On Friday evenings in downtown Nelson, B.C., dozens of young Japanese men and women cruise the main street in shiny new cars—symbols of a recent boost to a sagging economy. The city of 8,100 was devastated by the recession of the early 1980s: Nelson’s only sawmill closed in 1984, while the B.C. telephone company laid off 100 employees and CP Rail relocated its division headquarters to Revelstoke. At the same time, the province’s Social Credit government closed down David Thompson University Centre. But now, as the result of a joint Japanese-Canadian venture, the campus is back in business. Renamed the Canadian International College (CIC), the school opened its doors on April 1 to 278 Japanese students who will pay $27,000 over two years to acquire the degree of fluency in English that most Japanese businesses now consider essential.
The CIC also stands as a dramatic vindication of the city’s refusal to let the campus remain empty. After the government closed the school, Nelson Mayor Gerald Rotering persuaded city council in 1986 to buy it from the province for $1. But local businessmen were able to convince Kazuyuki Takase, owner of the successful Cheery Institute of English Language in Japan, to open a school in Nelson. Takase joined the Canadians, who held a 40year lease on the 10-acre campus, and together they pumped $2 million into renovations.
Now, the students, who range in age from
about 18 to 22, are taking courses in English, international business and environmental studies in the first of a two-year cultural immersion program. In the second year, they will be transferred to another college, scheduled to open in North Vancouver in April, 1989. Annual fees cover travel costs, tuition, room and board, and recreational activities.
The students say that they hope their studies will pay off at home. Tokyo pharmacist Yuka Shimomota, 24, who is studying conversational English and computer science at the CIC, says her improved skills will probably mean a better-paid job in a bigger hospital. Indeed, Vancouver-born Charles Tully, the English program director at the International Education Centre in Tokyo, concedes that training in English has become vital for advancement in the competitive Japanese workforce. Said Tully: “Now companies say, ‘We have someone who can deal with foreigners.’ ”
Merchants in Nelson have already felt the benefits of the influx of affluent young consumers, and 80 new full-time jobs have been created. A few townspeople say that they would like to see a university return to Nelson. But the majority of the city’s residents welcome the new school, which is expected to inject as much as $5 million annually into the local economy— breathing new life into the hard-hit community.
NORA UNDERWOOD with DEREK WOLFF in Vancouver and GEOFF ELLWAND in Tokyo
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.