‘Once in a lifetime economic opportunity’ — Gitxaała Nation purchases Crest Hotel

The Gitxaała Enterprises Corporation, the business entity of the Gitxaała Nation, recently purchased the Crest Waterfront Hotel which overlooks Prince Rupert Harbour. 

“I’m so proud that when our kids come into the harbour there, they’re going to dock at the ferry and look up and see the Crest Hotel and know that it’s an entity belonging to the Gitxaała Nation,” says Lou Ga Gwelks Linda Innes, elected Chief Councillor of the Gitxaała Nation. “I’m really proud of that.”

“The vision of the development corporation is to contribute to the overall growth and sustainability of the Gitxaała Nation by working with local business and industry and to create multigenerational wealth,” says Chief Innes. 

The Gitxaała Enterprises Corporation (GECO) is an evolution of the economic development efforts of the Nation. Michael Uehara, CEO of GECO since its inception two years ago, says GECO’s Board of Directors includes Chief Councillor Innes as the Chair of the Board, and other Board members who are independent. 

GECO also has a Hereditary Advisory Committee, the landholders through traditional Gitxaała governance, who are aware of the business and developments of the Corporation and “anything that will impact the territory,” Chief Innes adds. “They’re definitely informed and a part of the purchase of the Crest Hotel.”

The logo of the Gitxaała Enterprise Corporation was done by Anabel Hill, a member of the Nation. It depicts a jar of salmon, Chief Innes says, which represents the wealth of the community.

“Our rights and responsibilities as Gitxaała people include the ocean, and much of our wealth stems from the salmon and other foods the ocean provides.”

Crest Hotel
Photo provided by Mary Denton, GECO Director of Communications
Crest Hotel
Photo provided by Mary Denton, GECO Director of Communications

‘Get the best at the Crest’

GECO takes advantage of opportunities on behalf of the Nation, Uehara says. While there’s independence in the operation itself, there’s no external ownership — 100 percent of GECO is owned by the Gitxaała Nation. GECO conducted strategic planning with the Gitxaała Nation two years ago. The corporation’s strategic plan had to be “ground-truthed” by the Nation, Uehara explains, so they conducted interviews and surveys to assess the interests of the Nation in developing the economic portfolio. Hospitality and tourism were identified as high interests, he says.

“When you look at Prince Rupert, the Crest Hotel is singular. If you’re going to be involved in tourism and hospitality in Prince Rupert, you quite naturally have an interest in the Crest Hotel,” says Uehara. “Anyone around Rupert or in Rupert, no matter where they’re from, who they are, when they think of a special event or meeting, the Crest hotel is the place to do it.”

For the past 61 and a half years, the Crest hotel has been owned and operated by a family who has fondly called themselves “Crest Hotel Family” — Tina and Steve Smith for 36 of those years and Scott Farwell for the past 22 years. 

“We are excited and delighted to welcome our new owners, who share our sense of community and understand the vision for quality and service we have strived for,” says previous owner Steve Smith. “We are also pleased with Gitxaała Enterprises owning this icon, it will serve as a beacon of proof as to their commitment to Prince Rupert and the entire North Coast that you will continue to ‘Get the Best at the Crest.’”

“We celebrate the transition in ownership,” says previous owner Tina Smith. “We know the tradition of heartfelt, genuine hospitality and quality will continue with our new owners at the helm and our team of professionals firmly in place.”

Meeting the staff at the hotel, Chief Innes said she was moved by the positive energy she felt and the connection she witnessed. 

“It’s a diverse organization, but they all care about each other. Some of the employees have been there for decades, which speaks a lot to the culture at the Crest,” she says. “I’d like to capture and cultivate more of that throughout our entire organization.”

The Crest Hotel management, staff and previous owners worked hard to develop the positive reputation of the Crest Hotel and Chief Innes says she looks forward to working with her Nation to “weave their story into the Crest story.”

“That will be the legacy of the city of Prince Rupert, for Gitxaała Nation, for the Gitxaała Enterprise. And I’m so proud of that. I can see the alignment of our vision, strategic plans and priorities — it has all aligned and worked out,” Chief Innes says. “I look forward to inviting other First Nations to come and do their business at the Crest Hotel.”

‘Excellent people working together’

The Gitxaała Nation recently launched a legal challenge to BC’s mineral claim tenure process, which they say violates their rights under Gitxaała and Canadian laws. Straight after getting back to their territory, the Nation’s leadership attended a private event welcoming home a cherished treasure, part of a house pole they retrieved from a Harvard museum.

Chief Innes, who has been Chief Councillor for the past four years,  jokes that there’s not much time for celebration, as the work continues.

“When it comes to our Title and Rights, whether proven or not, we should be the beneficiaries, and that’s what we’re seeking through our economic opportunities,” she says. “After we restructured our development corporation and GECO came in, they did a lot of great work using their expertise and getting the right people involved to help strategize and create a vision with the Nation.”

Uehara says the changes he’s witnessed and been a part of “weren’t afoot” in the same way before, but really came to fruition in the last four years.

“We have a lot of excellent people working together, but this is also a once in a lifetime leader,” Uehara says, referring to Chief Innes. “She’s a once in a generation politician. And it’s fitting, because right now we have a once in a generation economic opportunity.”

The purchase of the Crest Hotel was the result of a synergy of many things coming together in the right way, he says, and “just the beginning” of what GECO will be involved in.

“Watch Gitxaała, there’s going to be more news to report,” Uehara says. “There’s some great things happening, so keep an eye on us.”