Tumbler Ridge charts a new economic path with UNESCO Geopark tourism

BC's tourism and natural resource sectors have developed in parallel. Here is a case of how mining enabled a stunning visitor drawcard to develop.

BC’s tourism and resource sectors are more closely linked than we often care to admit in this province – and Tumbler Ridge is a shining example of it.

I was in Tumbler earlier this month and every time I visit the community I’m reminded not only how friendly it is but also how interconnected its burgeoning tourism sector is with its coal mining roots.

Although almost 3,000 people call Tumbler Ridge home today, the town is billed as the youngest community in Canada, having been carved out of the wilderness in the early 1980s to support the development of BC’s then-new Northeast coal sector.

Today, these great mansions of industry sit idle on the wintry landscape, victims of a global collapse in steel-making coal prices that has bathed balance sheets in red.

Yet, in many ways, it’s thanks to these mines that Tumbler Ridge is home now to a second, growing industry – tourism.

Prior to the 1980s, the area surrounding Tumbler Ridge was one of BC’s least known regions.

Nearly two decades after the town was built, two residents discovered dinosaur tracks in a local creek bed.

Fifteen years later, Tumbler Ridge is BC’s largest repository of paleontological findings.

The town’s Dinosaur Discovery Gallery and Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre is home to hundreds of fossils including T-Rex trackways, evidence of ancient crocodiles and an intact woolly mammoth tusk.

Nearby Monkman Provincial Park, which was established in 1981, is a popular destination for tourists in the summer who are keen to explore its alpine vistas, meadows and waterfalls, including the taller-than-Niagara Kinuseo Falls.

Last year, in recognition of its natural wonders, Tumbler Ridge was named a UNESCO Global Geopark – one of only 120 on the planet and the only one in Western North America.

The town also recently built a new tourism information and visitor centre, symbolizing its focus on economic diversification amid the shuttering of its first industry.

But the town’s residents haven’t forgotten industry. 

In addition to impressive dinosaur and fossil exhibits, the Tumbler Ridge museum features the original heavy-duty steel doors from Teck Resources’ Quintette Mine.

The doors are mounted at the front of the gallery – an ever-present reminder of the town’s first industry.

And industry hasn’t left Tumbler Ridge.

Nearby, the $400-million Meikle wind energy project is under construction.

Occasionally, a heavy equipment operator will turn over a rock, discover a fossil and phone the local palaeontologists.

Like so many small communities in BC, the tourism and natural resource sectors develop in parallel.

And, just as often, the riches we find to sustain a community are not necessarily the riches we first sought when a community was built.

The road to Monkman Provincial Park and Kinuseo Falls is a beautiful drive that every British Columbia should do it at least once.

And if you do take that drive, make sure to look to the right at the very beginning of the road – you’ll see the Quintette mine.

It’s the reason the road was built. 

Joel McKay is Director, Communications with Northern Development, which has a mandate to strengthen the economy in Northern B.C. Joel is a fourth-generation British Columbian born and raised in Metro Vancouver, a Jack Webster Award winning journalist and alumni of the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. Today, he proudly calls Prince George home where he lives with his wife and daughter.

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