Last August, a dozen teenagers with shovels and pickaxes dug a meter wide non-combustible layer around Kaslo City Hall. It was difficult, dusty physical labour in the August heat, but they were passionate about protecting such a gorgeous building from wildfires.
Kaslo City Hall is an historic Kootenay gem with a stone foundation, winding wooden staircases into the main entrance, and a stately bell tower that adds to the interest of this unique and beautiful building. It’s the oldest surviving city hall in the B.C. interior, and a national historic site.
The Youth Climate Corps wanted to make sure the beautiful building remains intact for generations to come, so there they were, working to keep the old wooden building as fireproof as it could be. Ironically, while they were working, a huge wildfire raged in the mountains above town, raining ash and burnt pine needles down on them.
One of the young workers, Raya Prytuluk, commented that she’d only lived in Kaslo for 13 years, but already she noticed how forest fires around her had become more frequent and intense.
So there she was along with the other Climate Corps members, doing her part to try and mitigate a rapidly changing climate.
The organization itself, the Youth Climate Corps, was started here in the Nelson-Creston riding three years ago and has become so successful that word has spread, with chapters being set up across B.C. It began when Richard Klein and John Cathro were looking for ways to empower youth who were deeply concerned about the world they would inherit, in addition to suffering from the psychological effects of a worldwide pandemic.
I was a city councillor back then and I had the same concerns. The idea was to teach young people valuable skills and put them to work mitigating and actively fighting climate change. The youth would be paid a living wage, and given leadership skills and hands-on training to make their communities stronger.
I was in on those initial meetings with Councillor Rik Logtenberg in Nelson. I recommended that they needed a partner who was familiar with this kind of grassroots community action, and that’s where the conservation group Wildsight came in. Wildsight has done this kind of environmental work for 35 years and is considered by many to be one of the most effective local conservation organizations in Canada. Kimberley-based Wildsight gets things done largely because of the leadership of their founder, John Bergenske. He and his crew helped turn this idea of empowering youth into an efficient, effective team of young people who are given assignments across the Kootenays, and before long, the entire province. The Kaslo City Hall fire mitigation project is just one example.
These young people completed an energy retrofit at a long-term care facility in Nelson, and they helped with shoreline restoration of the Slocan River, as well as wildfire mitigation along Five Mile Creek, which is the main source of Nelson’s drinking water. These are just a few of the examples of the type of work the Climate Corps does and will continue to do this summer.
The Youth Climate Corps has been so successful that new Climate Corps chapters are being established in Kamloops, Vancouver, and North Vancouver Island. The organization went from a small handful of young people three years ago, to now with up to 40 this summer who will fan out across B.C. and do amazing work. They are an inspiration to me and as Premier David Eby’s Special Advisor on Youth, I was eager to help them secure a $350,000 dollar endowment fund. This money is well spent on projects that help our communities adapt to a changing climate and world.
Just ask them at Kaslo City Hall.
Brittny Anderson is the MLA for Nelson-Creston, the Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, and the Premier’s Special Advisor on Youth.