After weeks of patience, and now significant loss of revenue, rafting companies in Golden British Columbia are no longer willing to remain silent, says Kicking Horse River Outfitters Association (KHROA) representative Carmen Narancsik.
An agreement in principle was reached on April 22 between CP Rail, local rafting operators, and the community of Golden that would guarantee access to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River, the jewel in the crown of whitewater rafting in the area. Members of the KHROA left that meeting feeling confident that CP Rail would be true to their word, and that they had a solution that would allow access for the entire summer rafting season.
“The day before the season opening, CP Rail installed a gate across the road, cutting off access to the Lower Canyon,” said Narancsik. “We had arranged a training run for our staff, only to discover that we had been locked out. A heavy CP Rail Police presence on opening day at the access point just added insult to injury.”
As a result of CP Rail’s actions, the summer rafting season has started and rafting companies are now being forced to refund clients who cannot get the experience they paid for.
“The fact of the matter is that CP Rail came to our community and they misled us. They promised us access, and showed what appeared to be genuine regret that any upset had been caused. Mark Wallace apologized that they had taken as long as they had to find a solution, and guaranteed that our rafting season would be saved. But he also asked us not to speak publicly about the terms of the agreement.
“We believed Mr. Wallace, and we kept quiet,” declared Ryan Johannesen, on behalf of KHROA. “But all that silence did was buy CP Rail time. It now seems that CP Rail is just running the clock; that they never had any intention of allowing us access.”
CP Rail has attempted to shift the blame to the Province, stating that it was in fact the Province that has reneged on the agreement, but no community member who attended the April 22nd meeting views the situation that way.
Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald has been clear in where he places the blame.
“I sat in that room with Mayor Ron Oszust and representatives of the rafting companies and was told by Mark Wallace, Chief of Staff to CEO Hunter Harrison that CP Rail was going to provide access to the Lower Canyon. There was an expression of regret from CP Rail for the disruption that had been caused to the community and a clear statement that they had a solution. We took Mr. Wallace at his word,” said Macdonald.
Town of Golden Mayor Ron Oszust also expressed his frustration with CP Rail’s actions towards his community.
“On April 22nd, CP Rail made a commitment to our community,” stated Oszust. “To me, it appears that they lied to our faces. It now appears that they never intended to fulfill their commitment to provide access to the Lower Canyon.”
Oszust expressed his frustration with the double standard that CP Rail is applying to this situation.
“If communities, such as Golden, insisted on the same level of mitigation of risk and liability that CP Rail is demanding in this case, passage of dangerous goods through our community, and through communities across Canada, would end right now.”
The situation for rafting companies is dire. Bookings are being cancelled and staff are being negatively affected due to limited access to work.
“This situation has serious consequences not just on the rafting community but also on a range of businesses in Golden,” continued Johannesen. “Without the Lower Canyon run, we are not able to raft through town, and our guests are not accessing all the bars, restaurants, and shops that Golden has to offer. This is an example of one of the largest corporations in Canada recklessly damaging the tourism industry in a town that relies heavily on summer visitors. It’s simply unacceptable the way that CP Rail is treating our community.”
Rafting trips are still available on the upper and middle sections of the Kicking Horse River.