After 14-years of screening movies at the Royal Theatre in downtown Trail, owners Jason and Lisa Milne considered selling the heritage landmark following a series of traumatic experiences in recent months.
In October, a 39-year-old man was released from RCMP custody for impersonating a doctor and causing a disturbance at the hospital in Trail.
A week later, he was attempting to climb down a pole from the roof of the Royal Theatre, and electrocuted himself and died.
Jason and Lisa, while on a holiday, were called and told to check out their security cameras from their phones, and witnessed the man falling from the building and the subsequent body bag.
“Being a firefighter it kind of went over my head a little bit,” said Jason, a member of the Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire and Rescue. “But Lisa didn’t sign up for that. It wasn’t fair for her to see that and the way it all unfolded.”
Three days after that incident, another man broke into the theatre after hours armed with a spear and smashed everything in sight.
“He didn’t even steal a damn chocolate bar, he just vandalized everything.”
Days later, another individual tried to get in without paying, and verbally abused Lisa, who feared for her safety when trying to get the man to leave.
“At this point, this is a 14-year investment, and we love it dearly, but at what point do we consider life-safety for yourself?” said Jason. “I can’t afford to lose you (Lisa) and I felt there was a life-safety concern for staff and for our patrons.
“That’s where the conversation led, that maybe it’s time we have a look at selling.”
Like many residents and business owners, past events have affected the couple physically, mentally, and financially.
Trail has seen a growing number of unhoused individuals dealing with substance abuse and mental illness, and while most residents can sympathize, the problem is profoundly impacting downtown residences and businesses. But what worries Lisa Milne most is the dramatic surge since COVID.
“They’ve gotten worse fast,” said Lisa. “It’s out of control and scary for myself and my staff.”
Trail council heard from BC Housing representative Tyler Baker and Nanette Drobot at its meeting on Monday (Nov. 28), and received an update on their search for a full-time shelter.
Baker confirmed that BC Housing is regularly meeting with municipal staff in search for a new location to house the Trail shelter, but have yet to find a viable substitute outside of downtown. The existing shelter, which now has 18 beds, is currently operating under a one-year extension with a temporary use permit.
Drobot affirmed Milne’s concerns over the rapid growth of homeless in Trail and the dire need for more supports.
“This is not news to any of you, you see it in your streets, it’s been something that’s been quite astonishing in the Kootenay area, specifically in Trail, since COVID,” Drobot told council. “Previously, I think Trail did (have) six beds routinely, and it was done from November to the end of March, and it was a 12 hour operation.
“Then COVID hit and you see this resurgence, this increase all throughout Trail, Castlegar, Nelson and Cranbrook.”
According to the province, supports are coming as Premier David Eby and the B.C. government recently unveiled the Safer Communities Action Plan, which will create a repeat violent offender coordinated response team consisting of police, prosecutors, and probation officers.
The province said it will also expand mental-health crisis response teams into more communities “so police can focus on crime, and people in crisis are met early on by healthcare workers and community members.”
Locally, business owners have been told they can help themselves by buttoning up their buildings by removing alcoves or sheltered areas, installing security cameras and lighting, and keeping a line of communication open with RCMP, nurses and support workers from Community Development Services.
Recent letters to the editor, phone calls and visits from countless residents, including the mayor and members of city council, clearly show wide-spread support for the Milnes.
“The community has basically said, ‘Please, please don’t sell,” said Lisa. “That has really helped us re-look at this decision, and say okay maybe we have some solutions coming on to help improve downtown.
“I don’t know exactly what it is, but I feel Trail’s civic pride, and I saw that for example when we played Trophy Town and the community came out and were just in love with everything about Trail.”
Milne says if that civic pride can be harnessed into one voice and put it in a letter, or an email straight to city hall with its new council, then Trail’s elected officials can be armed with that united message to take to BC Housing, Interior Health, MLAs, and say, “This is really a serious problem.”
“We need to make sure they have the facts and concerns of our citizens, business owners, and ultimately the vulnerable,” Lisa shares.
“These are real people, and that is the hardest, that really got to me after seeing this fellow die. He was somebody’s kid, somebody’s somebody.
“These are people and we are failing them and in turn it’s failing the whole downtown core.”
During COVID, while many businesses were shut down and idle, the Milnes made a massive investment and transformed the Royal Theatre, installing a new state-of-the-art 3-D screen, HVAC system, large reclining chairs, renovated washrooms and foyer, and created arguably the best movie experience in its 100-year history.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears from Lisa and I, and so much passion for it, we don’t want to lose it,” added Jason. “But like I said there’s that point, life-safety is critical.
“If it wasn’t for the patrons, the community, we’d be gone.”