The doors of the St. Eugene’s Mission closed on June 21, 1970 for ~30 years before reopening as a resort

By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After closing its doors in March of 2020 as a precaution for implementing safety measures, the St. Eugene’s Golf Resort and Casino is targeting to reopen this spring tentatively on April 1, 2021.

St. Eugene’s Golf Resort and Casino had operated as a year-round resort until the global COVID-19 pandemic forced the leadership team to re-evaluate their daily operations.

Going forward, the resort will open each spring for the summer season, then close annually for Thanksgiving each autumn. 

St. Eugene’s Mission Resort, a former residential school that operated between ~1912 and 1970 where approximately 5,000 students from Grade 1 to 8 attended near Cranbrook, became known as the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino in 2003 thanks to the vision of former St. Mary’s Chief and former chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission Sophie Pierre and Aq’am elder Mary Paul. The duo turned a dark chapter in history into an opportunity for the nation to reclaim and restore the building after it had been empty and “derelict” for roughly 30 years.

Pierre was recognized as CANDO’s 2002 Individual Economic Developer of the Year in 2002.

In 2020, St. Eugene’s Mission school commemorated 50 years since the last student left the residential school on June 21, 1970 when it closed. 

Barry Zwueste, St. Eugene’s Golf Resort and Casino chief executive officer (CEO) added the renovation of the building was valued around $20 million. The casino opened in 2001 and the hotel opened in 2002.

Pierre, who served as the provincial treaty commissioner in B.C. between 2009 and 2015, penned an essay called “Neé Eustache: The Little Girl Who Would be Chief” in “Response, Responsibility, and Renewal: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation” to explain why the community made the decision to reclaim and renovate the building from a residential school into a resort. She is currently the acting chair on the board for the resort.

“Because the industry and the resort is Indigenous owned, we’ve always made a point of showcasing our communities and our nation. That is the intent of this particular (cultural awareness) program that you’re writing about now,” Pierre explained by phone. “We want to be able to tell these stories from our point of view as opposed to someone else coming around and telling those stories for us. By telling our own stories — what makes our resort special is that it’s got the Indigenous history that it does.”

Indigenous Culture and Relations Workshop

Ktunaxa knowledge holders and elders offer cross cultural training to promote diversity in corporate culture that aims to build relation

ships with Indigenous people.

The hands-on Indigenous cultural awareness training program offered at the resort focuses on the legacies of the past, explores the present and aims to generate self-sufficiency and respectful relationships with First Nations communities in the future.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report encourages the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for applying polities, standards and operational activities that involve Indigenous people as well as their lands and resources.

Upon completion of the workshop, participants will understand the importance of local languages and land acknowledgements, awareness about meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities, how to advocate for Indigenous rights in business as well as gain understanding about the importance of Indigenous relationships to resources like land, water, air and wildlife.

The workshop is designed to support organizations who need to learn how to attract Indigenous employees in business opportunities, build positive relationships with Indigenous employees, how to work effectively with Indigenous governments and businesses to be effective. It is recommended that groups have between six to 24 people to participate.

Each workshop includes an interpretive centre and building tour, cross-cultural workshops, traditional games and Indigenous team-building activities.

Prices start at $349 for single hotel occupancy and tailored packages can be customized through the resort.

Residential school survivors offer tours of the building to visitors

A tour of the resort is available and is now being offered by former residential school survivors from within the Kootenay region.

Margaret Teneese, archivist with the Ktunaxa Nation Council and a residential school survivor, along with a handful of other residential school survivors that attended St. Eugene’s Mission, while it was operational, provide guided tours with personal reflections to guests staying at the resort.

“There are so many people who visit that didn’t even know what a residential school was and what happened here,” explained Zwueste. “We’re on a bit of a mission to educate people and to not exploit people, and to present the past, present and future. The future is equally important. This is a Ktunaxa-owned resort with a strong business stream.