism BC (AtBC) including provision of a consultant to advise on the gallery operations and the development of a website. Hart especially appreciates the support that the effort is receiving from AtBC and its President and CEO Keith Henry.
Heading the Copper Sun Journeys project is Chris Nelson, who has served as a director on the Bella Coola Valley Tourism board for the past year. The Nuxalk corporation’s Culturist and Special Projects Coordinator, Nelson is renowned both locally and far afield for the narrated tours to the Thorsen Creek Petroglyphs that he and his twin Lance have conducted for many years.
His tourism interests and guiding experience have led Nelson and his group to develop a package of tours including a Petroglyph Tour and a “Walk of the Totems.” The tours will involve Clyde Young and Ocean Pootlass, operating out of the Copper Sun Gallery venue, where Nelson also expects to be offering theme nights and special event nights. These events may involve music or carving demonstrations, seen as a means to attract people to the Townsite during Bella Coola’s long summer evenings.
The Copper Sun Gallery itself is managed by Caitlin Thompson and staffed by local artists Clyde Young and Danika Nolie, home for the summer from The Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace.
Another familiar face on site is Carrigan Tallio, also home for the summer from the University of Victoria. She is the Visitor Information Booth Attendant for Bella Coola Valley Tourism (BCVT), which has moved its venue back to the Townsite following three seasons at the Norwegian Heritage House in Hagensborg.
While expressing his gratitude and appreciation to the Norwegian Heritage House Society for the rent-free Hagensborg venue, BCVT President Doug Baker views the move to the new site as “positive” because, to tourists, the Townsite is the “focal point” of the Valley. He is especially pleased to be partnering with Copper Sun and the other tenants: the Bella Coola Music Festival and Coast Mountain News. “Cooperation like this is positive change, moving forward,” Baker says.
Likewise, Pat Corbett, President of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association (CCCTA), calls the cooperation happening at the former RCMP building “terrific.” Corbett, whose organization promotes tourism over the vast area stretching from the Coast to the Rockies and from Quesnel to the Fraser Canyon, told The News “It takes a united community of people to envision and accomplish new things – even when you live in a jewel like Bella Coola.”
Corbett visited the Gallery and Visitor Information Booth during the renovations and set up while vacationing in the Valley, which he described as “visually stunning – world class – one of the most spectacular settings in the world.” He said the Valley – with its ocean expanse to the west, the surrounding wilderness, and the verdant farmlands up the Valley, with its First Nation and Norwegian heritage – has the potential to develop as a world-class tourist destination.
“Such development will take a lot of cooperation and time,” he said. “But prosperity will flow from that.” Corbett and the CCCTA have been highly supportive of BCVT over the years, particularly in the work to reinstate a suitable marine link in the Discovery Coast Circle Route since the 2013 elimination of BC Ferries Route #40 between Bella Coola and Port Hardy.
Finally, Caitlin Thompson, Editor of Coast Mountain News, says she is “thrilled” with the way the cooperation has developed. The News located in the building last year so that she could look after the building for its new owner who intends to occupy the residence side when he moves to Bella Coola from Telegraph Creek.
As Artistic Director of the Bella Coola Music Festival, Thompson decided to conduct Festival work out of her News office there and to find others in the Valley to occupy the other available spaces. Both Copper Sun and BCVT have come on board and are working together, with Thompson as venue manager, to create a winning situation for all involved.
As Randy Hart puts it, “We have a new venture here that will benefit the entire valley. Kudos to everyone involved!”