CRANBROOK, British Columbia — The bar and lobby were where the classrooms were, the second floor had living quarters for the priests and nuns. The third floor, with the slanted ceilings and lookout window at the end of the hall, was where the students lived.
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One part luxury hotel, one part history lesson, the St. Eugene Mission Resort is a must-see among the funky towns and ski resorts along the Powder Highway in southeast British Columbia.
"It has quite an interesting history," Wendy Van Puymbroeck, the resort's director of sales and marketing.
The St. Eugene Mission was built in 1910 as the first comprehensive Indian "Industrial and Residential" school built in the Canadian west. For 60 years, it served as a school to 5,000 students from the Okanagan, Shuswap, Blackfoot and Ktunaxa nations, assimilating them — not so subtly at times — into western society.
The school closed in 1970 after the Canadian government changed policies to encourage First Nation children to be publicly educated. Several former students, wanting to erase memories of the place, pushed for the building to be destroyed.
Instead, it became a resort — after a failed renovation project and sitting vacant for 20 years — providing a source of income, employment and pride for the people of the Ktunaxa (k-too-nah-ha) Nation.
Located near Cranbrook and surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, the St. Eugene has a golf course, a casino, 125 rooms, four restaurants and plenty of nearby outdoor activities, including Kimberley Alpine Resort just 20 minutes up the road.
The main building, where the school once was, has 25 luxury rooms and is decorated with paintings and artifacts from the Ktunaxa Nation. There's an interpretive center within the hotel, a teepee and old Indian graveyard in back, and a golf pro shop in the nation's former barn.
It's history with a touch of class.
"It's a good thing they didn't tear it down," Puymbroeck said.
If you go to St. Eugene
777 Mission Road, Cranbrook, British Columbia; www.steugene.ca/ or 250-420-2000. Sample package: $116 U.S. $144 Canadian for two includes accommodations, transportation from Cranbrook, tour of the resort, and Ktunaxa storytelling with tea and bison stew over a fire.
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