Tourism Ambassador for Prince Rupert, B.C.
A tireless ambassador for Prince Rupert for over 70 years, Walter Smith has had seen “B.C.’s northern city” grow from a village of some 6,000 accessible only by sea or rail to an easily accessible and sought-after tourism destination.
Walter began volunteering with community organizations as a teen and started working at what came to be known as William F. Stone Men’s Wear in 1933. He continued to volunteer with several community groups and organized a series of civic concerts to raise funds for the Red Cross. By 1939, he was called to active duty and served six years with the Royal Canadian Navy. Walter was discharged in 1945 when he married and returned to Prince Rupert.
During the war, Prince Rupert’s population grew to 25,000, but was now shrinking back to its pre-war size as troops headed back home. Walter and his colleagues saw tourism as a way to hold on to a portion of the booming war-years economy.
He was a leader among a long list of dedicated volunteers who spent thousands of hours developing the Museum of Northern B.C.; forging partnerships that brought the Alaska State Ferry to Prince Rupert in 1963; establishing boat launches and campgrounds, launching the first advertising campaigns in increasingly broader markets; and, building the early Visitors’ Bureau into the strong DMO that is Tourism Prince Rupert today.
Walter was the voice of northern B.C. through a critical era in development for the provincial tourism sector. He was present for the creation of Beautiful British Columbia magazine in 1959 and the founding of BC Ferries. In fact, he helped plan festivities around the inaugural sailings of both the Queen of Prince Rupert in 1966 and the Alaskan ferry Wickersham in 1968.
In 1961, Walter, along with John Grey of Kitimat, was appointed to represent Northern BC from Japer to Haida Gwaii on the provincial government’s Tourism Committee. He served on this committee until his retirement from business in 1974. Through his lobbying efforts during these years, Walter influenced many important developments including the establishment of northern parks, the early development of K’san Historical Village, wharf facility upgrades at Cow Bay, creation of the Prince Rupert Airport, and a paved highway stretching from Prince Rupert to Prince George.
After his retirement, Walter and his wife split their time between Prince Rupert and Victoria. They travelled the world together for some 25 years, keeping Northern B.C. close to their hearts. Always ready to promote the area, Walter often presented Prince Rupert medallions and pins to dignitaries and associates on his travels.
Over the years, Walter has received recognition for his hard work and commitment to the community from the city, province and the State of Alaska. He has been honoured with a Paul Harris Fellowship Award for “promoting a better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world” and the 2008 William Van Horne Visionary Award from Tourism Vancouver for his leadership and development of tourism in B.C. In 2007, he was both the inspiration for and inaugural recipient of the Walter Smith Visionary Award for Northern BC.
At 92, Walter continues to be an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and a tourism ambassador for Prince Rupert. In May 2008, he was greeting the season’s first cruise ship passengers and inviting them to enjoy his fair city.