A First Nation in British Columbia’s central interior is hoping a planned new stop for drivers in its territory will help drive renewed economic prosperity.
In April, the Xatśūll First Nation approved a $3.8 million redevelopment of the historic Soda Creek Emporium — once a thriving restaurant, but now a largely unused building.
The plan includes the rejuvenation of the restaurant, along with the addition of a museum, a gas station, electric vehicle charging stations and a convenience store at the site, about 30 minutes north of Williams Lake on Highway 97.
“It was a challenge for us to think about Petro Canada being added to the building because then is it ours? Does it become a franchise? Those are all the questions we had to ask ourselves,” Xatśūll elected Chief Shery Sellars told Global News.
“The whole thing is going to really enhance this area again, and reopen it.”
The nation wants to use the new development to boost its economy in several ways, including by offering job and training opportunities to members. Sellars said the nation hopes young members who start there may develop a longer-term interest in tourism or business administration.
They’re also aiming to use it as an entry point for visitors to show off the nation’s tourism offerings.
Just behind the site, the land slopes down to a spectacular view of the Fraser River and the Xatśūll heritage village.
“Our aspiration for this hub is they would get interested in seeing the heritage village, wanting to go down there and do tours, as well as being able to stop and have a bite to eat,” Sellars said.
“(It’s) a better area for use to have advertising and bring more people the site,” explained Roxanne Pop, who works at the heritage site.
Bringing more traffic through will also hep the nation “to tell those stories and make sure they aren’t lost.”
Sellars said getting the project to this point was a long road, with the idea first envisioned by her late mother, former chief Doreen Sellars, two decades ago.
In the past, she said the Soda Creek area was the beating heart of the nation, home to its administration office, hockey tournaments and more. A variety of issues, including landslides, forced much of that activity to move to a second piece of reserve territory.
“Every time I come here I am saddened it is not open,. because of the pride that we have for this area,” she said.
“We had everything here, so our aspiration is to invigorate and enliven this reserve again.”
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