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Vernon News

Meet the Okanagan's first belly dancing mayor

Coldstream Mayor-elect Ruth Hoyte shows off some belly dancing moves out the municipal office, Nov. 4, 2022.

Tomorrow, Coldstream mayor-elect Ruth Hoyte will be inaugurated as the district's first-ever female mayor.

She'll also become the region's first-ever belly-dancing mayor.

Sitting in a meeting room at the District of Coldstream's municipal office, Hoyte talked passionately about the community she'd lived in for almost 50 years.

However, her passion really elevates when asked to describe herself.

"I love to dance," she said. "And have been dancing as a belly dancer or oriental dancer for decades."

Her arms moved in a well-choreographed dance pose as she talked.

But she's no show-off, and admits, "I never find myself very interesting."

Hoyte found herself in the mayor's seat after serving one term on council.

She won by acclamation, something she said she felt awkward about.

"I wasn't sure if I was disappointed or not," she said.

She missed out on campaigning, debating, and having her face printed on lawn signs.

"In the end, my name must have had some kind of positive connotation and people were accepting of that," Hoyte said.

And her name is well-known in the community.

Over the years she's been the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Vernon Women in Business. She sat on the board of the Downtown Vernon Association – a position where she says she got her "political chops" – and has been involved in the art gallery, the dance society, the Vernon Winter Carnival and the Insurance Council of B.C.

She's currently the vice president of the Vernon Elks, whose motto "equality, love, kindness, and service," is something she aspires to.

She got into politics after retirement happened a little earlier than planned.

"I was a little lost at first because that was a bit of my identity," she said. She won't give out her age but says she's "not collecting pension just yet."

Hoyte had owned A.E. Berry Insurance.

The firm was founded by her husband's great grandfather C.F. Costeron, who also had a brief stint as mayor of Vernon in the 1920s. Records for the company date back to 1871, and a plaque sits on the 30 Avenue building where the office once was.

So why run for mayor?

"Encouragement, and support, and that maybe Coldstream just needed to have a fresh set of eyes at the helm," she said.

Hoyte replaces Jim Garlick, who after 14 years as mayor stepped down and now has a council seat.

Personality-wise the two are quite the contrast.

Garlick was a mild-mannered high school science teacher. Hoyte is flamboyant, talkative, and in her own words "laughs too loud."

"I don't fit the mould," she said.

Hoyte is clearly not afraid to dance in the snow.
Hoyte is clearly not afraid to dance in the snow.

But while Hoyte's personality might be louder than her predecessor, and certainly that of her closest political partner Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming, she's still a very serious politician.

She highlighted the work of the last council securing a $5-million grant to build the new community hall and daycare on the site of the Women's Institute hall. Her mother was a member of the Women's Institute and said it was "heartbreaking" to see the building gone – but it will now offer more than 80 much-needed daycare spaces.

The community also scored more provincial money for a slightly controversial daycare to be built at Lavington Park.

While there are some supply chain issues with the Coldstream Station development, she is excited to see it happen and touts the idea of an artisan farmers market held at the site.

She said council is moving forward with the Head of the Lake masterplan and wants to make Kalamalka Beach the "shining jewel that is it."

Hoyte would like to see disabled wheelchair access to Kal Lake, and agrees the chainlink fence surrounding the beach is "ugly."

"As mayor, I don't have a magic wand, but I do have a very dynamic council," she says.

She might be relatively new to politics but gives a polished answer when asked why Coldstream backed out of Vernon's $121 million dollar Active Living Centre.

"We didn't actually back out of it, we chose to wait and see and now that the Active Living Centre has passed... I'm open to discussion," she said.

She pointed out it would be a double-digit tax increase for Coldstream residents.

"I think a good starting point would be to open up the discussions and see if more of the regional partners (will join)," she said.

A recent survey in Coldstream found that only one-third of the community uses the current recreation centre.

"That doesn't take away the need for those residents that use the facility," she said, but added that a 17 per cent tax increase (as it will be in Vernon in four years) doesn't leave room for anything else.

"Council absolutely realizes and knows that we do need a new pool, there's no doubt about that at all," she said. "I just want to open the door, I think there's value in collaborating, but currently paying our portion of $121 million wouldn't register with the residents well."

When it comes to housing and development, Coldstream has been criticized for not densifying to alleviate the current housing crisis.

"I'm certainly not opposed to new housing," Hoyte said. "When people are criticizing Coldstream for a lack of housing I would say that we are doing our homework and we are open to the residents' needs."

She pointed to bylaws allowing carriage housing and the new Morningview development on Middleton mountain. The 61-acre site will have a mixture of housing including townhouses.

Coldstream has also been lobbying the province for cash so a sewer line can be built along Aberdeen Road.

While the District of Coldstream is only a stone's throw from downtown Vernon, the majority of residents still live on septic tanks, and without water and sewer development is difficult. The district still doesn't have residential garbage pick-up and holds onto its rural attributes.

Hoyte said she knows if developers moved in with plans to build apartments, there would be tremendous pushback.

"It's a balancing act," she said. "Change is hard."

Hoyte clearly has a lot of energy and is enthusiastic about the community that she's called home for almost five decades.

But what does she love about belly dancing?

"I can't explain it, it's a wonderful art form, every woman can do it, we all have the same parts, it's a matter of discovering them and working them," she said. "It's a wonderful art form for our spirit."

Ruth Hoyte will be inaugurated as Mayor of the District of Coldstream Nov. 7.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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