The incredible working machine of a small BC town

Empathy, generosity a hallmark of Bulkley Valley living

It’s no big deal, getting a rainbow coloured mohawk.

Keith Stecko would be the first to say so, and he did — “it’s no big deal. If I could do it again and raise more money I would. It’s just hair and it grows back.”

What is a big deal is the community’s response to his fundraising request. It’s happened many times before, like a call goes out to fire up a finely-tuned machine that keeps a small town moving forward—the initial call is met with a rapid word-of-mouth response; channels are established and money starts coming in, at first a trickle then a flow; sub-groups form around other enterprises and then bridge their efforts to the hub. At the end of the day the goal is met. The machine is turned off and those whom it recharged in a moment of need are back on track for the important work ahead.

Throughout July it was hoped $10,000 could be raised to help a family cover a child’s medical and related travel expenses, to which the community said “sure, but here’s an extra $6,000 just in case.”

You do find this machine at work in many small communities, it’s true. Until recently I served 19 months as editor of the Haida Gwaii Observer. A woman and her brothers put out the funraising call for adaptive outdoor recreation equipment for their once-active mother, who was tragically stricken with ALS and is now confined to a wheelchair. They exceeded the $12,000 goal within 48 hours and their mother is again exploring nature, smiling.

These are testaments to the success of small-town living, where the future is crafted out of the present  not by accident or government defaults, but the willful determination of a few.

If this is reading a little  melancholic, it’s probably because I’m en route to Vancouver, and I know I’ll miss the small town experience. But until then, for last week and this week I am grateful to sit in as editor of the Interior News for the vacationing Chris Gareau.

In many ways, small towns are much more alive than their bustling city counterparts because nothing is left to chance; everything that exits, whether it’s a policy or a project, is intentionally put into motion with very clear aims.

I haven’t been to Smithers since 2009, when I served as a reporter for this paper for almost two years.  And I’m sincere when I say I’ve always praised Smithers behind your backs, telling people about the valley and the skiing of course, but more about the cross currents of culture, industry, arts and recreation. Ideas flow through and very little stagnates. At the end of the day you can’t define this place by a singular ideal.

When I arrived here last week my instinct was to look at what’s changed. But as my first meeting turned out to be with Stecko, a fire chief I remember as not only highly-competent in his role but open and forthcoming with the public and the media, my search for what’s changed shifted to what hasn’t.

With all the challenges that exist in the Bulkley Valley, generosity and empathy still seem to underlie the character. It’s a joy to give witness to it again, if only for a couple short weeks.


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