1989 – 1995

“This was us as residents trying to have a conversation and build something that we wanted. Our job was to try to distill it and bring it back to them, so it rang true and resonated.”

On a spring day in 1992, Ed Conroy arrived at Castlegar’s local baseball park, a trailer of cows in tow. A cattle rancher, Conroy was moving his cows to summer pasture but paused for a meeting. He had recently been elected to the provincial legislature representing Rossland-Trail, and he was concerned about the impact of the Columbia River Treaty on the people and land in the place he called home. Sharing Conroy’s concerns were politicians Larry Brierley, Corky Evans, Josh Smienk and Dieter Bogs, who were waiting at a picnic table. They had gathered to discuss how they might work together to address the approaching end of the Treaty’s downstream benefits agreement and ensure some of the revenues from the sale of hydropower could be returned to the region. This meeting — participants later referred to it as the “cow meeting” — represented a watershed moment in the history of Columbia Basin residents’ concerted, grassroots efforts to lobby the Province for a share in the Treaty’s profits. It also laid the groundwork for the founding of Columbia Basin Trust.


Several years before the “cow meeting,” Corky Evans found himself at another baseball field, this time in the Slocan Valley. He was serving as a director for the Regional District of Central Kootenay and had been approached by the local baseball team about

maintenance and repairs to the community diamond. After speaking with an administrator at the regional recreation department, Evans learned there was no money available to restore the field. The region had a low tax base, largely due to a special order passed by W.A.C. Bennett’s government in 1968, which exempted BC Hydro from paying full property taxes on its dams along the Columbia and Peace rivers — part of his vision to advance the provincial economy by developing hydropower projects along these river systems. BC Hydro paid grants in lieu of taxes as a way of partially compensating municipalities. Evans was frustrated to learn that these grants were much lower than what BC Hydro would have paid in taxes, and that regions were losing out on significant potential tax revenues.1 Without that money, communities had a difficult time funding essentials, like emergency and fire, waste management and hospital services.2

Realizing the powerful effects this had on his district and its communities, Evans spoke with other Central Kootenay directors who agreed that, if BC Hydro was taxed on dams in other parts of the province, it should pay taxes on its Columbia River assets. It was “discrimination on the grounds of geography,” said district director Martin Vanderpol. “People in this area are being cheated.”3 Together, in 1982, the district directors in Central Kootenay sought legal advice about suing the provincial government over BC Hydro’s tax exemptions.4

By 1989, directors from the regional districts of Kootenay Boundary, East Kootenay and Columbia-Shuswap were on board. BC Hydro offered an extra $2.4 million in grants in lieu of taxes to be distributed over two years among regional districts affected by Treaty dams.5 The regional districts were not satisfied with this offer and continued to plan for a lawsuit. A year later, in 1990, the provincial government and BC Hydro increased the grant money and adjusted how grants were distributed, which eased some of the frustration felt within the regional districts.6

Other lobbying efforts related to Columbia River Treaty impacts gained traction across the Basin. In Valemount, Mayor Jeannette Townsend sought compensation for the forestry industry. The construction of Mica Dam had flooded forest areas and cut off access to logging roads, causing timber shortages and eliminating potential work in the area. Townsend was anxious to prevent further challenges.

When she became mayor in 1990, she pressed the provincial government to award local lumber company Slocan Forest Products a contract to harvest 100,000 cubic metres of available forest lands. Slocan Forest Products was the community’s biggest employer and winning the contract would help create job stability.7 She spoke about the issue on CBC Radio and, while Slocan Forest Products was only awarded half of the contract, her interview alerted other Basin politicians to the issue.

People across the Basin were beginning to recognize their common fight against Treaty impacts.

Top left.The construction of Mica Dam had a devastating impact on forestry, flooding forest area and cutting off access to logging roads.
Bottom left. During low-water periods on Arrow Lakes Reservoir, the Nakusp shoreline recedes to reveal wide stretches of dust and debris. This photo shows the bare shoreline as it appeared in April 1970.

Ongoing damage to fisheries was also a cause for action. Dam construction, beginning with Grand Coulee Dam in 1933 and made worse by the construction of the Treaty dams, blocked fish migration routes and destroyed fish habitats. This devastated fish populations. In 1988, BC Hydro announced an $11-million fund to address damage to fish and wildlife caused by dams in the Peace and Williston areas. Organizations in the Basin called for the same consideration, demanding a similar fund be created for their region.9 Concerned about declining fish populations in Kootenay Lake, the Nelson Rod and Gun Club called on BC Hydro to address the problem. Club President Jess Ridge echoed the sentiment of many Nelson residents when he insisted, “If we’re going to be used, and we’re going to be used further in the future (more dams are planned), we’ve got to have proper compensation.”10

Josh Smienk, a director for the Regional District of Central Kootenay, shared the club’s concerns. Smienk was associated with the Kootenay Lake Fisheries Advisory Committee and was searching for a solution that might offset economic losses caused by damage to local fisheries. He brought the issue to the Association of Kootenay Boundary Municipalities (AKBM), which agreed to form a committee on the subject.11 Smienk was appointed chair and was joined by Trail City Councillor Dieter Bogs and Kimberley Mayor Jim Ogilvie. The AKBM contributed funds to conduct research into the Columbia River Treaty, and the committee would present its findings at AKBM’s annual meeting in 1992. The hope was that the committee could better inform the AKBM about the Treaty and its impacts so it could craft a unified plan to gain a fair deal for the Basin.

The political shift that took place in the region and across British Columbia in 1991 made it easier to take collective action throughout the Basin. That year, the Social Credit government, which had been in power for the better part of four decades, was defeated by the New Democratic Party (NDP) in a landslide victory where the NDP won 51 out of 75 seats in the legislature. In the Basin, all four elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) belonged to the NDP: Corky Evans became MLA for Nelson-Creston, Jim Doyle for Columbia River-Revelstoke, Ed Conroy for Rossland- Trail and Anne Edwards for Kootenay.12  Edwards also became Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources in the provincial cabinet. While the Treaty was not a central election issue, the Basin MLAs were united by their common understanding of the Treaty’s impacts and a shared goal of obtaining benefits for the region and the people who lived there.13

Above. B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt was elected in 1991 in a landslide victory for the provincial NDP. In the Basin, all four MLAs represented the NDP, making it easier for them to work together to address the Treaty’s impacts.
Below. The impact of the Columbia River Treaty sowed discontent in communities across the Basin that persisted into the 1970s and 1980s. Pictured here during that time are Nakusp (top), Revelstoke (middle), and Nelson (bottom).

Herb Marcolli

“I helped to build the dams, which in turn destroyed my history.” For Herb Marcolli, the Treaty dams brought mixed experiences. He was among the few thousand workers who were employed in dam construction. Herb helped clear land where Hugh Keenleyside Dam and Arrow Lakes Reservoir were built and serviced equipment during the construction of Mica Dam. This was a big boost for his young family: his yearly earnings on the dam projects were double what he might have made in logging work.
During construction on Mica Dam, Herb lived in one of the construction camps, going home to Revelstoke whenever he could. After nine-hour shifts, workers played cards, darts and pool. Each labour union formed a baseball team and held regular games and tournaments.
Despite the good wages and the memories he made, years later Herb found it difficult to reconcile that the work he did erased his own family history. Herb’s ancestors had arrived in the Arrow Lakes area in the early 1900s and established farms and orchards. The farms had remained in the family until they were bought out by BC Hydro. “Then, it was good for me because I had lots of work,” Herb reflected. “Now I look at it — I can’t go back and show my grandkids or great-grandkids where we came from.”

It was good timing. The grassroots and political movements to secure shared benefits for the region aligned with the end of the Columbia River Treaty’s downstream benefits agreement, in which British Columbia had sold its share of the downstream power benefits to American utility companies in exchange for a cash payment. British Columbia and the United States entered negotiations for a new deal, and the Province’s new premier, Mike Harcourt, played a lead role in demanding benefits for the region. Going forward, the Province wanted to receive its share of the benefits directly as hydropower, not money. BC Hydro could then distribute and sell the power at market prices, ideally generating greater profits than a cash payment based on anticipated prices.

Knowing negotiations were about to start, Basin lobbyists and politicians began to prepare for the major role they hoped they would play in these talks and how to move forward with sharing benefits. Josh Smienk echoed the sentiments of many when he told the AKBM that the efforts of individual communities would not be enough to achieve that goal: “If we don’t organize as one group we will be in the same boat in the year when the Treaty expires,” Smienk warned.14 The call for unification had been made; it was up to Basin communities to answer it.

It was during this call for collective action that the “cow meeting” took place. As Ed Conroy’s cows rested in a shady spot nearby, he and Larry Brierley, Josh Smienk, Dieter Bogs and Corky Evans made plans at the Castlegar picnic table. They discussed their vision for the Basin and how securing a piece of the downstream benefits might help them achieve that vision. At the meeting’s conclusion, Smienk, Bogs and Brierley promised to unite the regional districts in support of the cause, while Evans and Conroy would unite their fellow provincial MLAs. The idea to create something bigger, something that would involve the entire Basin, had taken root.


As support for the cause grew, Basin politicians needed to organize themselves more formally. In 1993, the Columbia River Treaty Committee (CRTC) was formed to protect the interests of Basin residents and make sure they were treated fairly in the upcoming renegotiation of the downstream benefits agreement. The committee, chaired by Smienk, addressed problems and prioritized the concerns of Basin residents relating to the original downstream benefits agreement outlined in the Treaty, such as its impacts on the environment, forestry and mining industries; fisheries; economic development; and social well-being.16 CRTC membership included representatives from five regional districts: Central Kootenay, Columbia-Shuswap, East Kootenay, Fraser- Fort George and Kootenay Boundary.17 It also included two representatives from the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council (KKTC).18

Above. Among the CRTC members whose discussions led to the formation of Columbia Basin Trust were Kootenay MLA Anne Edwards (left) and Sophie Pierre of the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council.

At first, the KKTC was hesitant to join. It initially pursued its concerns independently, conducting careful research on the Treaty’s impact on Indigenous fisheries.19 The KKTC was determined to stabilize water levels and nutrients and revive the fisheries that had been depleted by damming since construction on Grand Coulee Dam began in the 1930s. Local politicians Corky Evans and Anne Edwards recognized they shared the same goals and hoped the KKTC would join efforts unfolding across the Basin — but this did not happen immediately. Instead, the partnership developed gradually. “It’s like all relationships,” explained Sophie Pierre, Chief of St. Mary’s Band. “You have to build it [trust] in order to really move forward and do things like partnerships. You don’t jump into partnerships first. You’ve got to build a relationship first.”20

After attending meetings and communicating with Evans, Edwards, and other advocates for a piece of the downstream benefits, the KKTC was ready to participate in a shared vision for the future of the fisheries and the Basin. “When we started to realize in the discussions that this was a way that we could bring back the salmon,” Chief Pierre recalled, “that was the clincher.”

Columbia- Kootenay Symposiums

The 1993 and 1994 Columbia-Kootenay Symposiums brought together people from across the Basin to discuss how to address the impacts of the Columbia River Treaty and improve the well-being of residents and communities.

“This was us as residents trying to have a conversation and build something that we wanted. Our job was to try to distill it and bring it back to them, so it rang true and resonated.”


She acknowledged the significance of this new collaboration:

Up until that point, any time the Ktunaxa, or any Indigenous group in Canada, quite frankly, wanted to be recognized or to be involved in something, you usually had to go and bang on the doors and you were very seldom invited to come in and participate. And this was a little bit different, you know, right off the bat. People that were involved . . . in the renegotiation, they recognized that the only way that we were really going to have any benefits come back into the Basin was to have everyone involved and for all of us to be working together.21

Although representatives had different reasons for joining the CRTC, all hoped to improve the well-being of their districts and communities. “There’s more strength in numbers,” Valemount Mayor Jeannette Townsend said.22 Garry Merkel, KKTC representative and vice-chair of the CRTC, agreed that “this was us as residents trying to have a conversation and build something that we wanted. Our job was to try to distill it and bring it back to them, so it rang true and resonated.”23

Residents were already talking at restaurants, hotel rooms, kitchen tables and community halls about the renegotiation of the Treaty’s downstream benefits. To bring these conversations together, the CRTC hosted its first symposium in June 1993. It was the first of three symposiums that gave Basin residents a platform to tell provincial representatives their opinions and ideas about the Treaty and the downstream benefits agreement. Held in Castlegar, the first event was sponsored in partnership with the Province of British Columbia.24

While the provincial government wanted to carefully vet the list of symposium participants, the CRTC insisted the event should have balanced representation from across the Basin, with both residents and government representatives in attendance. The CRTC was so eager for this balance that its members were willing to do whatever it took to ensure that Basin residents were able to attend the meeting, whether by covering mileage costs or paying babysitting fees.25 Over three days, the symposium drew 150 participants who represented residents, as well as regional districts, municipal governments, unions, BC Hydro and the provincial government.26 Basin residents knew if they wanted to present a united front in negotiations with the government, they needed to agree upon what those benefits would look like, how they would be distributed, and to whom. Among those who attended were people who had been relocated, lost their homes and lived with the impacts of the Treaty daily. Others who attended were not as severely affected but still hoped to see the region benefit from hydropower profits.

Charles Lynn and Lita Salanski

Growing up on the Lynn family farm near Newgate, siblings Charles Lynn and Lita Lynn (married name Salanski) never imagined their home would someday be underwater. “We had a lovely log home that our parents built,” Lita recalled. “We loved that house. It was just the centre of our world, really.” Outside, Lita enjoyed horseback riding while Charles fished on Kootenay River, near where the family had additional land located on river islands. They pitched in on the farm where the family kept cattle and grew corn and wheat. 

By the 1960s, Charles and Lita’s parents had both passed and the siblings were running the farm. It was at this time that rumours began to spread that landowners throughout the region would be displaced by flooding caused by Libby Dam.
“We were the first ones,” Charles said. “We were at the border and we were the first ones to get hit.” The Department of Highways handled land acquisitions for Libby Dam (the only Treaty dam not handled by BC Hydro) and offered the Lynns $100 an acre for their cleared land. “It should have been $1,000 an acre. If you wanted to buy [similar land] anywhere it would have cost you $1,000 an acre for cleared land,” Charles said. Years later, Charles and Lita learned that other flooded landowners received very different prices. They were bothered by a sense of inconsistency and unfair treatment. Ultimately, however, “everybody went through their own hell,” Lita said. “We had that beautiful house and suddenly we had no land and the house was going to be destroyed. It’s not easy to lose your place.”

For some people, the symposium was their first opportunity to address BC Hydro and provincial politicians. Emotions ran high. “I’ve waited more than 25 years to be heard,” Burton resident Jim Robertson told delegates. In 1967, he had lost both his home and his family’s business after being displaced by the flooding that created Arrow Lakes Reservoir. He spoke about the stress this experience had placed on his family and the damaging effects that persisted throughout the Arrow Lakes region. But he also spoke about new beginnings and ensuring that past wrongs were not repeated.28 “If this Symposium did anything,” the Castlegar Sun reported, “it redefined and reaffirmed the strength of the people who call the Columbia Basin ‘home.’ It redefined not only a strength in character, but a strength in will. The will to no longer ask, but demand that the rest of the province sit up and take notice [of] just who has done the giving.”29

Learning how other communities had been affected was eye-opening for symposium delegates. Corky Evans remembered learning for the first time about the impact the Treaty had on ranchers and orchardists in Renata and Valemount.30 Joe Tatangelo, a CRTC member representing the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, had a similar experience: “Different areas of the Columbia Basin have different problems . . . A lot of them I never knew even existed.”31 The symposium allowed people like Tatangelo and Evans to understand the perspectives of all affected areas. Karen Hamling, a municipal councillor in Nakusp, saw the importance of guaranteeing that every community was part of the process.32 The future of the Basin included all communities, not just those flooded by the dams.

In the lead-up to the 1993
Columbia-Kootenay Symposium, the CRTC held a series of community meetings to inform residents
about the event and their ongoing discussions with the Province to gain a share of the downstream benefits. Meetings were held in Kaslo, Valemount, Cranbrook, Golden, Revelstoke, Castlegar and Nakusp, pictured here.

“The government realized that, here’s 160,000-some people that are united and they are serious . . . they want some changes and they want some benefits, and we better be there and we better do something about it.”


The conversation then shifted. “We got all our anger out on the first night, then, by the next day, we could start talking. People were able to get an awful lot off their chests,” said East Kootenay Regional District director Roy Millar.33 “People came away prepared to move forward,” said Nakusp Mayor and CRTC member Rosemarie Johnson.34 Symposium participants began to discuss the future of the Basin, rather than argue over who was most deserving or damaged. They agreed that, even though those who had lost their land and livelihoods undoubtedly suffered, it was more important to look forward than it was to make amends for the past.

Evans remembered the change in attitude as people began to realize, “We can’t abandon the future generations and we can’t abandon the ducks and geese that used to land in the wetlands . . . and the elk and caribou and the grizzly bears, and we can’t abandon the future of this land base.”35 Delegates wanted to see solutions to their problems. They wanted reservoir levels stabilized, fisheries restored and industries protected.

The decision was made that individuals who had been relocated or similarly devastated by the Treaty should not receive compensation. Instead, the Basin prioritized a sustainable future where downstream benefits money was used to support a wide variety of issues and ideas.36 The 1993 symposium reinforced the conviction of CRTC members that the Treaty’s downstream benefits belonged to all the people of the Basin. “We’re not just people in the way,” Castlegar Mayor Audrey Moore told the delegates. “We’re people to be reckoned with.”37

CRTC member and Nakusp Mayor Rosemarie Johnson hoped the symposium had “cemented the groundwork to stride into the future by growing beyond the anguish of the past.”38 To start on this path, symposium participants agreed the CRTC would represent the Basin in talks with the provincial government. CRTC members left the symposium confident about the direction the organization was moving in, with plans for a second symposium the following year. “We had all the public; we had the media; we had everyone in this region saying, ‘You’re doing a great job . . . keep at it and we’re behind you one hundred per cent,’” Josh Smienk recalled of the first symposium. “And it was obviously a pretty good feeling.”39


Discussions between the Province and the CRTC continued. The collective action taken by Basin residents to secure a piece of the downstream benefits was becoming too loud to ignore. “That’s why we were successful,” Dieter Bogs said. “The government realized that, here’s 160,000-some people that are united and they are serious . . . they want some changes and they want some benefits, and we better be there and we better do something about it.”40

When British Columbia and the United States reached an agreement about the downstream benefits in September 1994, the Province announced its commitment to return a share of those benefits to the Basin. Under the new agreement, British Columbia would receive its share of the benefits as hydropower, to be sold by BC Hydro. How the profits from hydropower sales would be shared with the Basin remained uncertain. “We knew we were going to get benefits at that point,” Smienk remembered. “There were discussions, but numbers weren’t being talked about . . . there was a lot of speculation.”41 The Province signed a letter of intent to discuss numbers with the CRTC at its 1994 symposium so that benefits would be shared equally.42

In the lead-up to the 1994 symposium, the CRTC realized that, even with the letter of intent, it had no legal right to sign an agreement. Lawyer Don Lidstone offered a solution: if the CRTC were to incorporate, it would become an independent legal entity with the power of a natural citizen, meaning it could negotiate binding agreements with the Province and take legal action against the government or BC Hydro if necessary.43 The CRTC agreed. Columbia River Treaty Committee Inc. was officially incorporated on November 18, 1994. This was only a temporary solution. Even as an incorporated body, CRTC Inc. would not have the power to distribute benefits or participate in political negotiations and economic development initiatives. A formal, organized entity needed to be established if the Basin was to obtain control over the promised benefits.

CRTC Inc. began investigating what this new entity might look like. It landed on an “authority,” with a structure that blended a Crown corporation with a trust company. Like a Crown corporation, the proposed authority would be funded by the government with the mandate to provide citizens with goods and services. It would be accountable to the people of the Basin and comply with British Columbia’s governance and accountability standards. However, unlike a Crown corporation, the authority would have control over its assets and operations and function at arm’s length from the Province. Its board of directors would be appointed by the region, not the Province, and all revenues would be retained and controlled by the authority. The result was a form of customized Crown corporation with an unprecedented level of autonomy.

As discussions progressed, committee members began to refer to the proposed entity as a trust. Details on the trust’s scope, mandate and membership were on the agenda for the 1994 symposium. Held in Cranbrook from November 4 to 6, the event welcomed representatives from local, regional, provincial and First Nations governments and BC Hydro, along with interested parties from across the Basin. In total, approximately 200 delegates gathered to hear and contribute to the CRTC’s proposal about the four principles that should guide the trust.

First, it should represent the entire Basin region; second, it should retain local control over decisions; third, any activities it undertook should benefit the region as a whole; and fourth, those activities should not favour one region over another but instead maintain a Basin-wide perspective. Symposium delegates agreed the trust would act in the interests of future generations through long-term and sustainable investment and development in the Basin. Finally, the trust should not simply exist as an investment corporation. It should be an advocate for residents and celebrate the Basin community.45

The CRTC was adamant the voices of Basin residents be at the centre of the trust. At the same time, the provincial government wanted to ensure it too had a voice, arguing that any new entity must include one-third of its representatives from the Province, and two-thirds from the region. A few delegates wanted board representation to be determined by population size to safeguard against one voice or another becoming too dominant, and to support diversity and representation of all parties. Symposium participants agreed communication and public involvement in the trust were crucial. Among the suggestions were the creation of advisory groups, an annual meeting or symposium and an educational role by which the trust would provide residents with materials and information on sustainability, environmental issues and investment options.46

Max Wiesner


When his family lost their Renata home to Arrow Lakes Reservoir, Max Wiesner took something unusual with him: the town schoolhouse. “I bought it for $15,” Max said. “We pulled it across the creek with skids I built.” Constructed in 1911, the schoolhouse was one of Renata’s oldest landmarks — but that was not why Max salvaged it: “I wanted to get even with the schoolteachers in there ’cause they kicked me out of school . . . I figured now’s my chance to buy it and I can go back to school to learn what I want to learn and when.”
Only a few buildings in Renata were saved before the reservoir flooded the town. Max recalled that the Morgenstein and Reimer families moved their houses on a barge that carried them across the creek. Other buildings were bought by locals, including Max, and dismantled for lumber and other materials. Several congregations in the Arrow Lakes region moved their churches to higher ground. As for the schoolhouse, Max kept it intact and used it as a summer cabin.
It was difficult for Max to watch as his community disappeared. Condemned buildings were painted with an X, he remembered, and left to be bulldozed or burned. These were the homes, businesses and gathering places where Renata families had lived for generations. “All their livelihoods that were there since the 1800s, you know, and all of a sudden everything goes up in smoke,” Max said.

The other topic of discussion at the 1994 symposium was how downstream benefits money should be spent. Many delegates believed funds should be used to develop tourism and heritage resources to make the area affected by the Treaty dams a more attractive place to live and visit. Value-added initiatives, such as resorts, interpretive centres and heritage attractions could draw people and money to the region. Kimberley Mayor Jim Ogilvie noted that money should be invested in a wide variety of projects to help strengthen the regional economy. Others preferred to see money put toward initiatives that would counter some of the environmental damage caused by the Treaty dams.47

Another option was to invest in hydropower. This option was raised by British Columbia Employment and Investment Minister Glen Clark, who told delegates the provincial government hoped to invest the downstream benefits money in hydropower projects in order to generate long-term revenue.48 The Province was already considering building a generating station at Hugh Keenleyside Dam and had recently acquired expansion rights to Brilliant and Waneta dams. Transferring these rights to the proposed trust would allow it to build and profit from generating stations at the dams. Investing in hydropower would provide a sustainable source of income and allow the trust to gradually grow its funds rather than deplete them over time.

Although this investment opportunity was tempting to some at the symposium, others were cautious. After all, hydropower dams were responsible for many of the Basin’s struggles in the first place. Nakusp councillor Karen Hamling looked around the room to see varied responses to Clark’s suggestion. “We just all looked at him and thought he was nuts,” she remembered. “There was a bunch of people who thought it was a great idea and other people thought, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding?’”49 Not only was it a costly endeavour, but dissenters argued that investing in the energy sector did not  guarantee stable employment and might prove a less attractive option compared to investing in other industries.50

Participants established criteria and guidelines the trust should consider when selecting its projects and investments. They maintained that investments should prioritize the needs of Basin communities rather than be distributed as compensation funds for individuals; there should be a balance between short- and long-term goals; and the benefits package should be spread around rather than concentrated on a single option — in other words, they should not put all their eggs in one basket.51

Columbia Basin Trust Act

Columbia Basin Trust was officially established in 1995 through the passing of the Columbia Basin Trust Act. The Act is the document by which the Trust is governed, and defines the organization’s purpose, structure and relationship to government. The Trust is mandated to invest, spend and manage its assets for the ongoing social, economic and environmental benefit of the region. This does not relieve government from its obligations to the region, but instead creates a relationship between the Trust and the Province of British Columbia in which the Trust operates similarly to a Crown corporation. The Act grants the Trust an unprecedented amount of autonomy, giving those who call the Basin home control over their own future.

After the 1994 symposium, CRTC Inc. pursued its plans to establish what would come to be called Columbia Basin Trust. Provincial legislation needed to be passed, so CRTC administrator Reid Henderson drafted a bill to submit to Cabinet for consideration. Lawyer Don Lidstone was hired to help refine the legislation and better articulate the proposed relationship of the trust to local and provincial governments.52 The CRTC’s eagerness to reach a binding agreement encountered a willing but slow-moving government, which was tied up with a Cabinet shuffle and unable to speed up negotiations. The CRTC grew frustrated with the Province, a frustration that increased when the Treaty’s downstream benefits agreement was updated in September 1994. Under the new deal, British Columbia’s entitlement amounted to approximately $5 billion over the next 30 years.53 The CRTC wanted the government’s commitment to support a trust that would receive and distribute the Basin’s share of these benefits.

After months of negotiations, the Province and CRTC Inc. established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to sign the Columbia Basin Accord. The MOU outlined the proposed agreement between the Province and the legislated trust. The Province committed to giving the future trust $500 million from the downstream benefits to install a generating station at Hugh Keenleyside Dam and expand the dams at Brilliant and Waneta; the Province would transfer the expansion rights to these projects to the trust. Revenues from these hydropower projects would be used to finance future initiatives.54

In addition to providing funds for hydropower expansion, the MOU promised to give the trust a greater role in water-management decisions in the Basin. The CRTC wanted the trust to be represented on the BC Hydro Board of Directors and included in any potential future negotiations for the Treaty.

“Let’s let the people of the region have a say in their destiny for a change.”


The Province committed to involving the trust in fish and wildlife compensation programs, BC Hydro’s future debris clean-up and water access operations, and any future decisions about BC Hydro’s operations in the Basin. The Province would provide additional funds to cover the trust’s operating costs and help it deliver programs in its first few years. The trust would receive $2 million annually from 1996 to 2011 for operating expenses, and an up-front payment of $45 million in 1995–96 to start investing and delivering projects and programs. These payments were intended to bolster the trust’s assets until its hydropower investments began to generate revenue.55

The Columbia Basin Accord made the agreement outlined in the MOU official. Once all details were finalized, the Province and Basin leaders gathered to sign the Accord on a cool, cloudy Sunday in Castlegar on March 19, 1995. Premier Mike Harcourt described the significance of the occasion, saying the Accord would “mark the beginning of an end to the disruption and despair that the Columbia-Kootenay region has endured as a result of the Columbia River Treaty.” He added that the Basin, which had borne the brunt of Treaty impacts, could “now move ahead to a sustainable, stable future of opportunity and growth.”56

With the Columbia Basin Accord signed, just one step remained: passing legislation to create the Columbia Basin Trust. Discussions in the legislature concerning the Columbia Basin Trust Act were heated. Plans for the trust firmly insisted it would be an independent entity with regional control and autonomy.

Although it would be accountable to government rules and regulations, the trust would ultimately have the power to choose how it operated and how it spent and invested its funds. Some politicians vehemently opposed granting this unprecedented level of regional control, but proponents like Minister Glen Clark had faith in the people of the region, while acknowledging things would not be perfect. However, it was not about perfection; it was about the people of the Basin having control over their own home and future. “Let’s let the people of the region have a say in their destiny for a change,” Clark said.57

Every element of the Columbia Basin Trust Act— and through it Columbia Basin Trust—was debated, contemplated and negotiated in the B.C Legislature. It was tailor-made for the needs, desires and people of the Basin. The Act received royal assent on July 6, 1995. CRTC members and the Lieutenant Governor attended a small reception at the provincial legislature in Victoria. The celebration was captured in photographs taken on the legislature’s steps. The next day, July 7, 1995, the final meeting of the CRTC became the first meeting of Columbia Basin Trust, as the group gathered in the Birch Room of the legislature. Corky Evans was proud of what the people of the Basin had accomplished. He realized they had “done something that no other region of British Columbia has ever tried.” Against all opposition, he said, “We got it done.”58

Top. After the signing of the Columbia Basin Trust Act, CRTC members — now Trust Board members — celebrated their achievements at the B.C. Legislature with MLA Anne Edwards (second from left) and Lieutenant Governor Garde Gardom (middle). Board members pictured are Josh Smienk (left) and (from right) Ed Conroy, Shelby Harvey and Dieter Bogs.

Middle. (Left to right) Minister of Employment and Investment Glen Clark celebrates with new Trust directors Josh Smienk, Jim Doyle and Dieter Bogs.
Bottom. Josh Smienk addressed the crowd gathered to celebrate the occasion.
Below. Several months before the Act was passed, CRTC members gathered in Castlegar for the signing of the Columbia Basin Accord. Speakers included CRTC member and Nakusp Mayor Rosemarie Johnson (left) and B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt (right). Both Johnson and Harcourt signed the Accord alongside other politicians and CRTC members, including Kootenay MLA and Minister of Energy and Mines Anne Edwards and CRTC chair Josh Smienk (middle).

“We got it done. Against all the people who said, ‘Don’t create another level of government and you can’t decentralize power,’ and all the naysayers and all the people who said regional districts could never get along and all the people who said Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people couldn’t get along and all the people who said the province and the region couldn’t get along — we now have done something that no other region of British Columbia has ever tried.”