One hundred and ten years ago, land on Kaien Island was cleared with 2,400 lots staked, a townsite on the northern coast of B.C. was emerging, with plans to one day become a beautiful port city.
The well-documented visionary of Prince Rupert was Charles M. Hays, whose statue stands outside city hall today. He was the president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway that connected the North Coast to the Canadian trade network. Hays saw benefits to developing a relatively flat rail line that would deliver goods to a potential northern terminal that was 800km closer to Asian markets than other ports on the west coast.
|Charles M. Hays (The Northern View file photo).|
In 1912, Hays went down with the Titanic, and the railway was sold to the dominion government, later to CN Rail.
There have been many ups and downs in the past hundred years with memories of a promising future left on faded signs, in old newspapers, or painted on walls. On the side of Jim West Signs is a mural that celebrates the birth of Prince Rupert, with the steamer Constance entering Tuck Inlet on May 17, 1906. “Our city is born” it reads.
But what if a city had the opportunity to be reborn?
|Our City Is Born mural on Fraser Street in Prince Rupert.|
With the closure of the pulp mill in 2004, and a faltering commercial fishing industry, the resource town hit a slump that has made it more challenging for businesses, big and small, to find employees.
Even with a $35 billion trade industry — employing one in every four residents — continuing to expand across the coastline, from Ridley Island to Westview Wood Pellet Terminal, the downtown core continues to suffer.
“The reality is it is a big port in a small town, but we have to pivot that to the next great port city,” said John Farrell, general manager with Community Futures Pacific Northwest.
|John Farrell, general manager with Community Futures Pacific Northwest. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)|
In 2015, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) speculation, and a burgeoning container terminal, Redesign Rupert was launched and this time the community was invited to be the visionaries of their own city.
Farrell was part of the initial Redesign Rupert along with the City of Prince Rupert.
“If you look at our downtown it’s a toothless smile, right? It’s got gaps all over the place. Vacant buildings, some with some businesses and then some closed or boarded up,” he said.
Soon, Prince Rupert will be competing for employees with Kitimat, where the $40 billion LNG terminal is being built, one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canadian history.
“We will be judged on our quality of life that we’re offering. And that’s how we’re going to recruit and retain our workforce,” Farrell said.
With this reality at play, Redesign Rupert has become more than just a pipe dream and a 17-foot map that came from Phase 1 of the community-engagement process in early 2017.
|Port of Prince Rupert president and CEO Shaun Stevenson. (Northern View file photo)|
All the major players are on board now. The Port of Prince Rupert, DP World, Ridley Terminals Inc. and Ray-mont Logistics has bought into the idea with the initial partners, Community Futures and the City of Prince Rupert.
“We need a world class port city to complement the opportunities we have with port,” said Shaun Stevenson, CEO and president of the Port of Prince Rupert. “I think we’re seeing it as a critical part of the future of Prince Rupert and the port is making sure that they both can prosper together and this really sets the stage for creating a vision for that future.”
Who is Larry Beasley?
The only way to convince DP World, the operator of Fairview Container Terminal, and port stakeholders to get on board with Redesign Rupert was if they went big, they wanted a master vision.
Representatives from DP World suggested an urban planner they’d worked with in the past — Larry Beasley. After all, he gave city planning advice to the Abu Dhabi government and he was once the director of planning for the City of Vancouver helping transform the downtown core into a cross-section of green spaces, recreation, ocean views and cityscapes – and in 2004 he was awarded the Order of Canada for his urban design.
“In the fall, I reached out to his office in Vancouver and was able to start a bit of a dialogue, and they were actually very interested in working in Rupert,” said Ceilidh Marlow, project manager, Redesign Rupert.
Despite being based in Vancouver, Larry Beasley Associates tend to work on projects outside of B.C., such as Moscow, Toronto and Dallas. Redesign Rupert met with the Beasley team in early January 2019, and Marlow said their first impressions were surprisingly positive.
“They didn’t quite think it was as dire as we thought they were going to,” she said. “They did see a lot of potential, that was the word that kept coming up.”
“They were just entranced by the history here, and they wanted to know all about the last spike and the railroad and Indigenous history here, and all of the different nations that are here. They were just so fascinated by the intersection of culture.”
But hooking Beasley into creating a master plan for the city, and then to actually develop it in the next 10 years, requires a lot of coin.
|Maksim Mihic, general manager for DP World Canada Inc.|
DP World, the port, Ray-Mont Logistics and Ridley Terminals bought in.
“Prince Rupert is a beautiful scenic location with a supportive community and strong workforce; however, its population is declining. We have been listening to the community and together with industry leaders we have a shared vision to create a vibrant, livable city that will attract young talent and ensure the longevity of our business in Prince Rupert,” said DP World in an emailed statement.
Ray-mont Logistics, which started transloading operations in September 2017, also sees the benefits of redesigning the city it intends to work in for the long haul.
“We’ve been seduced by Prince Rupert,” said Jonathan Hebert, vice president finance and corporate development for Ray-Mont, over the phone.
The company has 70 employees at its North Coast location and Hebert said it’s going to grow.
“It’s a very natural way of being part of something that is greater than just doing some stuff here,” he said. “It’s strategic in the long run to attract specialized skilled labourers to northern B.C., provide them with a state of the art great working environment and a great social environment.”
|Jonathan Hebert, vice president finance and corporate development for Ray-Mont Logistics.|
Mayor Lee Brain said they need to attract 5,000 people to move to the city for it to grow and be successful. But to achieve that, all the port and civic stakeholders need to embrace a common vision, and together they can convince the federal government to buy in as well.
“That’s why I went and met with Minister Garneau. I explained what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to build the next Canada trade gateway, we need to have a showcase of a community and the industrial development kind of working side by side,” Brain said.
The mayor and DP World met with the federal transport minister in Vancouver on April 24 to deliver that message.
|Federal transport minister Marc Garneau met with City of Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain in April, along with DP World, to talk about the collective vision for the port city. (Mayor Lee Brain photo)|
When asked if DP World has participated in a redesign such as this in another port city, they answered that “the evolution of Dubai into an internationally recognized city in just a matter of a few decades is a good example. Dubai is built around the port and trade is a key driver of its success.”
They said they were inspired by past successes of great northern port cities of Europe, such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and St. Petersburg — all of which are further north than Prince Rupert, they noted.
“All of these port cities have one thing in common, they are located on great trade routes.”
The 2019 plan
By the end of the year, Redesign Rupert expects Prince Rupert’s 2030 community plan to be complete.
This will be the road map for the next decade that will include downtown revitalization, waterfront improvements, parks and trail development, housing, city infrastructure and port development.
“The intention of this plan is for it to be extremely actionable,” Marlow said.
|Ceilidh Marlow, project manager, Redesign Rupert. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)|
Although four industry players are now part of the driving force behind Redesign Rupert, Marlow said the intention is to revitalize the city from a community grassroots level.
“Every single one of our partners feels the exact same way, that they are really committed to making sure that this project is about community and it’s not about aligning to their needs,” she said.
In synchronicity with the master plan, the City of Prince Rupert intends to update its Official Community Plan and bylaws in preparation for upcoming revitalization projects.
Labour force shortages and recruitment
There’s another essential piece for the master redesign plan — people.
This year, Redesign Rupert is conducting a labour market study to understand exactly which industries or businesses are having a difficult time recruiting and retaining employees, the reasons why, and how this might relate to a labour market imbalance provincially or nationally.
The study, in partnership with Community Futures, Hecate Strait Employment Development Society, the city and the port, will take place from May until August, and will look at how to measure the success of a recruitment campaign.
A third Redesign Rupert project will focus on building a recruitment brand for the city.
“Two examples we’re working off of is Move Up Prince George and Imagine Kootenay, those are two marketing campaigns that those two areas did to attract people,” Mayor Brain said.
Once that brand and messaging is developed, Marlow said they will create a targeted advertising campaign, recruitment videos and a website that will be a one stop shop for anyone thinking about moving to Rupert. This recruitment strategy will take place from May to November, and Redesign ensures it will be tracked to monitor its success.
With the Port of Prince Rupert releasing its own master plan to more than triple in size on May 13, redesigning the surrounding community to sustain the northern trade gateway is key.
“I think we’re seeing it as a critical part of the future of Prince Rupert and the port is making sure that they both can prosper together, and this really sets the stage for creating a vision for that future,” said Shaun Stevenson, the port’s president and CEO.
Could Prince Rupert finally become the port city once envisioned 110 years ago?
More details on the Redesign Rupert plan are expected to be revealed in the coming months.
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Shannon Lough | Editor
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