ALL ROADS LEAD TO GRAND FORKS: A GLOBAL CITY IN ITS OWN RIGHT
Far from the bustle of BC’s lower mainland, and tucked away between the Kootenay and Okanagan regions, and occupying the peripheral milieu of Crowsnest Highway 3, lies the sparsely populated Boundary Country. In the heart of this fabled land is the Corporation of the City of Grand Forks, population 4,113 (Commerce, 2005), the capital and “Jewel of the Boundary.” To cartographers and politicians alike, the community is barely an insignificant blip on the political map, yet to the townspeople and members of surrounding communities, Grand Forks symbolizes a hub, a retailing magnet, and overall centre of cultural, social and economic activity. Saskia Sassen lists the characteristics of a global city as 1) a highly concentrated command point, 2) a key location for financial and specialized services firms, 3) a site of production, including innovation, and 4) a market for said products and innovations (Sassen, 1991). Grand Forks is represented in each one of these points, making it the economic, social, political, and cultural capital of the Boundary and ultimately a control node on the global map. In spite of its small population base and its lack of multinational corporate headquarters, Grand Forks stands as a transterritorial marketplace of such importance that it is, in every sense of the term, a global city (Sassen, 1991).
Poised at the confluence of the two key waterways in the Boundary, Grand Forks’ central, prominent location has played a decisive role in her history. The vast array of untapped natural resources beckoned an innovative, young population whose energetic spirit remains evident in the city today. From the very beginning, Grand Forks has been hailed as “The Gateway City” for its diversity of industry, transportation links and status as a distribution centre (Carre, 1902). As an interior BC hub, Grand Forks has long been a transportation centre. Originally utilizing the two rivers as “ribbons of commerce,” (Glanville, 1987) the community also became a stop on the Dewdney Trail, the precursor to the trans-provincial highway. Eventually, the city boasted three major rail lines and has since been a destination on Crowsnest Highway 3, with adjoining highways just outside the city limits. 1929 saw the construction of the first airport in BC’s Interior, and third in BC after Vancouver and Victoria, cementing its prominence as an influential and destination city (Glanville, 1997). The central and strategic location of Grand Forks has been so entrenched in its history, that from 1898 the local paper proclaimed the city to be, “first in everything, second in nothing, the gateway to everywhere” (Glanville, 1997).
Grand Forks is host to an incredibly diverse economy. The abundant natural resource base allured miners, loggers, farmers and more. Sassen writes that the territorial dispersal of current economic activity creates a need for expanded central control, which for the Boundary has found its home in Grand Forks. The initial core industry was smelting, with the construction of the largest non-ferrous smelter in the British Empire (Glanville, 1997). A key point to mention regarding the smelter is that after its closure in 1919, it allowed for a stronger diversification of economic activity in Grand Forks, and the necessary development of the agricultural, service and other industries (Glanville, 1997). Grand Forks’ ideal growing climate has made it a centre for orchard produce, root vegetables and cattle. At one point, Grand Forks produced one third of the apple crops in BC before further diversifying in the agricultural sector (Commerce, 2005). Local vineyards have been displaying innovation by testing locally developed experimental vines for a potentially flourishing wine industry (Gordon, 2005). The rich blanket of forests in the surrounding countryside has fostered an ever-expanding forestry industry. Two major plant operations, Pope and Talbot and CanPar, specializing in the processing of wood products, are the top two employers in the community. Bill Faminoff, a local business leader and industrialist, stated that the closing of one P&T mill in a neighbouring town and the expansion of operations Grand Forks was its higher degree of flexibility (Faminoff, 2005). Grand Forks has been the corporate headquarters of P&T since 1969 (Commerce, 2005).
As a centre of innovation, two examples prove that Grand Forks is no exception in this case. For one, the slag piles, once believed to be an unwanted waste product leftover from copper smelting days, are recycled and processed into Rockwool insulation by Roxul Inc. and Pacific Abrasives. “The development of the use of slag has helped to increase Grand Forks’ economic versatility, which is essential,” says Faminoff, former President and CEO of Enertek Products International Inc., which sold its outfit to Roxul Inc. in the past five years. “Locating in Grand Forks was only natural,” says Faminoff, “the population base Grand Forks’ position on the US/Canada border also opened up a North-South trading corridor that extends as far as Texas” (Faminoff, 2005). Another economically attractive aspect is the availability of inexpensive hydroelectricity and proximity to the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Line, a transportation link to Asia and North America, a quality that attracted the initial smelting industry one hundred years before (Glanville, 1997). CanPar Industries is another innovator in the town, recycling sawdust and wood scraps by fabricating them into particleboard door core, an industry in which it is the leading manufacturer in North America (Commerce, 2005), and cements Grand Forks’ status as an innovator in industry.
As a key location for financial and specialized services, Grand Forks is second to none in the Boundary. The existence of two banks, a mall, lawyers, insurance, a hospital and the grand total of three major grocery store chains make the city a thriving hub of commercial activity and a retailing magnet for the surrounding region. On the addition of the newest grocery store, Councillor Ann Gordon stated, “it has proved successful…a new selection and discounts have drawn in customers from the US and surrounding regions”(Gordon, 2005). This concentration in commercial retailing encourages local consumers to shop locally, which in turn has caused the volume of trade in the region to increase. The Grand Forks District Savings Credit Union, located in the heart of the financial district, serves as the dominant financial establishment not just locally, but beyond the city boundaries, it has the largest market share of any credit union in the Kootenay region and ranking as the 33rd largest company in the Kootenays (Kootenay Business Magazine, 2005). In addition to the commercial sector, Grand Forks is host to a wide variety of government department branches and services. The regional hospital, courthouse, Ministry of Transportation, regional district and school board offices, and Service BC have all “located in Grand Forks because of sheer population…making it a control node” (Abrahamson, 2004). The agglomeration of capital and economic and political decision making, the originally conceived determinants of a global city (Abrahamson, 2004), propels Grand Forks forward as an innovator in the service sector, and as a highly concentrated command point.
The key to an instantly recognizable global city is its cultural scene. Mark Abrahamson notes that second-tier global cities are purely economic or purely cultural control nodes, but that true global cities are both (Abrahamson, 2004). Grand Forks exhibits a vibrant local arts scene, with many theatre companies, a new art gallery, and many artists and musicians. “Artistically,” says Councillor Chris Moslin, “Grand Forks can be very proud of its accomplishments.” The city has a unique and rich Russian heritage that displays itself in the form in an annual Festival of Freedom, and other local musicians are showcased at various other festivals. “The city shows a great deal of initiative and motivation when it comes to supporting the arts,” says Moslin, “and owes much of its successes to the energy and spirit of its citizens and volunteers” (Moslin, 2005). An extension to the local culture scene is the abundant media services available to the citizens of the Boundary, via Grand Forks. Sunshine Communications, with its own television channel, BK Radio and the Grand Forks Gazette keep citizens informed on current events and connected to the information highway.
For young and old, Grand Forks represents a lifestyle choice hat has attracted an eclectic mix of talent and tradition. Richard Florida has stated that a “hot” city is home to talented innovators and risk takers, ones that surge ahead in developing new ideas (Gertner, 2004). Chris Moslin, councillor and Rails-to-Trails president, has been an active local force in the conversion of former railbeds into the Trans-Canada Trail, for outdoor recreation. “Since its inception in 2000, this trail has brought travellers from all over the world through Grand Forks” (Moslin, 2005), says Moslin, and the recent resurfacing of the Cascade Gorge Trestle by Royal Canadian Military Engineers in August 2002 has been a major tourism boost for the area. Councillor Ann Gordon has remarked, “The lifestyle, climate and amenities are attracting a large number of retirees to the area. This increases demand for services which can develop into employment increases.” Tourism has become an increasingly important industry, and “Grand Forks has been working to find its niche to really capture the global eye” (Gordon, 2005). At the heart of tourism is the heart of the city itself. A downtown rejuvenation program in the early 80s has created an aesthetically pleasing, visitor-friendly central business district, resplendent with cafes, frondescence and broad sidewalks (Glanville, 1997). The City’s clairvoyant urban planning scheme and overall recreational-oriented lifestyle has produced a community renowned by all as BC’s Little Paradise.
Sassen closes with the statement that the global city encompasses a new industrial complex, one that dominates economic growth and socio-political forms and centred in major cities (Sassen, 1991). For the global setting that is the Boundary Country, Grand Forks is so abundantly necessary, so fundamentally essential to its existence that it is indeed not only the gateway city of its respective region, but of much more importance on the global scene. While Saskia Sassen won’t be including it in her trifecta of global cities, Grand Forks stands as the gateway city of the Boundary, and a global city in its own right.
Abrahamson, Mark. Global Cities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Carre, W.H. Grand Forks, BC: “Gateway City.” Grand Forks: News Gazette Print, 1902.
Chamber of Commerce of the City of Grand Forks, City Profile, 2005-2006. Grand Forks: Visitor Information Centre, 2005.
Faminoff, Bill. President and CEO, Enertek Products International Inc. Interviewed by author. November 17, 2005.
Gertner, Jon. “What makes a place hot?” Interview with Richard Florida. Money, June, 2004. pp. 86-92.
Glanville, Jim and Alice. Grand Forks: where the Kettle River flows. Kelowna: Blue Moose Publishing, 1997.
Glanville, Jim and Alice. Grand Forks: the first 100 years. Grand Forks: Gazette Printing Co. Ltd., 1987.
Gordon, Ann. City Councillor. Grand Forks, BC. Interviewed by the author. November 20, 2005.
Kootenay Business Magazine Online. “The Top 50 Kootenay Companies, rated by revenue.” 2005. link
Moslin, Chris. Grand Forks City Councillor, Rails-to-Trails President. Interviewed by author. November 15, 2005.
Sassen, Saskia. Global Cities: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.