Revelstoke Review editor Alex Cooper is leaving to go on a bike tour in South America. ~ Cartoon by Rob Buchanan

Reflections on eight years reporting on Revelstoke

After eight years reporting for the Review Alex Cooper bids farewell to the paper but not Revelstoke

This is my second farewell column from the newspaper, and hopefully my last, though I make no guarantees.

Over the past few weeks, a lot of people have asked me to write about the changes to Revelstoke since I showed up in town eight years ago as a fresh-faced kid still in his 20s, straight out of Toronto.

I was actually planning on taking an in depth look at that this fall to mark 10 years of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, but that changed when I decided to leave the paper. When I moved here, the resort was entering its third year and had barely survived the economic crash of 2008. I didn’t get that at the time; I had read all the hype and didn’t grasp how precarious things were back then. I don’t think I was the only one — housing prices had yet to come down from their peaks and it would take a few years for reality to sink in and people to realize their homes weren’t worth what they thought. Back then, the economy was being propped up by the completion of the Sutton Place Hotel and the construction of the new schools.

For three or four years, Revelstoke, like everywhere else, was in a slow recovery from the recession, and for a time Downie Timber was down to one shift per day. Business slowly picked up, but the brief boom brought on by the opening of RMR in 2007 didn’t pick up again in earnest until 2015. Since then, development has proceeded at a breakneck pace.

When I moved here, Revelstoke was in its infancy as a resort town. It had the ski hill and the national parks, but wasn’t really on the map unless you were a hardcore skier. I remember writing an article about why stores weren’t open after five p.m. and on weekends. It took a while for attitudes to change and business to pick up enough to make it worth staying open..

Slowly the lines got longer at the ski hill, more RVs parked themselves on Victoria Road, the mill ramped up, restaurants and hotels opened, and people started building new homes. In another “sign of times” article, in 2012 I wrote a story hyping up the seven new housing starts that spring. Last year, there was 38 new home builds started and the only thing slowing things down this year is the backlog at city hall getting building permits issued. Housing prices have recovered after a short slump, for better and for worse.

Over the decades, Revelstoke has proven to be a resilient community. It went through a prolonged slump after the dam was built and when Downie closed down for a few years in the 80s, but has managed to recover and even thrive thanks to efforts of dedicated community members. Revelstoke has a diverse economy that is the envy of many small communities. Many people want to live here, which hasn’t always been the case.

On an economic front, the community is doing well. If there’s two areas where the community has failed, it’s in the lack of affordable housing and the poor infrastructure planning. Neither of these are unique to us. Communities across B.C. are struggling with affordability, with housing the dominant theme, while the entire country is facing massive infrastructure deficits. They both require efforts from all levels of government and the private sector to be addressed. We need to work together to find solutions and address these issues. They will go a long way to making Revelstoke even more sustainable.

To end on a positive note, I love living in Revelstoke. I own a house here and I intend to stay here, though how I’ll make it work remains to be seen. The pressures of being a one-person newsroom have worn on me over the years and taken a toll on my mental health, so I need a change. I’m going travelling for a bit, then I plan on coming back and charting a new path.

I’m optimistic about Revelstoke’s future, and while there are challenges on the road ahead, they are not unsurmountable.

***

A few people asked me to write about my most memorable stories for my last issue. Over the past few weeks I jotted down a list, so here they are:

— The 2010 Boulder Mountain avalanche, which happened on the eve of my 30th birthday and resulted in me working a 17 hour day while suffering through the most painful hangover ever.

— That time former Conservative MP David Wilks said he would break rank and vote against the controversial 2012 omnibus budget bill, but only if 12 other Conservative MPs voted with him. I was there, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Of course, he quickly retracted his statements, but not before they became national news thanks to a recording by Claude Awad that was posted online.

— Reporting on highway crashes became routine, sadly. But I do remember the time a semi filled with dried pigs blood crashed at the junction of the Trans-Canada and the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. What a mess! And that time a truck carrying exotic birds crashed near Revelstoke. The photo of a firefighter rescuing a rhea stands out. And there was the time John Kampman of Columbia Towing invited me to watch him pull a semi out of avalanche.

— Touring the Mica Dam. The scale of it is awe inspiring, and walking into the mountainside the powerhouse is built in is like entering a Bond villain’s lair.

— I enjoyed being able to get in depth on many issues, like writing a series of articles on forestry, going in depth on avalanche safety, looking at the lives of truckers, writing about climate change and much more.

— On a sad note, the series of deaths of local youths in 2011 was the hardest reporting I’ve ever done. I can’t imagine what it was like for their families and friends who knew them intimately.

— I love covering rapidly developing breaking news, which is a rarity in Revelstoke. Last year’s manhunt for Sheldon Thunderblanket, which ended in his death, was a rush personally, though I recognized it was a tense affair for police and people in Johnson Heights, who found their neighbourhood on lockdown.

— There were the times my position allowed me to have some fun, like going heli-skiing and whitewater rafting, or the time I got to fly in a helicopter to the Nakimu Caves in Glacier National Park.

— Finally, there was the week this summer when three storms ripped through town — a windstorm, the Snowbirds, and Justin Trudeau. While I struggled some weeks to find stories to write about, a week like that, where the newspaper practically wrote itself, made my life easy.

There’s lots that I’m forgetting, but I’ve been part of more than 400 issues of the paper and written thousands of stories in that time.

***

Thank you to everyone who took my calls, granted interviews, let me take their photo, gave me a news tip, corrected my mistakes, invited me to an event, wrote a letter to the editor and commented online. There’s too many to list, but you all helped me out immensely.

And, of course, thank you to Aaron Orlando for mentoring me when I started, my publisher Mavis Cann for giving me the editor’s job and always having my back, Rob Stokes for doing page layout and getting creative, Fran Carlson for screening phone calls, my regular freelancers Imogen Whale, Melissa Jameson and Emily Kemp; and Rob Buchanan for his amazing cartoons.