Naomi Nicholson’s dream to bring Indigenous tourism to the Alberni Valley was moving closer to reality when the coronavirus pandemic hit. She and her husband Ed had opened their first Indigenous-themed guest house in 2018. Their property, on the outskirts of Tseshaht First Nations reserve on Highway 4, already had a well-established wellness centre where Naomi offered holistic health services, but the plan was to bring in more housing and start holding cultural events to draw in tourists.
Everything changed in March 2020 when the pandemic shut down Nicholson’s business and her cash flow stopped. At the same time Ed was laid off at his job at the Paper Excellence mill and was unable to receive employment benefits due to a cyber attack which made employment records unavailable.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other benefits for business owners did not apply to them because they live on reserve. She called the Nuu-chah-nulth Development Corporation, which had financed their loan, and they were allowed to stop payments for a few months.
“We blew through all our savings in a couple months and then we actually ended up going to the Tseshaht First Nations food bank. And that was the first time in both of our lives.”
While Ed did get called back to work, Naomi found herself without a job, due to the recession that followed the pandemic.
“I knew that I could never get back the level of clientele that I had because the disposable income wasn’t there.”
She didn’t stay down for long, drawing on resources and practices that she has learned over the years.
“I’ve done a lot of counselling and I recommend it to everybody,” she said. She also subscribes to the practices of motivational speaker Jack Canfield and has a morning routine of finding inspiration through the lyrics of superstar singer Taylor Swift.
To bring in a little more revenue Naomi and Ed began seeking longer term rentals rather than tourists and rented a portion of the wellness centre out as office space to a tenant.
Naomi worked around the property and started researching tiny homes and securing funding and loans. The expansion at Chims Guest House is now complete, with three RV sites, guesthouse, studio suite and two tiny homes on the property.
The last two years has seen the indigenous experience “Chims Fest” held in August, an event that celebrates Indigenous culture, featuring song, dance, music, language, fashion and artisan wares. It is intended to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.
Naomi’s idea to attract Indigenous tourism to the area was triggered by a fieldwork opportunity she had as a student of Vancouver Island University. She travelled to a Polynesian cultural centre in Hawaii that was attracting visitors from all around the world and she was struck by the thought that this could be replicated back home. She completed a Bachelor of Tourism Management, graduated with honours and never lost sight of that dream.
“I had a dream of what this property could be, however it happening was insane! I still just pinch myself it happened and it’s real.”
Alberni ValleyIndigenous tourismInternational Women's DayPort Alberni