Yukon First Nation an innovating trail builder

February 16, 2016 - The entrepreneurial spirit of Carcross, Yukon should not be underestimated. It was the community’s Tlingit people who first struck the gold that sparked the Klondike Gold Rush, after all.

Justin Ferbey is the great-nephew of one of the discoverers, and spoke in Sudbury, Jan. 7, to share lessons his community has learned about economic development since that 1896 discovery.

Ferbey described how Carcross developed a strategy to tackle the cycle of dependency they faced. Their goal, he said, was “to build a private sector economy in Carcross that [would] create a sustainable flow of job and business opportunities for the community, our citizens and the region.”

From a picturesque, lakeside town 45 minutes south of Whitehorse that saw tourists briefly as they passed through, Carcross became a leading destination for mountain biking, and reinvigorated the local economy.

As CEO of the community’s economic development corporation, Ferbey led the focused plan that capitalized on the inherent tourist attraction of four mountains surrounding the community. The community built biking trails, along with space and opportunity for local retail businesses to service tourists, and a hotel to house visitors.

The strategy resulted in jobs for youth who built the trails, training for underemployed adults to build structures for a central commons area that now houses the retail, and opportunities for local artisans to sell their work to tourists.

“Of course we wanted profit, of course we wanted to put that profit back in the community, but really we wanted to set our people up for success,” said Ferbey.

For his work, Ferbey was named the Innovator of the Year by the Yukon’s Tourism Industry Association in 2013.

Laurentian University, the Northern Policy Institute and the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC) hosted the public lecture in the evening after a private lunch with members of Sudbury’s tourism industry and First Nations leaders. Attendees said there are lessons to be learned from Carcross.

“It’s especially timely because tourism is an important part of our new economic development strategic plan,” said Meredith Armstrong, the GSDC tourism manager. “This is a great opportunity for us to explore potential partnership with an important part of our culture.”

“What I’m hoping to see is a more productive relationship between Sudbury, its university and our smaller communities and the First Nations communities,” added David Robinson, director of the university’s Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development.

But, Ferbey emphasized, projects like Carcross’ take time and effort by the community.

“In all the little developments, every single time, the persistent lessons are, nothing was easy.”

By Ella Myers. First published in Northern Ontario Business, February, 2016.

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