Editorial: Lessons from Takayama

by Andru McCracken, Editor


It was quite by chance that I heard about the Takayama Inn at the coffee shop about a year ago. It was on a long list of projects that have been proposed but have failed for Valemount. Initially I rolled my eyes at the thought of it, but when historian Leonard Frazer sent me newspaper articles from the time, it made me think twice. Speaking to David E. Young a retired professor from the University of Alberta, (someone I interviewed about a book he and his wife published 10 years ago “The Art of the Japanese Garden.”) I was struck by his vision.

Later, walking around the site of the proposed Takayama Inn, I continued to be amazed. The location, workmanship and scale of the foundation was incredible. It’s worth noting that despite being left to the elements for 40 years, it held up beautifully. The expanse of the concrete footings is remarkable. It shared something with buildings that last the test of time: a solid foundation. Sadly, the rest of the building was never built. Had it been, it may have lasted centuries like the Japanese buildings it was to be modeled on.

What are we to make of the Takayama Inn? Are there lessons for us in that tale? I believe there are, but I believe the lessons to be positive.

I often hear these failed projects used as proof positive that the developers and investors behind these projects are shady actors with only their own interests at heart.

Projects like the Takayama Inn are used as a sort of predictor for other big projects… a telltale that they cannot happen.

I take umbrage with both analyses.

First, the rise and fall of the Takayama Inn shows us an example of a developer who acted with integrity.

David Young spent three years of his life working to pay back the people who had invested in his project after he retired. He did the best he could to pay local contractors back in spite of calamitous economic conditions. Many people lost big during that period of financial turmoil. Young can hold his head high.

I appreciate his and his colleagues remarkable vision. The project would have had an enormous impact on Valemount, as the newspaper of the day predicted, a good impact. Forging a solid connection with Takayama as a sister city, an idea envisioned by Young and his collaborators, could have brought a lot to the community, economically and also culturally.

The failure of the Takayama Inn is not a good indicator of the future of other projects although it’s true a rapid increase in interest rates could kill other projects in time, but that has little to do with Valemount.

It might seem odd at first, but learning about the project, visiting the site of the project and learning about David Young’s vision fills me with hope.

Some of us see a half empty glass and a laundry list of failed projects; others see the glass as half full and the hard work and integrity brought to this valley.

We live in a special place. It fills many people with a sense of possibility and the desire to take risks to give life to their vision.

That can only be good.

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