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Q&A: Cheri Kemp-Kinnear

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 17/01) - The city's community economic development officer has been responsible for the creation of city walking and snowmobile trails.

This February, Cheri Kemp-Kinnear was appointed community economic development officer for Iqaluit. In an interview with News/North, she talks about her job, herself and influencing Iqaluit's future.

NNSL Photo
Cheri Kemp-Kinnear

First of all can you just give me an idea of what your current job entails?

As community economic development officer for Iqaluit, my responsibilities are two-fold. I am responsible for delivering the community economic development strategy that was developed for this city. It includes things like walking trails, snowmobile trails, increasing the number of festivals and events here in town, building an outdoor marketplace and the establishment of this office, obviously, because there's never been an economic development officer for the city. That other side of it is economic development, things like helping businesspeople get started, helping existing businesses expand or move into new areas.

Which do you enjoy more?

I like them both, but they really have different roles. Working to develop things in the community is interesting, but it's a long duration before you get to see something happen. As the city is getting gelled in its city status, I'm also now the communications manager for the city, so I'm doing newsletters and maps and brochures and marketing.

So you're wearing three hats?

Sort of three hats, yeah.

You have spent a lot of time in the tourism-related industry ... has that experience given you some ideas as to what you want to pursue in this position? Were there frustrations you had that you can now try to solve?

No. The community economic development strategy that was produced for the city tells me what I'm supposed to do. Those projects are not one-year things, most of them. Walking trails take two to three, maybe up to five years of funding. Same with the snowmobile trails. You don't build it once and that's all there is to it. You have to maintain it, you have to upgrade it. And the development of Nunavut Square -- it's going to take years to have that completed.

The beautification of the city, that's kind of a tourism side to things -- putting up signs, doing maps, doing brochures, getting out there doing some marketing, convincing people to come here. Living here, you know, there's things you would like to see happen in the city but that doesn't mean necessarily that you can do them. There's got to be a budget within the city to do it. There's got to be an interest from city council that they want those things to happen.

Do you have any personal objectives that you could possibly see putting through?

Not specifically, no. There are tourism things and business things that I would like to see happen and certainly I can encourage that through my position. I think a performing arts centre has value, I think it could be combined with other things that have better value, but we just don't have the capital dollars to build it. And Nunavut Square. To me, that's a big deal. I would love to see that happen, and I certainly have my own ideas of what it should be. But without council support and community support, I can't just do it.

Iqaluit has a bit of a frontier town feel to it. When you're done with it, will it retain that look?

The downtown area needs a lot of work. It should be cleaner looking. It should have more signs, and we're not talking neon flashing signs, but signage so that you know this is city hall because there's a sign out front.

Iqaluit is still going to be small. It looks different than it did when I came here in 1984, but it doesn't look that much different. I don't see it changing a lot more other than it becoming clean, tidy, more orderly. You're not going to have boardwalks for people to walk on or big outdoor stages, because I don't think that's what the community wants. It's still an arctic community. It has to live through the weather, has to live through snowmobiles trotting through it all winter.

There are limits to what you can do realistically, but there's a fairly wide-open space in coming up with things that would make people more proud of the place. Iqaluit was never a place for people to live. They came here to work for the military or to trade with the Hudson's Bay Company. This wasn't anybody's home. Now you have to begin to develop that "this is my home and I want to be proud of it, I want it to look nice." You see that, I think, in the increase in homeownership. That will change how it looks, too. I don't think it will ever get to a citified looking place. It will still be frontier to a point.

Iqaluit is growing a lot. Do you have any goals for the way business develops here?

One is we have to have the municipal infrastructure. In lands and planning, you've got to know where you're going to put these businesses and you've got to have an industrial section. You've got to have different sections of town that have zoning that allows home-based businesses or small enterprise. Through economic development, I have to be able to provide potential investors, potential entrepreneurs with the kind of information that they would need to have: how many cars and houses are there in town, what are the age groups, how many are working, what's the education.

And then, this whole street naming process that we're going through. Street names are done, and we have to get them on a map. Once we get the map completed with the names completed we have to produce a new map so again the public and visitors have that information. Then we have to go from naming the streets to numbering the houses on the streets.

That's going to drive the cab drivers crazy.

I expect so. But it will help. The basis for bringing that on stream was to help with emergency services. We can't get someone to a house fast enough if you don't have a clue where the house is. It will improve immensely the response time for both fire trucks and police and ambulances to get to these houses.

You must be learning a lot of new stuff.

Yes, with this whole house numbering. There are standards across Canada that you start numbering at the south end or an east end of the street. Well, that's based on a city that's square, and we're not. So we're trying to move the map and angle things to get the numbers right.

You have to have signs in so many languages and you have to be able to pronounce it. We got a lot of really interesting names, but you couldn't pronounce some of them. That's fine if 90 per cent of the population spoke the right dialect of Inuktitut fluently, but that isn't the case. So they have to be pronounceable by sort of the ordinary guy on the street. And then we also had to have some logic to it. We put animals in one area, tools in one area, etc.

Will there be numbered streets?

No, no numbers. They're all interesting names: Food and plants, clothes and tools, animals and boats.

What would it take to change downtown?

A lot of money. You would have to pave everything. Get the walking trails in place -- that would make some big changes right there. And probably ripping up some of the old buildings. You don't want to build a whole bunch of apartment blocks. The Frobisher Inn, eight-storey, six-storey, you don't want a whole lot of those things. You want to keep things to a reasonable height so you can still get a view of the bay.

I suppose Iqaluit is a land of opportunity for somebody with your abilities and your interests.

There's a lot of opportunity for a lot of people, but there's so much to be done and everything seems to have to happen really, really fast. It tends to really wear you down, and you need breaks because there is so much happening so fast. You don't really end up with a lot of time to sort of sit and think about things as much as maybe you either should or would like to in some areas. You kind of have to really move it along to get it done.

Did you ever imagine yourself in the North?

Probably not, but I've never really had an interest to leave since I got here. My kids make noises they'd like to leave from time to time, but this is their home. They've been here since they were one and five. I came from a farm community in the middle of nowhere which was smaller than Iqaluit. I like the people. I don't have any real interest in going anywhere else.