Local art and culture accents new hotel

When Garry Oker received a call from Fareed Momen, one of the owners of Fort St. John’s newest hotel, what was supposed to be a 15-minute coffee and chat about art turned into a two-hour conversation about culture, history, and humanity.

“We just talked about people and how cultures are formed and developed from that, and how we can be able to support that,” Oker said at the grand opening of the Best Western Plus Chateau Fort St. John on Jan. 26.

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“Obviously, we’re very interested in arts and culture, and he wants his business to represent that. I thought, ‘Wow, finally we have someone that can be able to sit here and share that.’

“There were lots of things we talked about. But the main thing, he wanted to engage the local culture and make it part of his business,” he said.

And so, Oker set off to create a mural for Momen and his new hotel, unveiling a seven foot by nine foot mixed media work titled Dream Between Worlds, which hangs above the hotel’s lobby.

The painting, a combination of chalk and acrylic paints, and markers on a truck canvas tied to a tree-stalk frame, reflects the dreaming traditions of local First Nations, Oker said.

At the left, a dreamer looks between two worlds—his, where animals and his people share the land and celebrate in ceremony; and the dreamworld where the Thunderbird lives, where Oker says all things are possible through imagination.

“Of course, a hotel, a place to sleep, is all about dreams,” said Oker.

“We want to encourage people to have positive dreams and to encourage them to look back in their own history and culture. And then when they come here, they know this place is a blessed place and their dreams will come true.”

Fareed Momen with one of local photographer Darcy Shawchek's photos, which hang in the new Best Western hotel in Fort St. John. - Darcy Shawchek

Having local art grace the walls of the 123-room hotel was important, Momen said.

Not only did Momen commission Oker for his painting, he selected iconic local photographer Darcy Shawchek to provide photography for hotel’s common rooms and hallways. He managed to convince Best Western executives to grant him an exemption to showcase the local art.

“We wanted to represent the city and the community,” Momen said.

“I was amazed with the city. I didn’t even know the city had such beautiful places close by.”

Shawchek, who writes about photography for the Alaska Highway News, now has his works hanging in three local hotels, including the Northern Grand and Hilton’s Home2 Suites, as well as Century 21’s new office.

“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do,” Shawchek said. “It feels great knowing that I’ve accomplished something and it is appreciated. Seeing my photos on the walls of such great buildings is beyond exciting.”

The Best Western, at 86 Street and 85 Avenue, includes six accessible rooms for those with disabilities, as well as gym and pool facilities for travellers, Momen said.

The hotel still has some final touches that are being worked on, including a 3,500 square-foot restaurant that Momen says will be serving up Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

“We’re feeling really good,” he said. “We’re excited about this city, and I think the city has good momentum that’s coming in.”


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