Linking stories—past, present and future—at St. Eugene


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Rebecca Bollwitt for #RockiesExploring

“How did we get from that,” I wonder, “to what we see now?”

The question ran through my head even before Margaret Teneese, Archivist with the Ktunaxa Nation Council asked it out loud. I had just watched a 28-minute video about the St. Eugene Mission, a grand red brick building that protrudes from the East Kootenay landscape, which was once a residential school.

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Watch Linking stories past, present and future at St. Eugene on YouTube.

There I sat, at the St. Eugene of today—a top-notch hotel, golf resort and casino destination just five minutes from the Rocky Mountain city of Cranbrook—with tears welling in my eyes. “I don’t want to stop people from feeling those emotions,” Margaret said as she handed me a tissue box, “because they are a part of our journey. If you feel sad, be sad. If you feel angry, be angry. Emotions are healing.”

I was dressed for a day of golf on a stunning course that was named one of the three best new Canadian courses by Golf Digest in 2001. It’s a picture-perfect setting you’d find in a magazine: a turquoise river flowing alongside the fairways, lush landscaping, and a few elevated tee boxes that offer panoramic views of the valley.

Golfing at St Eugene Cranbrook
Photo: Stevie Froese

Located in the rolling woodlands along the St. Mary River, the Ktunaxa (pronounced “k-too-nah-ha) Nation owns and operates this par 72 championship course. Golf lessons for individuals or groups are provided by PGA-certified professionals, which I took advantage of later that day because I haven’t played a full 18 holes in a few years.

Golfing st eugene cranbrook
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

The Nation has developed a top-notch resort that offers much more than golf. There is a conference centre; an historic, world-class hotel; a brand new RV park with extensive amenities; a heated outdoor pool open year-round; a spacious event tent; and even a chance to spend a night in an authentic teepee.

“We have a place to tell our story,” Margaret told me as we continued to tour the grounds. “This is where our language and culture was lost, so it should be the place to bring it back.”

From the interpretive centre (where I watched the video) to the golf course, you can feel the Ktunaxa roots growing again. Each of the 18 holes was named in the Ktunaxa traditional language after consulting with the Nation’s elder advisory committee.

Golfing St Eugene Cranbrook
Photo: Stevie Froese

In addition, the signs along the golf course are carved from pine beetle-damaged wood: something elegant and educational made from something broken.

“We took something horrible and turned it into something we can be proud of,” Margaret said. “People have asked, ‘What is St. Eugene’s selling point?’. I could say it’s beautiful here, but I’ve been to beautiful places all over the world. For us it’s ‘What is your story?’, and we’re ready to tell it.”

St Eugene Cranbrook
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Margaret is a survivor of the residential school system at St. Eugene. She walked me down hallways and through doors that have new meaning for her. In the hotel lobby, there is a quote from elder Mary Paul displayed near the check-in desk: "Since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away, it should be within that building that it is returned."

This is what Margaret reiterated during our tour, and it’s a message the Nation has taken to heart.

Through language, signage, an interpretive centre and Indigenous culture and awareness training programs, St. Eugene is linking the past, present and future of its people, and they want to share it with you.

When You Go

Visit the St Eugene website for any pre-trip research and to connect with the businesses listed in this story, or stop by the in-town visitor centre for more details on the region.

St Eugene Golf Resort is a free five minute shuttle ride from the Canadian Rockies International Airport, serviced by Air Canada, WestJet and Pacific Coastal Airlines.

Check out the #RockiesExploring expedition page on ZenSeekers to see what other experiences you can have nearby.

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