Biology Intern Set on Career Course

Jeremy Benson spent most of his summer on the Koocanusa Reservoir, but he wasn’t camping or pursuing other recreational activities popular in the area. The Junior Biologist collected important water quality and biological samples that will help industry with environmental monitoring projects.

Benson is an intern at Cranbrook’s VAST Resource Solutions Inc., which provides natural resource consulting and engineering services throughout BC and Western Canada. When VAST’s senior fish and aquatic biologist retired, the team had a hard time finding an experienced replacement, primarily due to the competitive market for qualified staff.

“After a year of advertising, we decided to start looking at hiring and training a junior person instead, but one of the issues was the cost,” says Ben Meunier, Fisheries Biologist. “In addition to training expenses, a junior person is typically not immediately billable to our clients because of the steep learning curve required to become familiar with all the sampling techniques, industry standards and environmental regulations we work with on a daily basis.”

Then VAST came across the Trust’s Career Internship Program. This program gives employers wage subsidies to hire recent post-secondary graduates like Benson for full-time, career-focused positions that lead to permanent employment. The program helps employers expand their teams and capacity at a reduced cost; it also supports graduates in finding employment in their chosen fields.

“When a junior person comes in who doesn’t necessarily have experience working in the industry, it takes some time to get them up to speed,” says Meunier. “Having additional funding available so Jeremy could slow down and take the time to learn really helped.”

The internship has given VAST the ability to train a less experienced individual; assess his skills, abilities and aptitude; and determine how he best fits into the firm.

It has also enabled Benson to work in a dynamic setting under the guidance of an experienced mentor, benefit from hands-on field work, and gain transferable industry skills and knowledge. After spending the summer on the Koocanusa Reservoir, he has now moved indoors to do analysis in the Cranbrook office, where he’s developing new skills such as project management.

“Being able to work for a local company is great. I’m from Cranbrook, so when it comes to field work, I’m familiar with a lot of the areas and systems we’ve been studying and working in,” says Benson. “Transitioning from school to work has also been good; I’ve been working my way through various responsibilities as I get more comfortable.”

The time and resources VAST has poured into his development has Benson’s career swiftly flowing on course for long-term employment.

Career for Kootenay Carpenter Apprentice

After completing a business degree and working in sales for a decade, Michael Greenfield was more than ready for a change. The mountains were calling, and answering that call led him to a new lifestyle and career that turned out to be exactly what he was looking for.

“I knew there was a high demand for carpentry work in the Kootenay region, and I thought it was a viable and interesting career for me to jump into,” he says.

It was Greenfield’s sense of humour and attitude that caught the attention of Alan De Chezet, the owner of Ruby Mountain Builders.

De Chezet wasn’t actively looking for an employee when he met the apprentice carpenter, but instantly felt a connection. When he found out Greenfield was attending Selkirk College’s Carpentry Apprenticeship Program, De Chezet handed over his business card, sensing he’d be a great fit for his team. Columbia Basin Trust’s School Works Apprentice Wage Subsidy Program, which helps Basin employers hire first level apprentices, was a further reason to hire someone with less experience—and he’s glad he did.

“His youthful energy and his physicality, combined with his intelligence, makes Mike very valuable to my business,” says De Chezet. “I’d be happy to hire him long-term when he gets out of school.”

Greenfield rounds out De Chezet’s four-person crew, which builds residential and smaller commercial projects, primarily in the Nelson area. Since starting in April 2019, Greenfield has pitched in on all facets of each build, including labour and carpentry tasks like framing and concrete pours. He’s pleased with the hands-on work experience, citing the advantages of learning from expert tradespeople.

“I’m lucky my colleagues support me,” he says. “I’m constantly learning something new every day. Plus I love the camaraderie!”

“You’re only as good as the people you hire, and that goes beyond technical skills,” says De Chezet. “I have a fantastic crew, and Greenfield adds so much to my team.”

Greenfield is thankful for the opportunity the wage subsidy program created and is enthusiastic about his future.

“The program is making it easier for builders to employ trades apprentices,” he says. “It’s definitely given me a leg up in my carpentry career. Without it, I think it would’ve been much more difficult to find an opportunity like this—there’s no question.”

City of Nelson Creates Student Opportunity

“We didn’t realize how much we needed this person until we met them.”

This is Joanna Markin, Director of Human Resources Corporate Safety & Technology for the City of Nelson. She is speaking about how a project for the City remained on the sidelines until the right person came along to tackle it. In the case of the City of Nelson, it was a need to audit the payroll against its respective collective agreement.

“I had this project sitting on my desk and knew I needed to find the time and resources to deal with it, but sometimes that’s hard to do,” said Markin. “I knew it was something that needed to be addressed and taken on.”

Enter Harshit Kandpal, a Thompson Rivers University student completing his post-baccalaureate diploma program in human resource management who applied on another co-op position with the City. For Joanna and Chris Jury, Deputy Chief Financial Officer for the City and Harshit’s day-to-day supervisor, it was a bit of a eureka moment.

“That’s when we met Harshit. We recognized that he had an incredible skill set for auditing and realized we had met the right person with the right experience and that we could create a special project for him to take on that would also fill a need we had. We turned to the Trust and applied on their School Works Program to support us in creating an opportunity to hire him.”

The School Works Co-op Wage Subsidy provides wage subsidies to employers in the Basin to help them hire post-secondary students enrolled in full-time education and participating in a recognized university or college co-op education program. The City of Nelson worked with College of the Rockies, who administers the program on the Trust’s behalf, to hire Harshit.

For Harshit, the co-op position at the City of Nelson has been a game-changer on several levels.

As a student from India and new to Canada, it’s provided an opportunity to work in a job relevant to his field of study as well as become a member of a community, not just as a student on campus, but as a resident, employee and volunteer.

“It has been an awesome experience,” said Kandpal. “The co-op position has allowed me to gain real-world experience in Canada in what I want to do professionally. I had never really thought about working for a municipal government before and with this opportunity, I have been able to use my education and previous work experience to do just that. It’s given me the break I was really hoping for, and it’s allowed me to discover a different part of BC and be part of a new community, like volunteering with Nelson and District Recreation and the Nelson Leafs team.”

Similar to the experience for Harshit, the co-op term has been beneficial for the City of Nelson, not just to undertake this special project, but as an opportunity to reflect on internal processes and see a new way of looking at how work gets done.

“Having Harshit in the co-op position allowed us to have a bit of a critical eye on how we did things as an employer,” said Jury. “By mentoring Harshit in his new job, by explaining to him how processes worked at the City, it allowed us to do some analysis on why we were doing things a certain way and ask ourselves – why are we still doing it this way? It’s helped us make some changes for the better.”

Reconnecting and Protecting Grizzlies

For the past 70 years, grizzly bears in the South Selkirk and Purcell mountains have largely been isolated from each other. What was once one population of bears has split over time, primarily due to development in the valleys, leaving the South Selkirk population small.

Since 2004, Kaslo scientist and independent researcher Michael Proctor has looked for ways to restore connectivity between these two populations and help recover the South Selkirk population. At the same time, he’s looked for ways to reduce bear mortality due to conflicts with humans.

In 2012, Michael began working with Trust support to GPS collar and track grizzlies.

His work provided a better understanding of the Creston Valley as an important wildlife corridor for Selkirk grizzly bears. Michael’s research found that 17 individual grizzly bears use this area. More specifically, the data showed that male bears range widely between Creston and Nelson and spend little time in the valley, while a few female bears spend longer periods of time in the valley.

“These bears spend much of their time in the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, right up to Duck Lake,” says Michael. “They also like to hang out in the Yaqan Nukiy wetland area.”

Radio collaring allows researchers like Michael to track and identify movement corridors between fragmented animal populations, like the Selkirk and Purcell grizzlies. Because these populations were fragmented and movement between each was lost over time, researchers must predict where these corridors might occur today.

“The information we get from collaring animals helps us understand how we can restore connectivity between the Selkirk and Purcell populations,” says Michael. “Radio collaring allows us to create habitat use models and those models paint a picture for how two separate populations once moved in one, unbroken area. It highlights where we should focus efforts to restore or protect habitat that will help support bears to move between the Selkirks to the Purcells.”

With a better understanding of how and where bears move within the Selkirk corridor, Michael has also been able to identify how bear-human conflict might arise and find ways to reduce it. The collar data provides information the BC Wildlife Conservation Service can use to support the management of grizzly bears in the Creston Valley.

“It was useful to follow the bears’ movement in the Creston Valley to understand their use of that corridor. It helped us focus management efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflicts,” says Michael. “For example, we now know bears are really attracted to corn fields and cherry orchards. We can go to residents and show them which attractants they should secure to prevent bear encounters. Collaring, tracking and other projects the Trust is supporting, such as electric fencing, help us better manage bears and people.”

Plus, the data he’s gathered will feed into projects like Kootenay Connect. This project has received support for conservation activities in a dozen habitats wetlands and riparian-rich valley-bottoms—one of which is the Creston Valley.

One of the management tools Kootenay Connect uses to enhance connectivity is to partner with organizations to purchase conservation lands that help increase ecological connectivity.  For example, in the Creston Valley, conservation lands in the north portion of the valley have been purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada that benefit the endangered northern leopard frog and the Selkirk grizzly, connecting both species’ winter and summer habitats.

Now managed to benefit frogs and bears, these lands also benefit many other species, including elk, deer and small predators.

“The investment by the Trust in our work on the Selkirk grizzly sub-population has supported us in expanding to this next level,” says Michael . “By helping us to understand bear connectivity, we are working to improve the habitats and connectivity or other species across the Kootenays.”

Bringing the Library to the People

In its new location on the top floor of the state-of-the-art Columbia Valley Centre, the Invermere Public Library has expanded its services with more books, activities and programs. It also extends beyond its physical space, providing services throughout the Columbia Valley, from Spillimacheen to Canal Flats, to a population that fluctuates seasonally from 9,000 to 20,000 people.

With minimal staff, developing and implementing new, engaging programs has been difficult. To fulfill the library’s potential, the team needed an additional member—a knowledgeable and passionate person who could help deliver existing programs and develop a host of others.

With help from the Trust’s Career Internship Program, the library created a new full-time permanent position and filled it with their new intern. “The new role boosts our community outreach,” says Nicole Pawlak, Library Director. “After providing community programs only as our limited resources would allow, this is the first time we’ve been able to properly define and fulfill the role.”

The Career Internship Program gives employers wage subsidies to hire recent post-secondary graduates for full-time, career-focused positions that lead to permanent employment. The program helps employers expand their teams and capacity at a reduced cost; it also supports graduates in finding employment in their chosen fields.

A recent graduate of English from Dalhousie University in Halifax, the new Community Outreach Library Assistant, Blair McFarlane, draws on a long history with the library—years as a volunteer and a summer student since 2015. She now eagerly embraces a variety of tasks and responsibilities that broaden both her professional experience and the library’s reach and impact. The program supports the library during Blair’s training and at the end of the program the aim is for Blair to be fully-trained to continue in the permanent role.

“I love the responsibility,” McFarlane says. “Organizing events such as author visits where I get to interact with the writers—it’s exciting to host an event that attracts people who don’t typically come into the library. Developing programs is creative and fun, particularly for kids.”

McFarlane enthusiastically takes the lead on activities ranging from the summer reading program to an upcoming STEAM initiative (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). She also helps promote the library in various ways.

It’s not always about being inside the library, of course. With an eye on community outreach, McFarlane regularly leaves home base armed with books, crafts and other activities to visit more distant Columbia Valley communities, such as to the Village of Canal Flats.

It’s trips like these that excite McFarlane the most. With an inspired gleam in her eye, she often asks, “What can we do next to take the library to the people?”

Growing Affordable Housing Snapshot

Twelve new affordable housing units for families are ready to open their doors in Kimberley.

These are just a fraction of the over 1,000 new affordable housing units the Trust has helped create in the Basin since 2002, in addition to repairs and upgrades to over 1,000 existing affordable units.

Affordable housing is essential when it comes to creating healthy and resilient communities and reducing poverty. The Trust supports affordable housing, including over 500 new affordable rental units that are currently under development in the Basin.

An Eye-catching Restoration

Outside the Revelstoke Railway Museum sits a vibrant yellow caboose.

Not long ago, the caboose was showing its age. Now, with help from the Trust’s Heritage, Museum and Archive Grants, Ed Koski and Jimmy Young from the Revelstoke Heritage Railway Society have restored it close to its original condition. Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1954, the caboose was one of the first to be built in steel, rather than wood, and to have a cupola (elevated windows and seats) in the centre, rather than at an end. “The caboose is the one piece of outdoor rolling stock that we are able to have open to the public year-round,” says Hayley Johnson, Executive Director. “This project will draw enthusiasts to the museum at all times of the year.”

Community Dream Comes True

The new $4-million Columbia Lake Recreation Centre is the largest project the community of Ɂakisq’nuk has ever undertaken.

“This project was an absolute priority for this community,” says Heather Rennebohm, Economic Development Officer.

The 22,400-square-foot complex houses a gymnasium, elevated track, exercise room and more, including office space for a variety of community services. From design to construction, the Trust-supported project provided jobs and training for community members and provides employment today to the people who help make the place run.

The facility opened in spring 2019 and is already making an impact in the community and beyond. From intramural sports to hosting tournaments, the centre offers something for everyone when it comes to improving health through sports and activities.

Anyone from anywhere can use the facility, which runs activities for all ages and a range of interests. Chief Alfred Joseph says, “This community is not separate. We are all part of the larger whole.”

Investing in Basin Businesses

Giving local businesses a boost to meet demand

Starting, purchasing or growing a business often requires financial support. Like other traditional lenders, the Trust welcomes smart investment opportunities—like these two examples.


Co-owned by Dr. Amber Robinson and Jason Schroeder, the Nakusp Veterinary Clinic aims to be a place of low stress for animals. Sure, they may have to endure the odd needle, but there are also yummy treats, stress-relieving pheromones and the occasional refrain of relaxing classical music. “This means a great deal to us as business owners and how we want to practise medicine here,” says Robinson.

The clinic also means a great deal to the people of the community—if Robinson and Schroeder hadn’t stepped in as the previous vets retired, pet owners might have faced long drives to the nearest vet.

The couple has been treating pets “fear-free” in Nakusp since June 2018. Before that, they and their three children lived in Victoria, where Robinson also worked as a vet. But when Schroeder lost his job as a software developer, it was time to consider “how to run life differently,” he says.

By chance, they heard the previous vets in Nakusp were set to retire. Unfortunately, though, the couple had a hard time securing financing to set up a new clinic. That is, until they received a loan from the Trust.

Now, Schroeder concentrates on the business side of things while Robinson offers a range of veterinary services, primarily to cats and dogs. Aided by the occasional locum vet, they’ve had a constant flow of clients right from the get-go.

They’ve also been supported by a team of nearly half a dozen staff members. “They’ve been learning a lot,” says Robinson, and some even plan to do additional training. “That’s part of our objective when running a business,” she says: not only to provide a service and make an income, but to build the skills of people in the community.

As for life in Nakusp, the family hasn’t had much time to explore the area yet—a by-product of living on top of where they work. “From that particular side, we’re still new here,” says Schroeder. “We’ve barely finished unpacking.”


In addition to the Creston Valley’s vineyards, wineries and orchards, there’s another type of agriculture-based business making a name for itself beyond the beautiful, fertile valley. PR Forage Co. Ltd. farms more than 2,550 acres to produce timothy hay for export to Japan.

With few local buyers that are already well supplied, selling to faraway markets is a win for the business and for the region, as it brings in outside money to support the local economy. During its busiest season, PR Forage also employs up to 16 people full-time, who prepare the shipments that average 26 metric tonnes.

“We bought the farm from Wynndel Box and Lumber in 2014,” says owner James Kemp. “Timothy had been grown on that property for the seed industry for some time. The owners had a relationship with Columbia Basin Trust, and the Trust was ready and willing to provide our financing.”

Kemp says that once he got into the hay production business, he realized that if he contracted out the processing and transport, his profits would be minimal. He needed more equipment and higher production without a crippling increase in cost.

“In partnership with the Lower Kootenay Band, we invested in our own custom hay press,” Kemp says. “We partner with LKB and profit-share with them on the hay press production. We also purchased four trucks for our own use.”

PR Forage also leases 1,500 acres of farmland from the Lower Kootenay Band (also known as Yaqan Nuʔkiy) for timothy hay production, plus gets timothy hay from other Creston Valley farmers who lease land from the band. “The partnership with LKB began in 2007,” says Kemp. “Without their continued support, we would have a very tough time staying viable.

“As Indigenous people, the Lower Kootenay Band puts an emphasis on land stewardship, and they like the lower environmental impact of our operation. Timothy is only re-seeded every five years on average, and has a relatively low fertilizer and chemical input compared to some other annual crops.

Together, PR Forage, the Lower Kootenay Band and the Trust are ensuring another successful, sustainable agri-business in the Creston Valley.

Two-way benefits

The Trust invests in Basin businesses to help them be successful and make an economic difference in the region. It also invests in them to generate the revenues it needs to fund its programs and services, alongside its investments in power projects, market securities and real estate.

Playing in the Basin

Kids are getting active and getting support to lead healthy lifestyles through the Trust’s Basin PLAYS (Physical Literacy and Youth Sport) initiative. Here are some of the activities:


In Ymir, the community noticed youth wanting to play more court sports outside—but that meant many were playing in the streets. A new multipurpose court gives them a safer place to play sports like basketball and volleyball, right next to the skatepark.


There was mud, leaping, crawling and laughter. At Rossland Summit School, leadership students designed and built a mud obstacle course. Other students then eagerly started training to tackle it, getting fit so they could use their strength, endurance and physical literacy skills to conquer the challenging route.


Before, the Cranbrook Lacrosse Association was bringing in referees from elsewhere. Now, it has trained and certified 10 referees of its own, giving local youth the opportunity to play the sport at various levels. In total, 67 training grants have helped groups throughout the Basin accredit coaches and officials.