The first time Steve Milum rode through Prince Rupert, it was on a motorcycle on a journeyman’s trek north along the coast.
It was 2006 and the Vancouver resident, originally from Armstrong, B.C. in the Okanagan, was looking to reinvest some funds. After he’d heard the port was being developed, he decided to take a look around town.
“I put an offer in on a house when I drove through town because they were really affordable and halfway home I found out that the sale went through and I bought this house,” said Steve last week.
“It was a nicer town than I imagined on the way up and I thought it would be a good investment, if nothing else, but the more time I spent here the more I fell in love with it. So I moved up a year later … and it’s been home ever since. I just had this connection since day one,” he said.
And anyone who’s ever gazed at the magnificent view out on the North Pacific Cannery’s dock in Port Edward, shredded some powder at Shames Mountain through My Mountain Co-Op in Terrace, or wanted to access more of Rupert’s pristine outdoor trails and coastline waterfront has Steve to thank in a very large way.
Steve is the cannery’s conservation manager and, up until this year, had taken on the operations manager role within the historical society, bringing the oldest intact salmon cannery on North America’s west coast to life once again.
But Steve didn’t know about the cannery once he had moved into town. It was through a buddy that he would find his permanent place of belonging in his new town.
“A friend of mine was on the board and he knew I was a handyman so he asked me to come out and do a two-week inventory of things that needed urgent repairs so I did that,” said Steve.
“Basically everything was in really bad shape. This was several years ago and everything was literally at risk of falling down or leaking … and it wasn’t a matter of saying this [section] is worse than this one, it was everything. So [I said] let’s just start somewhere and get one area kind of safe and stable and go from there. That’s what we’ve been doing the last few years.”
Walk into the historic site and the work that Steve and the society governing the cannery’s revitalization have done is immediately evident through the signage, artifacts and authentic creaky wooden floorboards that have come to define the place.
Designated a national historic site by Parks Canada but not actually benefitting from being under its regular funding umbrella, Steve’s tireless work in writing grants and finding sources of monetary flow for the site’s makeover is what’s making the 125-year-old building thrive.
“We’ve stabilized a lot of the buildings and put a lot of paint on and replaced probably 400 [wooden] piles [supporting the building along the water’s edge] mostly by hand, which is pretty amazing, and that’s been a really rewarding process,” he said.
Going hand-in-hand with the renovations is a project that Steve is perhaps most proud of helping coordinate, which is the Job Creation Partnership, developed in part by the cannery’s society and the Province of B.C.
“We take people on E.I. (Employment Insurance) or running out of E.I. and we give them new skills by teaching them carpentry. So [with trained carpenters providing the direction], we have a six to 10 month project where these guys who have been fishermen want to change careers … and it’s hands-on experience,” said Steve.
“[There’s] lots of safety training and they fix up the cannery and it’s something that they’re proud of because a lot of them have relatives or someone [who has some relation to the site in its existence]. We get a huge amount of work out of it and they get confidence and the skills to find other work.”
“It’s writing grants here and there and trying to create a project out of nothing, so it’s a lot of work. I have my stressful days but in hindsight it’s like ‘Oh, well, look what we’ve done and what other people have gotten out of it too’.”
The My Mountain Co-op developed at Shames was also a structure that was largely developed by the Rupertite, thanks to the expertise he brought with him from Vancouver by working on the board of directors of the city’s Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).
“I was part of the original committee that helped form the current co-op structure [at Shames] … and I just feel a huge sense of pride in that accomplishment and seeing it succeed the way it is right now – seeing it building and growing [is satisfying],” said Steve.
“Some of the board members at MEC, their jobs now is consulting on how to start up a co-op and … they helped us and gave us that guidance and told us about the structure that would give us the flexibility to be able to write grants and get special funding.”
Not stopping with the salmon or snow, Steve has also taken upon a director’s role with the Prince Rupert Back-Country Society and last year spearheaded an ambitious new project with a multi-year timeline to develop a scaled trail network that would connect Kaien Island in ways never before seen.
“We’re basically creating loops that would take you through different areas of town or the coastline and be accessible for all Rupert residents like bikers or seniors or athletes or families,” said Steve.
Mostly, Steve came for the outdoors, the affordability and the people and he hasn’t been let down yet. There’s nothing he feels he can’t accomplish if he doesn’t put his mind to it and he’s doing everything he does not just for the benefit of himself but for his town and the inhabitants he feels a deep connection with.
“It’s just such a neat place where you’re not working for a corporation, where you’re just making a CEO a lot of money. I’m working for a society that’s preserving the heritage of a whole community or region and it’s something I really can’t let go of,” he said.
“[In years past] I was part-owner of a skateboard and snowboard shop [on the Lower Mainland] and it ingrained in me this sense of ownership and pride in whatever I did – I’d be kind of obsessed where I can’t let things go. So the cannery is a good example. I can’t let it go because who else is going to do this? So I really want to see things through. It wears me down at times and I get stressed out but its rewarding all the same.”