On Monday, August 31st, the Village of Canal Flats hosted a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of the community’s first licensed child care facility. “This is a great day for Canal Flats,” said Mayor Karl Sterzer in front of a crowd of onlookers, shovel in hand and flanked by his council. “Licensed child care is a need in our community and construction will officially be underway come October. The grand opening will be no later than September of next year.” Windermere is the nearest community to Canal Flats that offers licensed child care. Often, there is a waitlist.
Development of the 3,000 square foot state of the art facility was made possible by funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ (UBCM) Community Child Care Space Creation Program and the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Childcare B.C. New Spaces Fund. The final piece to enable the project was land gifted from Brian and Lorri Fehr’s Columbia Lake Holdings Ltd. The total project cost is projected to be $1.6 million.
“Making sure parents have access to quality, affordable child care close to home is critical to helping families flourish and economies grow,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development in a June press release. “We are so proud to support the construction of this new child care facility in Canal Flats that will provide local children with a foundation for lifelong learning for many years to come.”
As part of the village’s revamped Official Community Plan, there is an ambitious plan to attract and retain new residents. “We have a goal of getting Canal Flats’ population back to at least 1,000 people,” said Adrian Bergles, Chief Administrative Officer for the village. “An amenity like this will only help us reach these goals.” Canal Flats’ population figure from the 2016 federal census was 668. In the 2011 census, the number was 715. The next federal census is scheduled for May of next year.
Several conditions had to be met for the village to qualify to apply for the funding. “The biggest factor was the requirement to have land in place to build on” said Sterzer.
“Brian and Lorri Fehr’s very generous donation to the village of a quarter acre of their land [on the southwest corner of Burns Avenue and Grainger Road enabled us to proceed with our application.” The application process took the village staff eight arduous months of work. “In the initial stages we had a consultant help us with a childcare assessment and from there it was about putting all the pieces together,” said Sterzer.
Everything about the 40-child capacity facility will conform to B.C. childcare facility guidelines. Ted Tam of Calgary based Tamson Developments is leading the project’s development, general contracting and construction. “The centre’s design is with flexibility in mind,” he said. “It’s designed to accommodate infants, toddlers, and after school care for kids.” Once complete, the facility will feature a fully functional kitchen, a sleek indoor/outdoor transition zone, retractable doors, and plenty of recycled fresh air. “With the pandemic we’re in, lots of fresh air was a definite priority in the centre’s design,” said Tam. His firm has a mix of residential and commercial experience in development and construction.
The centre, yet to be given a formal name, was also designed to accommodate future additions if the community outgrows its 40-child capacity. Canal Flats agreed to a minimum fifteen year operating commitment for the building to be used as a child care centre. And it must open its doors to the public no later than September, 2021. Staff will have a diverse set of skills. The College of the Rockies will serve to funnel toward the centre qualified workers with the necessary credentials.
Canal Flats council’s success in bringing their community critical infrastructure projects such as licensed child care has resulted in an undeniable buzz in the Columbia Valley about the village. In the four years since Canal Flats saw its mill close, progressive planning and action is finally starting to payoff, and out of province entrepreneurs eyeing the community to potentially base their business have indicated they like what they are seeing.
Albertan eco-entrepreneur Saawan Logan started her business of bottling Canadian spring water in aluminum receptacles rather than plastic within the past year. North Water can be found in independent grocers across Western Canada and at large chains such as Safeway. Logan has ambitious growth targets for her nascent business. Currently, she is in talks with the Columbia Lake Technology Centre (CLTC) to bring a bottling plant to the community.
“The size of plant we are looking at right now [five acres of land] could potentially create 30 to 40 new skilled jobs in Canal Flats,” said Logan. “Seeing projects like the child care centre come to fruition, it makes my decision that much easier on whether Canal Flats is right for my business and the families of the people I would employ.”
Lorri Fehr agrees. As CLTC’s chief executive, she believes certain building blocks are crucial for a community to grow and thrive. “A workforce will come to Canal Flats only after we establish the foundations to attract and retain young families eager to work,” she said. “To see someone like Saawan interested in investing in our community, hers is exactly the kind of progressive, job creating business we want here. We’re aiming to have for four season families move here. Not just secondhome owners.”
Fehr sees the childcare facility as community builder. “It’s going to bring kids and, importantly also, their parents together. To this day, some of my closest friends are the parents of my children’s friends I met at our community’s child care facility.”