- Published on Thursday, 12 December 2013 18:03 12 December 2013
- Written by TERA SWANSON TERA SWANSON
At 26, this role brings a new challenge — finding another job
On any weekend trip out to Banff, Atlta., your first personal interaction will likely be with one of the many service industry workers that comprise the backbone of the mountain town's tourism industry.
This 18 to 30-year-old demographic makes up the largest percentage of Banff's fluid population, yet the youngest member of town council previous to the most recent election was in his 30s.
Which is why Corrie DiManno, a 26-year-old Banff local, decided to run in the October 2013 town election.
And with a total of 1,310 votes, not only was she elected as the youngest town councillor Banff has seen, she came in just six votes behind the leading number of votes to Stavros Karlos, a Banff local who has served on council since 2007. Voters elected a total of six town councillors out of 10 running candidates.
"It'll be a new experience, but hopefully it will bridge a gap between that demographic and town council," DiManno said. "Because they're very much a part of this community as anyone else."
As we sit nursing our chai lattes in the warmth of the Wild Flour Bakery, one of Banff's community social hubs, she tells me about her thoughts and experiences of running for town council. She pulls a strand of long brown hair from her face, and dips the frothy teabag in thoughtful contemplation before offering a response to the multifaceted question of why she decided to run.
"I just genuinely love this place," she answers sentimentally.. "And right away you have a common bond with anyone who has concerns with anything, there's your common ground — that you both want Banff to be a good place to live and a good place for visitors to come to."
This love for Banff and her connection to those in the community becomes quickly apparent, as she waves to every other bundled-up person through the frosted windows as they walk past. She pauses to make small talk with a number of locals stopping in for breakfast or a quick Americano, asking them about their most recent adventure or how their kids are doing, before we begin unraveling how she got to where she is today.
Developing roots in Banff
DiManno's roots in Banff began in 1956 when her grandfather, Vittorio DiManno, immigrated straight to Banff from Italy. With the help of his older brother, he arranged a visa to Canada to work for the CP Rail, before his future wife immigrated two years later.
"Her visa actually says 'occupation: fiancé' on it, so they were engaged before she came over," DiManno said of her grandmother, Libera, who still resides in Banff. "My grandfather passed away 11 years ago, but they spent their whole lives here together."
DiManno's father grew up in Banff before meeting her mother one summer who was visiting from Fort Worth, Texas. DiManno and her younger sister lived in Banff until she was about four or five, before moving back to Texas where they went to school. They returned to Banff to live with family there every summer.
While completing a bachelor's degree in photojournalism at the University of North Texas, she completed her first internship at what was then the Banff Crag & Canyon during the summer of 2009. She worked for six months at the Ennis Daily News, a small town newspaper in Texas, before returning to Banff for her second internship during the summer of 2010, after she graduated. She continued to work for the Crag & Canyon on and off until her recent resignation in September 2013.
Journey to becoming a councillor
DiManno's experience working for the local newspaper is where her journey began. She had covered council meetings as a reporter for the Bow Valley Crag & Canyon, an experience which she said has given her a deeper understanding of local issues.
"Journalism here really helped me get to know and understand the community better, which in turn led me down this path," DiManno said.
"Once I started working at the paper, I was talking either to the administration that was putting policies into effect, or to the residents who had concerns about projects and policies," DiManno said. "I think that's what definitely sparked my interest in running."
To prevent a perceived conflict of interest that may have arisen from being both a town councilor and reporter, DiManno resigned from her position at the paper. Although it meant a significant pay cut, it was a sacrifice she was willing to make to pursue this new path.
"I had worked there on and off since 2009, and I felt that there wasn't too much more room for me to grow," DiManno said. "I feel I can do more for Banff now in my role as town councilor."
Russ Ullyot, editor of the Bow Valley Crag & Canyon, spoke fondly of DiManno and his experiences working with her.
"It's difficult, in the business of reporting the news and having her in her position as a politician in the community, it could be a perceived bias on anything we report," Ullyot said.
"It's unfortunate that that does happen and we're certainly missing her, we'd like to have reporters like her come along a lot more often than they do in the business," Ullyot said. "She made a point of being approachable and also listening to the pulse of the community, so she was a joy to work with."
This sacrifice could have a significant impact on DiManno, as a town councilor of Banff earns $25,000 per year. DiManno said that although she has enough funds saved to get by and lives with family, she will have to eventually look for further employment to sustain her lifestyle here.
This is a reality faced by many newcomers to Banff in search of a job and affordable housing, an issue that DiManno would like to see addressed during her time on council.
"I would like to see a shift from it being a rite of passage that you come to Banff broke, you work a job where you don't get paid a lot, you live in really crappy conditions and pay $500 a month to live in a sectioned off room on a mattress, and that's just how it is, that's what everyone has to go through," DiManno said.
"While there is a sense of adventure to it, it's different if you're trying to settle down here with a family. It's no longer a rite of passage, it becomes a matter of whether you can raise your kids here, if it's financially sustainable or if it's an environment to raise a family in.
"I want people to feel that they could build roots here and put their energy and their creative ideas toward making Banff a better place," she said.
Engaging youth with a fresh perspective
And it seems that these issues are important to the demographic that feels them the most. At one point during election day, DiManno said about 15 skateboards were lined up against the town hall building while voters inside cast their ballot.
"I have heard from a number of people that it was the first time they'd ever voted for anything," DiManno said of some who had shown their support for her.
"I hope they do feel empowered, because during the whole campaign the one thing I'd heard is that young people don't vote," DiManno said. "But they showed that they do care about this town and its future, and that it matters who represents them."
One such voter was Rachel Simoni, who had worked as a program leader with DiManno for Summer Fun, a children's day program in Banff.
"Corrie has really inspired me," Simoni said. "Considering the amount of young adults there are in Banff, having someone to speak for us is so important. We couldn't have gotten luckier with who is representing us."
Inevitably, with youth comes the question of lack of experience. But DiManno was not deterred. Once she voiced her interest in pursuing local politics, she was met with very positive feedback, from past council members and work colleagues, to new acquaintances met while campaigning.
"It felt like a six-week job interview, where anyone who came up to you on the street was your potential employer and could ask you a question during this job interview. I had a lot of fun," DiManno said.
In addition to attending birthday parties at the Seniors' Centre, local fundraisers, and special events, she spent several days door-knocking throughout Banff's neighbourhoods, in effort to introduce herself and connect with all demographics of the community.
"Door-knocking felt like speed dating an entire neighbourhood," DiManno said. "Buzzwords that they kept using around me were 'fresh perspective' and 'young blood,' so I kept joking that I was gonna pour my blood all over the council table, get some young blood in there."
Ullyot said he believes DiManno will do very well in her transition into her new role, and that her personal qualities that have shown through in his experiences working with her will be conducive to her success as a town councillor.
"Corrie was very in touch with the community, and she knows how the community ticks and how it works — she was always in touch with the people that make Banff what it is. But on the same token, she was very professional in her reporting.
She may not have the professional background that some of these people do in politics, but she does have the social makeup and the great determination that will make her do really well in this endeavour."