Throughout his career, LaVerne Erickson has worn many hats. He has been called everything from an educator to a big idea man.
Visionary seems to fit very well.
Erickson has played a role in creating Rosebud School of the Arts, Rosebud Theatre, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, Chemainus Festival Theatre and Canadian Badlands. He is being honoured by Tourism Alberta.
It was announced this week that Erickson will be receiving the ALTO Ambassador Award for his contributions to the tourism industry. It will be presented in October at the 10th annual Travel Alberta Industry Conference at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
“It puts me at the top of the Alberta pile,” laughs Erickson. “You don’t plan to do it to get recognition. I like to think about it as nation building, if we all build better communities we would have a better country.”
Erickson has always seen the big picture right from the beginning, founding the Rosebud School in 1973. Rosebud Theatre was born in 1983, and using the same model, he went on to be a founding member of the Chemainus Festival Theatre on Vancouver Island in 1993. A year later, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play was created. It has blossomed into a national, if not international annual summer attraction.
“Simply put, Rosebud Theatre, Rosebud School of the Arts and many other arts and culture icons in the Alberta Badlands would not exist today without the vision, passion and tenacity of LaVerne Erickson,” says Bob Davis, executive director of Rosebud Theatre. “Through his unbridled enthusiasm and optimism, LaVerne has attracted support and cooperation for ideas and dreams that have influenced thousands of tourists in Alberta, building a legacy that will endure for generations to come.”
Erickson takes these great achievements in stride.
“I think the biggest challenge isn’t with the projects, the biggest challenge is with my personality, being a visionary,” he said. “When I see something that I think is possible, I really commit to it and am passionate about bringing it about. When I started these things, people didn’t believe me. In my mind, I see what I expect to come, but other people, when they see no physical proof of it, they think ‘there is a daydreamer.’
“We should have a lot of visions come about in our communities, but visionaries don’t play a role in our society anymore. Everything that comes about is because it fits in with some common bureaucratic structure, so having my personality makes me sort of an oddball.”
Davis recognizes Erickson’s skills.
“Like a true visionary, his energy, passion, cooperative spirit and innovative ideas create synergies that would not otherwise materialize,” said Davis. “LaVerne can see, feel and believe what might be possible. His favourite saying is ‘A rising tide lifts all ships’ – a phrase that inspires people to this day to continue the work he helped start.”
And he isn’t done yet. Erickson also became a founding member of the Canadian Badlands. His vision is to market the area as a tourism icon on par with the Canadian Rockies. It is now a limited non-profit corporation with more than 60 municipalities as members.
“Currently Canadian Badlands is Canada’s largest municipal tourism organization, so that is a huge achievement, but we are still limited to Alberta,” he said. “We have to expand into Saskatchewan and bring in the Badlands experiences that are just over the border.”
He wants to build Canadian Badlands into a financially sustainable and independent organization.
“Right now it is highly dependent on federal and provincial grants, and it would be nice to be in business for itself so instead of looking for grants, it could be giving out grants and turn into a financial engine. That is my vision, to turn it around so it is a growth engine for all the member communities that participate.”
A volunteer industry committee, which oversees the awards program, selects the ALTO Ambassador recipient.
“LaVerne is a visionary who has demonstrated how big ideas can make small towns in rural Alberta huge tourism destinations,” explains Emilia Hovorka, member of the Strategic Tourism Marketing Council and chair of the selection committee.