The end of an era in Thompson passed this month, although it went out with more of a whimper than a bang.
Spirit Way Inc., the non-profit organization behind Thompson’s many wolf statues, the wolf mural on Highland Tower and various other landmarks around town, informed city council in an Aug. 15 letter that it is dissolving after 17 years of work to build Thompson’s tourism potential, including attempts to position the city as the wolf capital of the world.
The end comes partly as a result fo the death of its president Keith MacDonald in 2002, a hole that Spirit Way says it has been unable to fill, and party due to external factors such as the relocation of the Liquor Mart, which has resulted in more trash and vandalism at some of the points of interest along the 2.5 kilometre Spirit Way walking trail, particularly the tribute to northern firefighters between City Hall and Tim Hortons.
Established in 2004, Spirit Way has always been good at raising money and grabbing attention, even if not all of its goals have come to fruition. There’s been a wolf habitat at the Boreal Discovery Centre for years, but there are no wolves and there is also opposition from some people in Thompson to the idea of even having captive wolves. The discovery centre itself has not yet become quite what its directors envision, 10 years after the Thompson Zoo, the site of which it now occupies, shut down.
Not always being successful is not entirely a bad thing, however. It just means the organization’s reach exceeded its grasp. The idea of establishing a Canadian Centre for Aboriginal Art is a worthy one, even if it is questionable whether or why Thompson would be the ideal site for it and how it could ever become self-sustaining if it were to make the transition from something on paper to something concrete.
Similarly, making Thompson to wolf tourism what Churchill is to polar bear and beluga whale tourism was always an ambitious goal, and one that involved a lot of moving parts, such as the existence of services and other tourist activities to help draw people to the city. Residents know you might live n Thompson for years without ever or only rarely glimpsing a wolf. The same is not really true for Churchill and polar bears.
Support from local businesses and organizations for Spirit Way has always been substantial. The organization raised more than $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions to its various endeavours over the course of its existence – an average of $175,000 every year, no small feat in a city with a population of less than 15,000 people.
Official support for Spirit Way from the City of Thompson has ranged from enthusiastic to lukewarm over the years, with the current iteration of council more on the lukewarm side. It’s probably not that they think it’s a bad idea so much as not enough to counter the issues that plague Thompson.
For all its successes, and despite its occasionally falling short of some pretty lofty goals, Spirit Way and the many people who served the organization over the years deserve appreciation from Thompson. They put great effort into making Thompson known for something other than mining and a permanent place near the top of Thompson of Statistics Canada’s annual Crime Severity Index and succeeded in many ways, including by demonstrating that there is great civic spirit and passion for Thompson among at least some of its residents.