2010 – 2020

“Twenty-five years ago, no one could have painted a picture as to what the Trust would be like today . . . To paint a picture of what the Trust is going to look like 25 years from now? I think we’ll all be amazed.”

The Trust’s 15th anniversary in 2010 was an occasion for celebration. It was also a time for thinking back and looking ahead. Garry Merkel remembered “a lot of growing. It’s hard to believe it has been 15 years since myself and other founding Board members were present in the British Columbia legislature signing the CBT Act.”1 From the first moment of its establishment in 1995, the Trust has sought opportunities to collaborate, educate, facilitate and create. Supporting the efforts of Basin people and communities means much more than financial help, said Johnny Strilaeff. “It’s about expertise; it’s about knowledge; it’s about shared visioning. It’s about bringing folks together.”2 The Trust stood on solid footing. It had overcome the challenges of earlier years and was balancing internal operations with external responsibilities. The Basin’s faith in the organization was renewed as the Trust listened and responded to residents’ concerns. The Trust’s revenues, resources and reach had expanded and, along with them, the organization’s capacity to make a difference. The evolution and growth continued. Entering its next chapter, the Trust strengthened relationships, supported new ideas and led the Basin toward enduring and transformative change.


Founded on the idea that Basin residents and communities should have control over their own future, the Trust strives to involve them in many ways. In addition to holding symposiums and workshops, building partnerships and working with advisory committees, the Trust works to promote grassroots funding decisions.

Col. Chris Hadfield captivated delegates of the 2017 symposium as he encouraged them to dream big as they imagined and planned for the future of the Basin.

In 2011 and 2012, the Trust introduced three programs that prioritized community input. Community Directed Funds and Community Directed Youth Funds placed decision-making in the hands of community steering committees. Community Directed Funds gave funds to linked communities (sub-regions) and groups across the Basin bound by similar interests, which then made their own decisions on how to allocate those funds.3 Community Directed Youth Funds emphasized youth voices by collecting and incorporating their feedback and giving them a place in making decisions. Engaging youth ensured they would benefit from activities and services that addressed their unique needs. The fund supported youth centres and groups like the Outlet Youth Centre in New Denver and Beaver Valley Youth Club in Montrose.4 Similarly, in 2012 the Trust started the Social Grants Program, which continues to fund community-initiated and community-supported projects. Decisions are made by a committee of volunteers with experience in the social sector and community development.

In 2016, the Trust founded the Basin Youth Network as an extension of the Community Directed Youth Funds. The network provides youth and communities with the opportunity to collaborate and learn from one another when it comes to youth programs and services. People were pleased to see the grassroots model used to direct the youth fund continue. “I know that others joining the network will see success because of this approach too,” said Revelstoke Youth Liaison Megan Shandro. “It allows us to identify local priorities and act on them.”5

“You can start with a vision, but you should be willing to change your vision over time. You need to learn from what you’re doing, listen to what people are saying. ”


As the Trust matured, so too did its capacity to act creatively and flexibly. Senior staff member Aimee Ambrosone said the Trust’s role had grown to “give a grant, to develop a partnership, to launch a program, to address a gap, to be an information resource, to be a facilitator of discussion, to own an asset, [and] to make sure that asset creates benefits back to the region.”6 In 2013, the Trust established a new branch called Special Initiatives, dedicated to research and development. Executive Director of Special Initiatives Kindy Gosal explained that the Trust’s work in the Basin had increased, and it was being called on to play different roles, sometimes in areas in which the Trust had no experience or expertise. Special Initiatives remains dedicated to understanding problems, finding solutions and determining how to best offer support.7

The Trust’s breadth of experience and resources allows it to adapt and meet challenges. One of these was poor internet connectivity, an issue residents began to battle in the early 2000s. As technology evolved, rural internet infrastructure was either outdated or non-existent. This placed the Basin at a disadvantage. Businesses could not compete in the global economy, freelance workers were forced to commute or move to larger centres and students struggled to access educational material. Local governments fell behind in how they managed and shared information. The high-speed connection required to connect to the digital world of social media, online marketplaces and the entertainment landscape was absent or inaccessible.

2010 Symposium
Nearly 300 delegates gathered at the 2010 symposium in Revelstoke. Participants explored the theme of “Shaping Our Future Together” and were challenged to consider future goals and obstacles facing the Basin through a scenario-based planning exercise. Delegates and residents were treated to a night of cultural entertainment at venues across Revelstoke. The event also celebrated the Trust’s 15th anniversary with birthday cake and candles.

“I’m very confident that the foundation we’ve laid together will continue to serve the Basin well. I hesitate to predict exactly what our many diverse communities will aspire to, but I am confident — I have no doubt at all — that the Trust will find clever and innovative ways to get there.”

GREG DECK, CHAIR, 2013–2015

The undeniable gap in internet services was not easily filled. Communities struggled to attract telecommunications providers because of the immense expense involved in laying new infrastructure, while efforts by community organizations to construct a broadband network fell short. The Trust helped fund some of those efforts: in 2001, it was involved in establishing the Columbia Mountain Open Network (CMON), a non-profit organization that aimed to create a Basin-wide open-access network. After successfully building network infrastructure in the Castlegar and Trail area, CMON’s work was stalled by financial difficulties. Basin residents’ need for connectivity persisted. The Trust answered the call in 2011 when it acquired CMON’s assets and announced plans to take up where CMON had left off.8

The Trust established a new subsidiary to manage the task: Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC). Laurie Page described this as a good lesson for all the Trust’s programs. “You can start with a vision, but you should be willing to change your vision over time,” said Page. “You need to learn from what you’re doing, listen to what people are saying, look at what’s needed, evaluate the opportunities and then, you know, try something else or try something new or try something the same.”9

As it had done years earlier when acquiring hydropower assets, the Trust suddenly had to learn the ins and outs of an unfamiliar industry. CBBC would not only develop and operate a broadband network, it would own that network and be responsible for attracting and selling to internet service providers. In some instances, CBBC itself took on the work of internet service provider to deliver connections straight to customers.

CBBC and the Trust continue to fund broadband initiatives and to collaborate with regional committees and governments. Since 2013, CBBC has activated a network of over 900 kilometres. Its success demonstrates the Trust’s commitment to invest in people and communities.10

Enhancing Internet Connectivity

Connecting Communities
High-speed internet connects citizens, enables businesses to remain competitive in a global economy, supports education, helps attract and retain youth, and augments the delivery of health and government services. It can improve the quality of life, well-being and prosperity of Columbia Basin residents, as well as the sustainability of smaller and rural/remote communities.
The Trust recognizes that to be successful, this region needs better high-speed connectivity. Yet in many areas, there isn’t adequate telecommunications infrastructure or services available.
To meet the needs of residents and communities, the Trust created
a wholly owned subsidiary, the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation, to work toward providing connectivity to a broadband network across the region and fostering the development of services over that
network. The map shows the Trust’s fibre-optic network of over 900 kilometres and its projects currently under construction.
How Broadband Works
Broadband is a form of high-speed internet connection. It relies on a network of fibre-optic cables that transmit data in the form of light. The central part of this network is called the backbone. The backbone is a large bundle of cables that can stretch hundreds of kilometres across a region, under or above ground. Data travels along the backbone until it is diverted along a second path, or middle mile, where it reaches
a point of presence. Points of presence allow internet service providers to access the internet and deliver it to homes and businesses. Points of presence either broadcast a wireless signal to rural areas or reroute data through a third path called the last mile, which sends data straight to a community through additional fibre-optic cables.

“Twenty-five years ago, no one could have painted a picture as to what the Trust would be like today . . . To paint a picture of what the Trust is going to look like 25 years from now? I think we’ll all be amazed.”


The Trust also encouraged residents’ involvement in the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. In 2014, both British Columbia and the United States gave notice of their wish to renegotiate the Treaty. When British Columbia began to investigate options for an updated agreement, the Trust helped ensure that the Province consulted Basin residents and other stakeholders. It provided input to the government on the consultation process and helped draft a Memorandum of Understanding to guide that process.11

The Trust itself was not engaged in negotiations but helped educate and inform residents on issues surrounding the future of the Columbia River. It provided resources to Basin residents, governments and First Nations and advocated for these groups to be involved in the process. The Trust encouraged people to attend community meetings on the subject, and they co-hosted a regular Columbia Basin Transboundary Conference to facilitate exploration, discussion and collaborative action on issues facing the Basin and the river. When negotiations officially began in May 2018, the Trust worked to ensure residents had the information they needed to meaningfully participate in this process.


The Trust’s responsibilities remain driven by its strategic priorities. The first, set in 2007, helped guide the Trust’s three-year plan. Since then, the organization has updated its strategic priorities every five years. The update slated for 2016 coincided with an unprec-edented revenue increase because of a new power sales agreement at Arrow Lakes Generating Station and the completion of Waneta Expansion. With more revenue, the Trust could deliver more benefits back to the Basin. According to Kindy Gosal, the organization would “be going from approximately $22 million, the expenditures for delivery of benefits [in 2014], to about $55 million in a three to five-year time period. That is a significant jump in resources.”12

True to all its big decisions, the Trust made sure residents had a say in how the money would be spent. As it prepared to set its strategic priorities, the Trust recognized it could support them with better funding than ever before. The money, however, was not what was most important. In September 2014, the Trust launched a year-long public engagement process called Our Trust, Our Future. The goal was to reach people in their communities, hear their concerns and ideas and determine how the Trust could help. Johnny Strilaeff remembered those days. “We were literally talking with people at their kitchen tables,” said Strilaeff. “We were in community halls, alongside roads, and we were in gymnasiums.”13

“This organization was an audacious idea, as audacious as I’ve ever bumped into both personally and professionally. And the individuals, the creators, the visionaries, the people that came together . . . they weren’t focused on a corporation. They were focused on an idea and an accomplishment.”


At the centre of Our Trust, Our Future were 21 community workshops that invited participants to explore and collaborate on their visions for the Basin. People crowded into halls filled with displays and banners that provided information on the Trust’s activities, accomplishments and possibilities. They gathered at tables to listen and share ideas with their neighbours. They answered questions like “What’s most important?” and “What makes your community great?” They discussed what the Trust was doing well, and what it could do to improve. Blank pages and whiteboards overflowed with colourful notes at the close of each workshop, a visual symbol of the excitement residents felt for the future of the Basin and their belief in the Trust’s capacity to help them achieve their goals.

In addition to the workshops, the Trust set up information booths, created an interactive website, distributed workbooks and met with partners and collaborators. By the end of Our Trust, Our Future, the Trust had connected with over 3,000 residents and received more than 17,000 suggestions for the social, economic and environmental future of the Basin. Trust staff, advisory groups and Board members studied the intelligence they gathered to determine key ideas and translate them into strategic priorities.14

Our Trust, Our Future produced 13 strategic priorities to focus the Trust from 2016 to 2020. Several priorities were familiar: ongoing support for the environment, economic development and helping communities identify and address their own challenges. New strategic priorities included recreation and physical activity, early childhood and childhood development, and renewable and alternative energy.

Our Trust, Our Future
From 2014 to 2015, the Trust launched an engagement process called Our Trust, Our Future. It connected with over 3,000 residents through 21 community workshops across the Basin, as well as an interactive website, information booths and workbooks. Participants shared their ideas for the future of the Basin, helping decide the Trust’s future programs and priorities.

The Trust implemented fresh measures to address these priorities. It updated existing strategic plans that guided its social, economic and environmental goals and created more specific plans. Each priority had customized plans with details on how the Trust would approach and evaluate the success of particular objectives. For example, the Housing Initiatives Strategic Framework outlined three objectives: to support local and regional efforts to address housing priorities; to support Indigenous housing; and to strengthen the Basin’s social and economic well-being by funding, constructing and investing in multiple housing options.15 The plan identified two primary roles for the Trust in meeting these objectives: a funding partner and a project development advocate. Through its First Nations Housing Sustainability Initiative, for example, the Trust assists First Nations communities in planning new projects. At the same time, it provides grants to help finance on-reserve builds; increase the capacity of communities to develop and manage housing assets; and support building repairs, energy retrofits and health-and-safety enhancements.16

The Trust further met strategic commitments by integrating aspects of its investments and delivery of benefits. The organization began to explore how it could deliver benefits — traditionally delivered through grants, partnerships and programs — through its investment portfolio. Investments could generate income to finance the Trust’s grants and programs, but they could also directly help the Basin. This was the principle behind the Impact Investment Fund, established in 2015. “Sometimes an opportunity doesn’t generate high financial returns, but it does generate other benefits,” explained CEO Neil Muth. “For example, it may create jobs, or support the well-being of people in the community, or help the environment. If so, we may now consider investing in it.”17 Through the Impact Investment Fund, the Trust and its delivery partners have supported a range of business endeavours that create local jobs and give back to the community. Aaron Davidson, founder of nutrition and fitness app Cronometer, was able to turn his part-time gig into a business with eight employees based in Revelstoke. “We’re offering a place for these people who have high potential,” said Davidson. “At least a couple of those people would have left Revelstoke if this work opportunity had not come about.”18

Angry Hen Brewing Co.’s mission to brew up local jobs and breathe new life into a historic Kaslo building made it a solid candidate for an Impact Investment loan.


The Trust’s internal resilience was tested in late 2016 with the sudden death of long-time CEO Neil Muth. For 11 years, Muth had guided the Trust as it grew and expanded services and investments across the Basin. He had led the Trust as it strengthened its relationships with people and communities. Members of the Trust relied on each other as they confronted operational and personal challenges after Muth’s death. “The [Trust] family kind of stuck together and weathered it, and services to residents were not impacted,” Board member Laurie Page remembered.19 The relatively smooth transition to a new CEO after Muth’s passing was a testament to his leadership.20 He had already begun discussions about a succession plan for his eventual retirement.

Johnny Strilaeff became the new CEO. Formerly the Trust’s Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer,  Strilaeff had worked closely alongside Muth for many years. In fact, they had started with the Trust the same week in 2005. Strilaeff was a crucial force for the Trust’s ongoing growth, guiding the establishment of investment policies and procedures while serving as head of the investment portfolio. Like his predecessors, Strilaeff had a personal connection to the Basin, having been born and raised in Castlegar. He understood the uniqueness of the region and its importance. With firm policies and procedures in place at the Trust, his leadership style could prosper. “I recognize the importance of planning,” he said, “but I really embrace and excel at action and achievement.”26 A forward-thinker, Strilaeff was excited to see what the Trust and the Basin could achieve.

The Trust’s resilience under pressure demonstrated the strength of the organization and its staff. The Trust had easily adapted to change and had guided Basin communities to do the same. “Thriving in Change” was the theme of the 2017 symposium. Recognizing the inevitability of change in the Basin and around the world, the event encouraged participants to think creatively and collaboratively, and to anticipate challenges and find solutions.

Early Childhood and Child Development

The Trust made early childhood and child development one of its strategic priorities in 2016. Parents and caregivers had reported major challenges across the region about child care availability, affordability, funding and staffing.
The high costs were a particular concern. It was a crisis, said Cranbrook resident Patricia Whalen. “Parents are feeling, ‘I’m basically going to have to work to pay for child care.’”19 As manager of Cranbrook’s Children First program, Whalen was part of a 2014 task force formed to assess problems and find solutions for the child care situation. She explained the task force’s findings: “There are two scenarios in many of our communities: they either have the space for child care but not staff, or some communities have staff but no space.”20 By 2015, there were as many as 18 vacant positions for child care providers across the region.21 Well aware of the child care issue faced by Basin families, the Trust joined the task force and, through it, contributed funding to a variety of child care initiatives — and not for the first time. Several years earlier, the Trust had expanded its Community Development Program to include specific guidelines for child care funding. The community of Sparwood was one of the first to take advantage of this funding, and in 2011 received $50,000 toward a new facility and staff training.22 
By 2017, the demand for child care in the Basin had increased enough for the Trust to create a dedicated Child Care Support Program. This provided $3.6 million over three years to help child care providers obtain training and staff support, create and improve facilities or access advisory services. Rossland’s Golden Bear Children’s Centre manager Ketna Makwana was pleased to see the Trust respond to community needs. “It’s something that educators have been striving towards for a number of years now,” she said. “We’ve been requesting it, we’ve been arguing about it, that we need more funding to open up more child care spaces.”23 By 2018, the program had helped create 238 new licensed child care spaces and improve another 1,729 existing spaces; this included nearly $100,000 spent on new child care equipment. Facilities also saw improved staffing as the program helped Early Childhood Educators become certified, complete practicum placements and find employment.24 All in all, the Trust assisted 84 licensed facilities across the Basin.25 

“Ever since I moved here in the mid-1990s, I’ve been struck by the commitment to community development and regional self-determination that characterizes so many Basin communities.”


With 450 delegates, the 2017 symposium was the Trust’s biggest one yet, and it had a guest to match. In his keynote address, astronaut Chris Hadfield encouraged residents to dream big and set “audacious” goals. Hadfield’s words echoed through the Kimberley conference centre. “The things we accomplish in life,” he said, “are a reflection of the edges of our expectations.”27 This rang true for the Trust and the communities and people it served. What could be accomplished together was unlimited.

This sense of limitlessness would spill over into the coming years as the Trust, together with people and communities, continued to improve the Basin’s society, economy and environment in ways large and small. In January 2019, the Trust reached a long-anticipated milestone: after several years of sharing ownership of Waneta Expansion with Fortis, the Trust and Columbia Power bought out the private utility company to gain full ownership over the powerhouse. Buying back Fortis’s 51 per cent share had a hefty price tag of $991 million. It was made possible through a loan from the provincial government.

The purchase was a critical milestone for the Trust and Columbia Power, which now had equal ownership over all of their hydropower assets. “That’s one of the mandates that we successfully concluded,” said Board Chair Rick Jensen.28 The Trust and Columbia Power had achieved their goal of owning, developing and operating all four hydropower assets for the benefit of the Basin. The next generations will reap the rewards of the Waneta Expansion deal, along with the revenue from Arrow Lakes Generating Station, Brilliant Dam and Brilliant Expansion. The spirit of the Columbia Basin Trust Act was being fulfilled.

2017 Symposium
Four hundred and fifty participants gathered in Kimberley for the Trust’s 2017 symposium, with hundreds more joining online.


Through the Trust, the people of the Basin have created legacies of social, economic and environmental well-being and a foundation for future success. Together, they transformed the devastating impacts of the Columbia River Treaty into an opportunity for growth and improvement. Using the money endowed to them through the Treaty’s downstream benefits, the Trust has invested in the Basin in a thousand ways and grown into an organization that facilitates change, generates thought, empowers residents and forges solutions alongside its communities. Whether to improve literacy, ease homelessness, connect residents to the internet or transform a residential school from a place of hurt into a place of healing, the Trust partners with residents and gives them the tools, resources, funds and support necessary to achieve their goals. The Trust co-operates with environmental groups seeking to conserve land and wildlife; organizations building affordable and accessible housing for families, seniors and First Nations; and those advancing arts and culture in the Basin. The Trust works and shares information with local and regional governments. Programs and networking opportunities for youth engage the Basin’s young people, who will inherit the Trust and its legacy. As of 2020, the Trust has over 70 active programs and initiatives, each making a special and unique contribution.

Reflecting on astronaut Chris Hadfield’s words at the 2017 symposium about audacious ideas, CEO Johnny Strilaeff described the Trust as “an audacious idea, as audacious of an idea that I’ve ever been part of on either a personal or professional level. The individuals, the creators, the visionaries, the entire region that came together . . . they weren’t focused on a corporation. They were focused on an idea and an accomplishment.”29

What had begun as the dream of a handful of individuals seeking to overcome the damage caused by the Columbia River Treaty dams has exceeded the expectations of thousands of Basin residents: those who gathered at Castlegar’s ballpark in 1992 to discuss the Treaty and its impacts; the members of the Columbia River Treaty Committee; the Trust’s first Board of Directors who stood on the steps of the provincial legislature the day the Columbia Basin Trust Act was passed; those who shared their thoughts, both positive and critical, at community meetings and symposia; and everyone who contributed, partnered or worked with the Trust along the way.  “I’m very confident that the foundation we’ve laid together will continue to serve the Basin well,” said Board member Greg Deck. “I hesitate to predict exactly what our many diverse communities will aspire to, but I am confident — I have no doubt at all — that the Trust will find clever and innovative ways to get there.”30

As it looks toward the future, Columbia Basin Trust is steadfast in its commitment to inspire and empower the people of the Basin to thrive and dream about the unlimited possibilities they can accomplish together.

An idea. For community. For people. The Columbia Basin Trust began with an idea. Twenty-five years ago, no one could have imagined all that might be possible. Thank you to the people of the Basin for your remarkable efforts. Together, we are strengthening the places we love.