Smithers is a town of many firsts for its immediate surrounding area: first microbrewery, first McDonalds, first hundred-thousand dollar downtown toilet.
Now you can add first official Pride Society Between Prince George and Prince Rupert to that list.
That’s because, as of June 21, Smithers Pride Society (SPS) was officially incorporated as a non-profit society within the Province.
Now, the SPS is officially accepting memberships to the organization at a cost of twenty dollars a membership.
Vice President of the society Perry Rath said that obtaining official society status is something the group has had their eye on for a while, but that earlier this year is really when the ball got rolling.
“2019 is when we seriously starting to look at what it takes to become a society,” said Rath, adding that even though it’s only the second year of the Town’s pride celebrations, that this year’s event was significantly bigger than last year.
It was this significant increase in participation that Rath said made the group really consider taking the next step.
“We were like, let’s look at what it takes to become a society.”
SPS president Brianna van Donselaar said that actually getting the status will be huge for SPS’s ability to put on more community events and, in general, be more involved in the local community.
“It allowed us to apply for grants that we might not be able to before [and] legitimizes the [SPS] … now it’s an official society, it’s taken more seriously at that point.”
She added that the membership fee will be put towards things like community outreach and event programming (while nothing has been finalized yet, van Donselaar said the SPS would be very interested in trying to arrange a local rescreening of the top five films from this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival).
Another example of an event that the SPS would like to be able to run is a pre and post-pride party leading up to and following the actual in-town celebrations.
But for all their strides, both van Donselaar and Rath noted that the Bulkley Valley (and Northern B.C. as a whole) is lacking in official pride societies when compared to urban areas like the Lower Mainland — so much so, that SPS is the only official society between Prince George and Prince Rupert along Hwy 16.
“There’s no pride along Hwy 16, there’s different pride communities but there’s no [official] pride event,” said Van Donselaar.
And while Smithers might have gotten it’s official status designation for it’s Pride Society, both Van Donselaar and Rath acknowledge that there are still many communities in the Bulkley Valley that aren’t quite at that point yet, for whatever reason.
For her part, Van Donselaar said she met a number of LGBTQ+ individuals at Riverboat Days in Terrace who just weren’t ready to take a similar step.
“I met a lot of [Terrace’s] underground LGBT community and they’re just not ready to do something because they just don’t feel they have the community support.”
It’s something she said makes her sad to hear, but happy in knowing that the SPS is able to help promote pride in the northwest corridor while simultaneously providing a space for individuals who don’t have those resources in their town, adding that she hopes Pride groups like SPS help snowball more similar organizations in the region.
But for now, the two just want people in the Bulkley Valley to know they’re here and accepting memberships for anyone who is interested in getting involved.
“We just feel such incredible momentum in the community and [are] looking forward to seeing where it can take us [and] building our membership so we can show the Bulkley Valley what an important piece of the community we are,” said Rath.