What to do when one sister outgrows the other?
That is the question about the future of a 20-plus year relationship between Trail and its twin town of Tsukui, Japan.
The bond between the two municipalities was originally established in 1991, at a time when the cities were closer in population and had similar governance.
The relationship changed somewhat after Tsukui, along with the town of Sagamiko, merged into the metropolis of Sagamihara in 2006, which currently has a populace nearing 725,000 people.
The status of future relations was brought to the city’s table earlier this month following a request from the Japanese city that Trail consider developing a sports exchange program where visitors would be accommodated in a hostel or hotel, and not placed with host families.
Specifically, Sagamihara asked the city to think about sending swim club youth for a one-week visit to experience international swimming competitions alongside athletes from Toronto and Wuxi, China.
Additionally, Trail was requested to host a delegation of staff (no elected officials) from Sagamihara in February for delivery of a congratulatory message to city council in support of the youth sports exchange program.
“Something has been lost in this relationship,” said Trail Mayor Mike Martin. “It bothers me that this has almost become an administrative matter as opposed to a strong relationship being developed between two communities. This could be a good time to sit back and have a look at the whole twinning initiative from a cultural perspective.”
While council members agreed to pass the swimming proposal to both the Trail Stingrays and the TRAX Swim Club to determine the level of interest, Coun. Lisa Pasin requested clarity about costs and the city’s level of sponsorship.
“We need a clear outline about what costs would be picked up by the host family and what cost would be picked up by the swimmers and potentially city hall,” said Pasin. “I think the timeline (one week) they set out is unrealistic. To be travelling that far for three or four days of interaction and at that cost, it’s a bit tight.”
The city’s policy is that they would be on the hook for travel costs and hosted in a municipal hostel or housing, explained David Perehudoff, Trail’s chief administrative officer. “They would be covered in that respect, but definitely it would cost several thousand dollars for any one individual to go there.”
A final decision on whether or not to enter into further discussions for a new sport-based program with Sagamihara will be made in the new year following responses from the two Trail swim clubs.
However, council agreed to respectfully deny the Japanese city’s request for Trail to host them in February and send the matter to the Twinning Committee to further assess any ongoing relationship.
Coun. Sandy Santori, chair of the Dec. 15 governance meeting conceded the previous student exchange program had been a valuable experience for students, but since its demise, the program is no longer what is was intended to be.
“We would be better off finding another community that’s more consistent with what we have here,” he said. “And start a cultural program for the kids as opposed to continuing this.”
Tsukui was originally picked because it was listed as a small town by Japanese standards (about 29,000 people) and is situated along a waterway with a number of bridges crossing the lake and river valley.
The twinning program was described as a friendship that fostered cultural diversity and promoted economic opportunities during resident exchanges, when the host city looked after the visitors in a home-type setting.