Dozens of people converged on the Port Hardy Inn Oct. 5 for the grand unveiling of the new Kwa’lilas Hotel. And judging by the plans, grand it will be.
Kwa’lilas means a place to rest, or bedroom in the Kwak’wala language.
Renovations to the hotel are expected to cost $3.5 million, excluding renovations to the pool, said Conrad Browne, chief executive officer of the K’awatsi Economic Development Corporation (KEDC), the organization responsible for the hotel’s makeover.
Browne estimates the renovation “all in” will be about $5 million.
“This is an effort that has taken a long time to achieve,” said Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Chief Paddy Walkus.
“We had dreams many years ago and we did not realize them for decades,” Walkus said.
In the 1970s, he explained, a woman from the Canadian government “came to our village” and told them “at this rate your people are going to be extinct by the year 2005.
“We were at a stage that apathy was a big part of our lives. We almost didn’t care what life or death meant.”
Thanks to a tremendous effort by the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw people, one of those dreams is about to come to fruition.
“It wasn’t band council, it wasn’t the leadership, it was input over the years by the people to make these dreams a reality,” Walkus said, adding that entering the corporate world is going to be a challenge.
Walkus said the band will also be focusing on the education process so that members can assume roles in the hotel industry.
“We’d like to see our young people grow into a more positive world away from that era of despair,” he said.
“This didn’t happen all of a sudden,” said Browne.
“The community spoke loudly about becoming a viable entity,” Browne said.
“There won’t be an inch of this hotel that is untouched,” said Browne.
The walls will be filled with First Nations art and the endeavour will create jobs for the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw people.
Already the KEDC itself has grown from two employees when it began last year to over 60, Browne said.
The third floor has already been demolished and the community will begin to see some rafter work on the exterior within the next two to three weeks.
The renovation, which includes luxurious guest rooms, fabulous lobby and conference rooms, will be complete by May of 2016 in time for the arrival of the first guests on May 15.
Browne said they are planning to expand the tourist season in Port Hardy by bringing in conferences, workshops and large-scale meetings to town.
When complete, the hotel will feature 80 guest rooms including two luxurious suites.
“They will be the nicest room in the town by far,” Browne said.
Walkus said he hopes the development will inspire people “to start doing more with their lives … rebuild the pride within the people themselves” and allow the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw First Nations to be “an active participant in society not dependent on the government for anything.”
The K’awatsi Economic Development General Partner Corporation (KEDC) was created in 2014 to capitalize on a strong desire by the community to grow opportunities.
KEDC’s mandate is to investigate and realize revenue, prosperity, skills and development for the community.