The Yukon town of Carcross once shared the same challenges as many Northern towns – little economic activity, many listless youth – but has transformed into a model for other communities to find their niche and reinvent themselves.
Justin Ferbey, deputy minister of Economic Development for the Yukon government, shared the town’s success in a keynote speech at the Northwest Territories Recreation and Parks Association conference last week in Inuvik.
As CEO of the Carcross Tagish Development Corporation, Ferbey helped spearhead a trail-building program in the community that created mountain biking paths and employed youth in the community. Since then, Carcross has been recognized by many magazines and media outlets as a world mountain biking destination.
“Today it’s a success and everyone celebrates it, but at the time it wasn’t,” recalled Ferbey.
One of his biggest challenges was bridging the sensitive subject of culture and heritage with elders in the community.
“When you’re first starting off, everyone wants to protect culture and heritage,” he said.
“We started looking at opening up trails for people who aren’t from the community. It was tough actually. There were lots of arguments about it. The first three to four years it was quite difficult.”
Perhaps the largest piece of leverage Ferbey’s side had in the debates was the need to put local youth to work building the trails.
“The trails… there were huge fights about it,” said Ferbey. “You can imagine, you’re talking about places where people have traditional practices – hunting, fishing… and now we say we’re going to make a bunch of bike trails for Europeans. Those are huge fights.”
Ultimately, community members decided something had to be done, especially to give local youth some more direction in life.
A main argument Ferbey heard early on was the town had to do what the community wants.
He responded that if the community wanted a giant ice cream cone, that would be nice and they could enjoy it all summer, but then it would be gone and it wouldn’t have gotten them anywhere.
“My point was that we have to be really cognizant of what the market wants,” said Ferbey.
Steve Krug, recreation for the town of Inuvik, found the Carcross story particularly interesting.
“They took such a big sport and they’ve driven their economic development in Carcross to be a world-recognized mountain biking destination now,” he said. “I can’t speak to Inuvik’s economic development plan, but from a recreation perspective I’d really like to be able to identify a niche activity here that would bring people from all around the world to call it a recreation destination. Trying to find that is difficult.”
Asked what he might see in the potential for Inuvik or the NWT, Ferbey said the ability to touch your foot in the Beaufort Sea is clearly a tantalizing proposition for people around the world. Perhaps that could be the niche industry for Inuvik.
More than 100 delegates took part in last week’s conference, which was the first time it had been held in Inuvik since 2010.