by EVAN MATTHEWS
At the end of the most recent Regional District of Fraser-Fort George (RDFFG) meeting, 76-year-old McBride resident Bob Balcaen slowly walks outside to light a cigarette.
McBride hosted the May RDFFG meeting in celebration of the district’s 50th year anniversary.
Balcaen is familiar with RDFFG meetings, having spent 16 years on McBride’s Village Council as an alderman and councillor, as well as having spent time as a regional district director at various points in his political career.
“I guess I’m the oldest one. I came before Terry (Burgess),” he says, with Burgess confirming he didn’t become a RDFFG board member until in 1998.
“I came on the board in 1982… It was quite different,” Balcaen says, adding his father first settled in McBride after the war in 1946. Following in his father’s footsteps, Balcaen spent 10 years in the Canadian Air Force (1959-69). He’s been a member of the McBride Legion for 50 years, too.
Once Balcaen became a regional district board member in ’82, he says McBride and Valemount had budgets of $300,000 or $400,000 and the regional district had a budget of $4-million at the time.
“We thought it was horrendous given all the different needs of the region,” says Balcaen.
“If you look at the recent stuff, the regional district budget is $44-million. It’s been a hell of a change,” he says.
“It’s nice homage to have the district come back to McBride for a meeting in the 50th year,” — Bob Balcaen, long-time McBride resident and former regional district director
One of the more notable projects Balcaen worked on during his time on the regional district board was construction of the Robson Valley Recreation Centre and Arena.
“Before, we had the log arena. All the loggers brought in logs and we bolted them up and put aluminum on top,” says Balcaen, pointing out Valemount had a similar setup.
“The arenas were good, but the insurance people got a bit iffy because the building would move in the wind a bit… It got to the point where we couldn’t buy insurance,” he says.
The district also came up with the decision to re-use the old ice plant in the new arena, as it was fully functional, which Balcaen pointed to as a good decision.
Also in his time on the board, Balcaen says the district built the schools in McBride, expanded the airport, all of which had regional district support — even if the district wasn’t willing to commit money at times.
Balcaen says he also worked hard to expand the Village of McBride’s municipal boundary, a task he was once defeated on, and ultimately accomplished in 1997. He worked to first acquire the McBride Community Forest Corporation, too, he says.
“It’s nice homage to have the district come back to McBride for a meeting in the 50th year,” says Balcaen.
“We used to have meetings in Valemount, McBride and Mackenzie quite regularly… But we had a good time and they cancelled them for years. It’s the first time in 20 years,” he says.
Though the meeting was held out in McBride, the only board discussions pertaining to the region involved issuing a variance permit to Glen Norlander and Carmen Ottaway to decrease the minimum vertical setback for a building or structure from the natural boundary of Swift Current Creek from 3.0 metres to 2.04 metres, extending Arnold Merril’s temporary use permit at 2785 Birch Avenue (currently being used for salvage and wrecking use), and the board accepted the Valemount Curling Club’s feasibility study.
The Agricultural Land Commission gave a presentation to the board, as did McBride Secondary School students regarding the Live Different program, which sees the school build a house for under-privileged people in Mexico.
Electoral Area H Director Dannielle Alan thanked all of the board for coming to one of the most beautiful places in north central B.C., to which McBride Director Rick Thompson replied, “North central B.C.? Try one of the most beautiful places in British Columbia.”