Amidst site demolition, more than 100 community members gathered at the foot of the former Mount Agassiz ski hill to share memories and reminisce of times had on the slopes.
The gathering was held by the Agassiz Mountain Resort Group (AMRG) on Saturday, Feb. 21, in hopes of garnering community support to continue to push Parks Canada into reconsidering rebuilding the site as a ski facility.
“During the rally event, many who haven’t been to the site in some time were able to see that the chalet has been demolished and the chairlifts are being torn down and I think really hit home,” said Kelly Rose, general manager of AMRG. For the past seven years Rose has been instrumental in the group’s drive to rebuild the site.
Mount Agassiz is located on the eastern slope of Riding Mountain National Park. It was previously the only mountain ski hill between Thunder Bay and the Canadian Rockies.
“Parks Canada respects the community’s desire to honour the memory of the ski hill and we are certainly eager to work with them to chart a new future for the site,” said Riding Mountain National Park superintendent Michaela Kent.
Situated just west of McCreary, the ski hill was in operation from 1961 to 2000, when it declared bankruptcy and closed the doors.
In January of 2011, strong reaction from interested parties prompted Parks Canada to do a feasibility study on re-establishing the facility. It found a number of issues with the site’s infrastructure, including mould damage, water sources and sewage disposal.
Parks Canada proceeded to send out a request for proposals (RFP) in August of 2013.
“We have gone through a really extensive effort to promote the opportunity to redevelop in that ski area. We launched an RFP process that was open for nine months and the reason it was open for so long was to allow perpetual proponents time to really come up with a solid proposal,” said Kent.
The RFP received only one response, authored by the AMRG. The $4.5-million proposal was reviewed by a number of finance and ski resort experts who rejected the proposal after it failed to meet necessary criteria.
“The process was very detailed and the information that we requested was critical in the viability of the proposal and it did not meet our requirements. For that reason we want to look for other recreational opportunities,” said Kent.
Rose says that despite the proposal rejection the AMRG will continue to hold out hope that the rebuild is possible.
“We are currently waiting for the access to information to give us a better idea of why the federal agency has made the decision they have,” he said. “From there we will be able to either move forward or put closure on the project.”
“Demolition should be finished by the end of March with the goal to reopen the site to the public by the end of the summer,” said Kent. “It will be an opportunity to rewelcome the public back onto the site. Having people on the site will also help us on determining how we will move forward with development plans.
“We really want to focus on charting a new future for Mount Agassiz, one that entices people and attracts visitors but also brings good economic opportunities for the entire area,” said Kent, noting that the site will offer hiking, mountain biking and picturesque views.
Business in the town of McCreary has been reduced since the closure in 2000, and many in the area say they will just be happy to see tourist traffic return to the area.
“Having this unused opportunity in our backyard is a hard thing to swallow,” said Rose. “Rural communities have a difficult time retaining people and many in the community feel as though they have been somewhat betrayed that this asset can’t be utilized.”