Penticton’s sister city program with Ikeda on the ropes

City's longstanding relationship with Japanese community may be coming to an end

Penticton has the honour of having one of the oldest and most successful sister city relationships in Canada, but the long-lasting kinship with Ikeda, Japan, may be winding down.

“The last two delegations, trips that we attempted to organize, would have been 2012 or 2013, but they were both cancelled because we couldn’t get enough people to sign up,” said Bob Harvey, treasurer for the Penticton-Ikeda Sister City Society.

“It’s a shame that the interest seems to be dying a bit. But we’re getting older and there are the economic difficulties of the last few years, particularly in Japan.”

Harvey authored a letter to Penticton city council on behalf of the society, asking if the city remains committed to the sister city agreement signed with Ikeda in 1977.

“It is our perception that there is an apparent lack of interest in the program by Penticton city council,” the letter reads.

“We are considering all options for the future of the sister city society and it is very important to us to determine city council’s position.”

Without any successful Penticton-Ikeda exchanges since 2011, when a delegation from Ikeda visited, Harvey said the society had also got a bit out of touch with the city.

“That’s the main reason for sending the letter. We want to get them to recommit,” said Harvey.

The society does not receive funding from Penticton; the visits are financed by society members, but the city does host a civic dinner for incoming delegations, pay travel costs to Japan for city council delegates as well as for occasional gifts to Ikeda.

In addition to wanting to know if the city is still committed, the society wants to know if there is funding in the current budget to support the program and if a city councilor could be appointed to liaise with the society.

Harvey said they have been hearing similar concerns from their counterparts in Ikeda.

“The Japanese side has also cancelled a couple of trips, they have had similar problems,” said Harvey.

“We’ve been involved for a very long time. It is hard to get new interest and younger people to join the society.”

Lorna Dawkins, another society director, said their counterparts are also aging. And with economic problems all over the world, everyone is feeling financial pressures.

“I think it is the same on their side. It is a small town and they’re struggling. When we became sister cities in the ‘70s, we were pretty much the same size and there were so many similarities, it was really good,” said Dawkins.

“But Penticton has more than doubled and they have shrunk by a third.”

Like Penticton, Ikeda, a city in the Tokachi district of Hokkaido, sits in the middle of an agricultural area, with vineyards, wine production and similar landscapes.

Those similarities helped forge the early relationship, which Harvey said has been of great benefit to both cities.

“I believe the primary value is the cultural exchange we have,” said Harvey. “Over the years it has been a fantastic opportunity for many Penticton residents to travel to a small town in Japan and really meet Japanese people, see how they live and participate in some of their festivals.”

Another result of the relationship was the creation of the city’s Japanese Gardens, behind the Penticton Art Gallery. Dawkins said they sometimes come as a surprise for people.

“You see people go through and they are just so pleased to find it,” said Dawkins. “We get it on the maps and in the tourist books but locals still don’t know it’s there.”