Whenever travel writers, tour operators, or other industry partners come to Prince Rupert, we start by giving them a driving tour.
It’s not a scripted tour. We adapt our presentation based on the particular interests of the visitor.
We drive Cow Bay and the waterfront, chatting about the fishing industry, the old network of coastal steamships, and the history of the Port. At Atlin Terminal we talk about the Halibut Capital of the World. Downtown we discuss the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the establishment of the City, and in Section Two we tell the story of the Soldiers’ Settlement Act and how the immigrants who built the boom city created a Canadian community after the First World War.
Visitors see the wildlife in the urban landscape, the deer and the eagles. From the viewpoints by the hospital we have an overview of the harbour, and Metlakatla Pass National Historic Site. This, with the crest poles sprinkled throughout the community, helps us tell story of the Tsimshian and the surrounding nations.
We point out new port development. We talk about the ethnic diversity of the community. At Seal Cove, a separate community in the very beginning, we talk about the sawmill that fuelled the first construction boom, the seaplanes that link the outlying communities, the emergency services that highlight the reality of coastal living.
Rupert’s story is complex. Very few of these people would listen to us deliver a lecture on Prince Rupert history and culture; and, if they did, they would absorb very little of it. But even years later we’ve had writers contact us to refresh their memory of some little detail from a driving tour.
This is because when we conduct the driving tours we treat the city as an exhibit. One often hears people say that they learn best if they have visuals, if they can actually experience what they are hearing, and that is exactly how we do it. So as one example, the Second World War is a critical part of the Prince Rupert story. The Canadian government started to fortify the harbour and build up defences in the late 1930s, and by 1942, following the Pearl Harbor attack, the population had mushroomed from about 6,500 people to about 25,000. Driving out to Seal Cove, through rows of wartime housing that has been adapted due to changing needs over the ensuing years, we can provide a vivid demonstration of this rapid population growth.
The driving tour provides a framework for the experience that follows. Because of it our visitors are already engaged and interested when we introduce them to the Museum of Northern BC, where their knowledge and interest is taken to the next level. As we move on to more specific activities – visiting North Pacific Cannery, going wildlife watching, or whatever we’ve planned, each new experience can be slotted into the framework of knowledge. This approach allows us to translate the whole Prince Rupert story in the shortest possible amount of time.
Prince Rupert’s heritage resources provide the basis for our presentation of the community. We don’t try to tell the story chronologically. We just chat as we see the physical reminders of each aspect of our story.
A community’s heritage resources are its character-defining elements. Their educational value to tourism is incidental – it is more important that our heritage defines us and helps in building community identity and pride. And as always, a good place to live makes a good place to visit.