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ABOUT NELSON: Visions of Nelson did (mostly) come true

Donna Macdonald writes about Nelson’s former TV show
Waterfront development was one of the community’s visions for the Nelson. Photo: Donna Macdonald

by Donna Macdonald

Did you know Nelson once had a community TV studio?

Back in the long ago, cable TV broadcasters were required to provide funding for local productions. Shaw Cable complied, with staff, equipment and a studio in what is now Thompson Funeral Service on Ward Street. Volunteers produced and recorded programs in the studio and out in the community for broadcast on Channel 10.

My first experience with city council was as one of those volunteers. On meeting nights, I schlepped big cases of equipment (camera, lights, video recorder) up to the second floor of Nelson City Hall. I set it all up and then caught my breath while filming. I so remember Mayor Louis Maglio sitting up front with a big stogie in his mouth. Those were different times!

The Nelson Museum is digitizing Shaw videotapes, saving a rich record of community life. Last month, Nelson Becker, of the online What’s On Weekly, posted a link to a Channel 10 show from 32 years ago. It was the first session of a monthly live phone-in show called Nelson Nightline, hosted by Marianne Bond and Morrie Zaitlin. Their two panelists Wayne Germaine, realtor and chamber of commerce president, and Greg Utzig, forestry consultant and member of the city’s Advisory Planning Commission (also my spouse, full disclosure), were joined by people-on-the-street interviews with a range of folks (including me).

The show’s theme was “Nelson Visions” and Nelson Becker invited readers to watch and ponder whether any people’s visions have been achieved. Greg and I couldn’t resist watching. We also sent the link to our daughter; she said it was surreal hearing our voices come out of strangers’ mouths. No, dear, that was us when we were young!

As we watched, I made mental checkmarks to evaluate achievements. Waterfront re-development, the transition from an industrial to a people-oriented space, was a big topic. Checkmarks for new playing fields, housing, a modest hotel/conference centre and marina, and a continuous pathway along the shoreline (or close to it) from the transfer station to the old KFP site (now John’s Walk). No checks for visions like fish farms and more docks.

Economic development was discussed. While a couple people mentioned the need for a mill, most speakers were confident we could build a new economy by creating a dynamic and beautiful city. I remember a woman once saying “you can’t eat quality of life,” which is true, but you can sure build a thriving community with it. Check.

The future of the abandoned railway line above town was raised and a new concept called rails-to-trails was discussed. Now we have the Nelson-Salmo Great Northern Trail, a wonderful amenity in all seasons. Check. More recreation facilities and a new library and police station were also envisioned. Three checks.

Education was another topic, especially the loss of our degree-granting university. The need for Nelson University Centre, Selkirk College and Kootenay School of the Arts to co-operate in creating the future was stressed. We didn’t get degrees back, but Nelson has a wonderful offering of educational opportunities (both public and private) in town. Check.

A couple issues we’re still working on, and probably will forever. One is transportation and parking, especially in the downtown. Solutions like better public transit and designated bike routes (and the advent of e-bikes) are starting to help us leave our cars at home, especially as we try to reduce emissions. The second issue is housing and, for a small community, we have built a lot but not enough. Checkmarks for progress.

The man who wanted the hippies gone and the woman who just wanted the city to stop spending and reduce her taxes didn’t get their wishes. But wise and diverse investments over the past 30 years have enriched a city I’m proud to call home. Do we have problems like poverty and inequality? Yes. Do we have a vision for a community with none of those? Yes.

Consider what we accomplished in the last 30 years. No reason to stop now.

Donna Macdonald has lived in Nelson since 1972, and is the author of Surviving City Hall, a memoir of her 19 years on Nelson City Council. Her column appears monthly.