Kaslo receives $971K for building inhabited by Kootenay Lake Innovation Centre
The funding for the courthouse turned coworking space uncovers both the past and present of worklife in the Kootenays.
Correction: April 27, 2022. We received new information regarding this story. We apologize for the inconsistencies in our first story published April 14. We have corrected and updated the organization behind the funding, how the funding will be deployed, and the space devoted to the Kootenay Lake Innovation Centre.
As the story goes, Kaslo needed a courthouse. The village in the Kootenays experienced a late 1800s boom from the mining of silver. As a result, the population swelled. The Village of Kaslo plopped its courthouse at the corner of what is now A Ave and 4th Street, marking the site in 1911 by placing an issue of The Kootenaian, a few coins and “sundry curious local objects” in its cornerstone.
Fast forward over a century later, and the building, colloquially known as the Kemball, now boasts the Kootenay Lake Innovation Centre as a key inhabitant—and is almost $1 million richer (I doubt those coins in the foundation represent the same dollar figure). Through what was known as the Rural Innovation Project, the Village of Kaslo announced a Rural Development grant worth $971,173 from the province’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development on April 11.
Randy Morse, the BC Rural Centre's former communications director, spearheaded the push to bring capital to the Kemball. “The BC Rural Centre is pleased to have been able to help the Village in accessing this new infrastructure funding and looks forward to continuing to assist the Village,” said former executive director of the BC Rural Centre Gordon Borgstrom in a release. “Projects like this can help stimulate and accelerate new economic growth and diversification opportunities in small rural communities.”
This funding is part of the provincial government’s commitment to build resilient communities as outlined by the StrongerBC Economic Plan. The plan is in place to support British Columbians as they face the challenges of today while building the economy of tomorrow. This long-term plan builds B.C.’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
Represented is another boom, this time digital rather than physical. Like the roots of the building itself, a swelling population demands new resources. And while the long ago influx of physical workers demanded public service buildings like courthouses, an influx of remote workers in the Kootenays demanded better internet connectivity.
The grant, which the KLIC team calls “generous,” will be managed by the Village of Kaslo to bring the building’s safety and efficiency up to modern standards. The Kemball is certainly a gem, a nod to early 1900s architecture that—at least on Google Street View—stands the test of time. “But the building is showing its age with unreliable heat, drafty windows, structural concerns, shabby interior and lacking accessibility,” conceded Dan Nesbitt of the KLIC team to the Valley Voice. Funding support will go towards addressing these concerns and transform this “imposing brick and stone beauty” into a modern space that is attractive to tech workers and startup founders.
Other modernization efforts have already been started by locals. The Kaslo infoNet Society, a not-for-profit bringing internet connectivity to the region by running fibre-optic cables beneath Kootenay Lake, developed its own internet service that terminates in the basement of the Kemball. Plus, a datacenter project has been started in the building that will develop digital applications for community resilience.
Jean Marc La Flamme, a member of the KLIC team and key driver of tech in the Kootenays, notes that internet connectivity is plentiful in cities like Vancouver or Toronto (his hometown). But when La Flamme moved to the Kootenays in the early 2010s, he recalls “losing his mind” at the internet speed. He notes that his community at the time, Revelstoke, was slightly too large a catchment to build a network from scratch, but just large enough to bring Telus into the fray—which they did in 2015, building fibre optic networks across the city.
But in Kaslo, a far smaller community 198 km south down Highway 31, the path for collaboration was less certain. Kaslo has a population near the 1,000 mark, meaning a major telecommunications company wasn’t jumping at the chance to install a network. So, in 2014, the Kaslo infoNet Society built their own. They now supply roughly 800 subscribers in the region with high-speed fibre optik internet.
Despite this—or perhaps because of it—the entrepreneurial flame burns brightly in the region. “People in rural communities are incredible creators and innovators when it comes to building and accessing services that people in urban centres take for granted,” said Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson in a release. “This innovation centre is a great way for people to come together and collaborate, finding solutions to complex problems and leveraging their skills and experience to make Kaslo an even better place to live.”
Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) manager Melanie Fontaine also voiced her support for the centre. In addition to KAST and local government, the space also counts Coworking Society BC, Canadian Accelerator and Incubator Network, Selkirk College and Langham Cultural Centre as partners.
KLIC is the third Kootenay-based coworking space La Flamme has had a hand in. He started with Mountain CoLab in Revelstoke then the GO-Lab in Golden before moving on to Kaslo. As I hear of the trilogy, I can’t help but hear the phrase “the third time’s the charm” in my head. But, La Flamme has charmed his way through the Kootenays—companies like Cronometer have come through his spaces and La Flamme reveled in the growth of Nelson’s Traction on Demand—while major companies have emanated from the region.
La Flamme jokes that his Swiss heritage gives him a certain knack for timing.
“We got into Revelstoke early, and I found this building that was gorgeous right across from City Hall. If you're doing an innovation centre, I learned, it better be next to City Hall. As an innovation centre, you really want to impact change by being right next to the civil servants,” La Flemme tells me. Sure enough, Kaslo City Hall is kitty corner to KLIC. In the early days of Kaslo’s space, La Flamme says that when professionals in the city were looking to get out of their home or work offices they were drawn to a place to work together and socialize.
When building out a local space, La Flamme notes that you can start as a coworking space then grow to an innovation centre over time. But when he saw locals starting to work together on bigger projects—not just discussing weekend plans on coffee breaks or while peeking over their laptops for a split second—he knew it made sense to start as a full-fledged innovation centre. Now, buoyed by a near $1 million grant, it seems like the correct call.
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