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Who Dares Call BC 'The Northwest'?

And who decided I live in 'The Kootenay Rockies'?

By Alistair B. Fraser 9 Sep 2005 |

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The other day I was at a picnic on the shore of Kootenay Lake and someone at my table spoke of us as being in the Pacific Northwest. If I found it strange that an inappropriate American term should receive such glib acceptance in Canada, matters deteriorated when I learned that this credulity was shared by others around the table. It seems that many think of southern BC as being in the Pacific Northwest.

How can that be, I wondered?

Geographically, we certainly don't live in the Pacific Northwest, which, if it describes anywhere, is surely somewhere near the coast of Russia, say on the shores of Kamchatka. And we don't even live in the Northwest of this continent. Look at a map; we are only about half way up.

Now, while it is the case that Washington State is in the northwest of the (contiguous) United States, that is hardly relevant to us. We live in the Southwest! (Please don't make me explain of what).

Do we embrace such a term because the centre of our universe is south of the border? Hardly (well, at least not for those of us who don't export pot). Or is it that we meekly follow any linguistic bellwether which wanders across our field? Now, that is a possibility.

Be still, my Heartland

Consider, when the Liberals were elected they started calling the BC interior "The Heartland," and amazingly, some in the interior followed suit. Now, not only was this a colossal bit of disingenuous pandering (as they simultaneously cut back on local health services), but they merely stole a term generally used in North America to describe American States around the Great Lakes, a region with which I, at least, do not identify.

Or consider the latest linguistic abuse out of Tourism BC: the Kootenay Rockies. Now, the region outlined on their maps is essentially identical to that which has long been called the Kootenays (plural because one often distinguishes between the East and West Kootenay as divided by the crest of the Purcells). So, why the gratuitous insertion of the word Rockies?

Certainly, the Rockies do lie within the eastern fringe of the Kootenays, but they occupy a small, albeit pleasant, fringe of the region. The rest of the region is marked by such things as the Rocky Mountain Trench, and the rugged ranges of the Purcells, the Selkirks and the Monashees. Indeed, their own maps slap the label, Kootenay Rockies, right across the Selkirks and Purcells, but nowhere near the Rockies. Plus, most of the towns they list in this region are a rather long walk from the Rockies. Even Kimberley, which feigns to be in the Rockies is in the Purcells.

Mapping the newspeak

Presumably, Tourism BC did this for reasons of marketing: a solvent known to remove even the most stubborn reality. But surely no one is going to start thinking of Rossland as being in the Rockies as a result of this silliness. Don't count on it: Tourism has a publicity budget, and if there is money to be made by passing yourself off as something you are not, the term will be adopted. Increasingly people for whom the Rockies may be known only through postcards, are now thinking of themselves as living in the Kootenay Rockies. Sigh....

Now, the Liberals and Tourism have an agenda when they promote their newspeak. The Americans do not when they talk about the Pacific Northwest. But, in either case, it seems that many of us will bleat in tune with any noisy bellwether.

I, for one, choose to live in the Kootenays, and on occasion to drive to the Coast to see family in the Southwest.

Alistair B. Fraser's photographic paean to Kootenay Lake can be found at  [Tyee]

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