CRANBROOK, British Columbia – Three Canadian First Nations have taken a bold step towards wiping the tears from past mistreatment of Native people by transforming an old mission school into a first class resort hotel/casino and golf course.
Opened this decade in British Columbia by a limited partnership of the Ktunaxa Nation along with the Samson Cree Nation and the Mnjikaning First Nations, the St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino offers 125 rooms, four restaurants, a conference center, interpretive center, fitness center, 18-hole golf course and the 19,000 square foot Casino of the Rockies to travelers. It’s situated in a picturesque setting under the Kootenay Rocky Mountains and the Purcell Mountains and near the St. Mary River.
The golf course opened in 2000, followed by the casino in 2002 and the hotel in 2003, and the resort currently employs 250 people, 20 percent of whom are Native. The resort is adjacent to the towns of Cranbrook and Kimberley.
“To our knowledge, the St. Eugene Mission is the only project in Canada where a First Nation decided to turn the icon of an often sad period of its history into a powerful economic engine by restoring an old Indian residential school into an international destination resort for future generations to enjoy,” read a statement from St. Eugene.
According to the resort, the mission school was constructed in 1910 as “the first comprehensive Indian ‘industrial and residential’ school to be built in the Canadian West.” Some 5,000 children received instruction there, at first from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The children came from the Ktunaxa, Okanagan, Shuswap and Blackfoot Nations.
The school was closed in 1970. The provincial government intended to turn it into a psychiatric facility but abandoned the effort, and the school stood deserted for 20 years, until the present construction started, according to the resort’s description of its history.
Photo courtesy St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino The St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino boasts 125 rooms, four restaurants, a conference center, interpretive center, fitness center, 18-hole golf course and the 19,000 square foot Casino of the Rockies.
St. Eugene’s 125 rooms are located in the refurbished mission school and a separate lodge. Décor is turn of the century and deluxe rooms and suites feature vaulted ceilings, balconies, fireplaces and brick walls. The premier suite, the Chief Isadore Suite, offers views of Fisher Peak and the Canadian Rockies.
Dining choices include Purcell Grill for informal fine dining with views of the golf course, the Fisher Peak Lounge, which offers pub fare like tapas, the 19th Hole Bar & Grill, and delicatessen food at Fred’s Saloon in the casino.
The onsite health club has a full gym, steam room, sauna, heated pool and hot tubs.
The golf course at St. Eugene was ranked third for new Canadian courses by Golf Digest magazine. Designed by architect Les Furber, its landscape includes forests, open land and spectacular views of the mountains and St. Mary River. The 220-yard 13th hole presents a challenge as the green is a full 75 feet below the tee in elevation. The Casino of the Rockies features 226 slots and table games like blackjack, Texas Hold’em and Let it Ride.
The resort has six meeting rooms for seminars and conferences. The Chief David Room is housed in the old chapel of the mission building.
It also has the Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre onsite. The Ktunaxa people have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years, originally occupying an area of 27,027 square miles sprawling over southeastern British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Washington and Idaho. There are now seven bands of the tribe, including five in British Columbia, one in Idaho and one in Montana. The center displays artifacts along with the history and mythology of the tribe.
St. Eugene just took home two awards at the annual Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia Awards gala, for strength in marketing and tourism conservation.
The association said “strategic marketing and media relations initiatives with the Canadian Tourism Commission, AtBC and regional tourism organizations have generated strong results and earned widespread coverage in major outlets. Creative promotions such as Ktunaxa Legends Night – combining guided tours and storytelling with award-winning First Nations cuisine – have attracted new visitors interested in enjoying authentic aboriginal tourism experiences.”
The association also cited the resort for its “strong respect for wildlife and the natural world. … they have consistently taken progressive action in such ways as creating environmentally sensitive areas, buffer zones and wildlife corridors. But what really sets them apart is their overall philosophy of making sustainability a way of life. The resort recently received certification in environmental planning from the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses.”
The association noted that aboriginal tourism in the province is expected to increase sharply over the next three years, going from $35 million Canadian to $50 million.
It said St. Eugene “successfully turned a highly negative aspect of aboriginal life into a culturally rich, financially prosperous legacy for the Ktunaxa Nation, its First Nation partners and the community at large.”