St. Eugene Mission Resort: Pride of the Kootenays

St. Eugene Mission Resort
St. Eugene Mission Resort

Nestled up against the Rocky Mountains in the East Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, the St. Eugene Mission Resort is a rare jewel. A major tourism attraction, the resort is surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the area and is also a cornerstone of economic and personal success for the Ktunaxa Nation (pronounced “k-too-nah-ha”).

The original St. Eugene Mission was a grand turn-of-the-century stone building steeped in local history. In 1912, the Mission was converted to a residential school, where until 1970, 5000 local First Nations children passed through the Mission's doors to attend classes.

Under the leadership of former St. Mary's Indian Band Chief Sophie Pierre, and the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council, it took 10 years of hard work and $40 million to transform the former St. Eugene Mission residential school into an upscale international resort. The result is impressive: a top-notch resort with 125 rooms, a casino, four restaurants, meeting rooms, a recreation centre and an adjoining 18-hole championship golf course. During a second phase of development, the Ktunaxa Nation added an Interpretive Centre.

A New Chapter

Since its days as a residential school, the old Mission has come a long way. And so has the Ktunaxa Nation, who recognized in its worn rafters a unique economic opportunity — and a way to heal.

The building had been empty for almost 30 years and many band members wanted to see it torn down. “We needed a way to turn a negative into a positive,” said former St. Mary's Indian Band Chief Sophie Pierre. A similar sentiment was voiced by late Band Elder Mary Paul: “Since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away, it should be within the building that it is returned.” Today, her words are etched on a plaque that hangs in the hotel entrance, a powerful reminder of the history contained within its walls.

A Culture Returned

“The benefits of the project have been tremendous,” said Helder Ponte, Ktunaxa Director of Economic Development and Investment. “Not only is St. Eugene a source of great pride for community members, but owning such a major asset contributes significantly to the economic viability of the community.”

Recognizing the project's potential to improve the quality of life for the Ktunaxa Nation and maximize their participation in the Canadian economy, the Government of Canada invested $3 million. It was an investment well worth the returns, which are benefiting the surrounding communities as well as the Ktunaxa Nation.

“St. Eugene is a major attraction and we are the third largest employer in the region,” Ponte points out. The Resort employs 200 staff year-round, swelling to almost 300 during the busy summer months. Almost a quarter of the St. Eugene employees are Aboriginal, for whom the Resort provides both jobs and training opportunities. “Individuals who start at the entry level often move into management roles once they have a chance to develop their skills,” said Ponte.

St. Eugene Mission Resort In 2004, Ktunaxa partnered with neighbouring Samson Cree Nation in Alberta and the Mnjikaning First Nation (pronounced “Mu-jig-a-nee”) in Rama, Ontario. By combining forces with other First Nations, Ktunaxa was able to build on its success and grow in new directions. “It has been very satisfying to have three First Nations come together and work towards a common goal,” said Ponte.

In addition to the economic and employment benefits, the Resort provides a venue for sharing the rich Ktunaxa culture. Visitors to the new Interpretive Centre can view contemporary Aboriginal art, listen as Elders share local legends and history in the teepees, and enjoy traditional foods in the hotel restaurant. When asked what makes this resort special Pierre said: “We live in a beautiful place, but the world is full of beautiful places. What makes us unique is the Ktunaxa language and culture.”

For more information, visit the St. Eugene Mission Resort's Web site  , at: www.steugene.ca, or call: 250-420-2000.