Four years ago, there was a Kamloops neighbourhood with a lengthy history, three schools, two historic cemeteries and a performing arts theatre but no name and no community association.
This instalment of Neighbourhoods features Sagebrush, a neighbourhood that stood up for itself and, in the process, created a stronger sense of identity and accomplishment.
“Yes, people almost know where we are,” said Carol Kennell, secretary of Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association.
Sagebrush is the new name for what was formerly referred to as South Kamloops, a residential area that originated in the first half of the 20th century and which grew upward from Columbia Street in the 1950s and ’60s.
In 2011, the City wanted to rezone a parcel of green space off Cowan Street with the prospect of accommodating more affordable housing. Adjacent to the play field at South Kamloops secondary, the property featured a pair of tennis courts built by the Downtown Rotary Club in the 1960s, but the courts were neglected in recent years to the point where they didn’t seem to serve its original purpose.
What the City saw as a vacant lot, nearby residents saw as an opportunity to improve the quality of life. They weren’t opposed to infill or subsidized housing, but once green space is gone, it’s generally gone forever, particularly in a growing city.
“I grew up here and the tennis courts have always been there,” said Bryan Sterome. “Gradually it fell apart.”
“A lot of people thought it was part of the school yard,” said Don Ferguson.
A small group of residents got together, mounted a petition and tried to get City council to change its mind on the rezoning. They had a fight on their hands, though. Kennel noted that there were only three green spaces but no established parks in the neighbourhood.
“It was a prime, flat green space that got us together,” she recalled.
While it appeared forgotten and unused, neighbours knew that kids still played in the green space. Similar parcels of land, vacant lots, were once common in the city. Gradually they disappeared through infill developments that take advantage of existing services to develop housing. The neighbours did their homework, documenting usage of the green space for a few weeks to build their case.
Ultimately they were successful and persuaded council to let the parcel not only remain as green space but to undergo improvements. Cowan Park stands today as an example of a successful grassroots initiative, a recreational asset to the community. The tennis courts have been restored and a basketball court added on one side. Picnic tables have been incorporate and gradual improvements, such as parking and a paved pathway, are continuing.
“Patiently waiting and going through the process actually paid off,” Kennell said.
While the neighbourhood association was formed to counter the City’s plans, the group had the help of Ben Chobater, the City’s community development co-ordinator, to get organized. They knew they needed a name since South Kamloops was too vague. One suggestion was to name the area after the first resident to settle there, but that wouldn’t have given them a recognizable name, either.
They invited suggestions from residents, picked the Top 5 names and had a vote within the association. That’s how Sagebrush was selected, based on the citywide recognition of Sagebrush Theatre, which for decades has had the distinction of being the largest fine arts theatre in Kamloops.
The City hasn’t formally adopted Sagebrush for the neighbourhood, but welcomed the residents’ initiative. The idea is to let the name sink in, and if it acquires common usage it will eventually gain formal acknowledgement.
Having accomplished their first goal, the association has remained active with about 10 people gathering every third Thursday. There are more than 100 members in all.
“I think we have the largest membership and the youngest association,” Kennell said.
Last weekend they held a community garage sale in Cowan Park, a fitting location to get together. There are no pressing issues at the moment, but Kennell points to ongoing concern over plans for additional housing development at the top of Ninth Avenue.
Since all three schools — Lloyd George, South Kamloops and Beattie School of the Arts (former John Peterson) — are “destination schools” that bring students from all over, traffic congestion at peak hours can be a problem. Sixth Avenue backs up and therefore, with additional housing, congestion will only increase. The association sees a need for another controlled intersection to improve flow. Members would also like to see improved trails connecting with Peterson Creek Park.
More significantly, the neighbourhood today not only has a name, it has a voice.