From 1912 to 1970, the St. Eugene Mission housed a residential school for aboriginal children, one of numerous such schools across Canada where native students were separated from their families, language, and culture and required to study in English-language, church-run institutions. At its peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, St. Eugene, which is outside the city of Cranbrook, in eastern British Columbia, had more than 200 First Nations students living under its red roof.
Today, this former mission tells a more positive story. It’s now the St. Eugene Resort, a hotel, golf course, and casino that’s operated jointly by three First Nations communities. Here’s the scoop:
Guest Rooms and Amenities
Of the resort’s 125 guest rooms, the most interesting accommodations are the 25 units in the former Mission building, many of which were once student dormitories. There’s nothing spartan about the lodgings now, which have flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and free wi-fi.
The remainder of the guest rooms are in a newer adjacent lodge building. They have similar amenities, although they lack the historic charm of the Mission units.
Even if you’re not staying in the Mission building, take a walk through the hallways, where historic photos of the school, former students, and local First Nations residents line the brick walls.
Facilities and Services
On the lower level of the Mission building is the Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre, where you can learn more about the former school and about the Ktunaxa First Nation, known in English as the Kootenay, whose traditional territory extends across eastern British Columbia, east to Alberta and south into Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
In the Mission building, the casual Fisher Peak Lounge is open from late morning to late evening for drinks and pub meals. The more formal Purcell Grill serves breakfast and dinner; some dishes, like the smoked bison ribs, use traditional aboriginal ingredients. The Mission’s former chapel is now a banquet room.
If You Go
You don’t have to be interested in aboriginal culture to stay at St. Eugene Resort; many guests come just to golf or to gamble. Located in British Columbia’s East Kootenays region, it’s a convenient place to stop when you’re road-tripping between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies.
But if you’re curious about Canada’s First Nations heritage and the legacy of the residential schools, a stay at St. Eugene Resort gives you a small window into this complicated past.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario (now available in a brand new 2nd edition) and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. The Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia, in partnership with the Tartan Group, provided support for my stay at St. Eugene Resort.