by Paula Kully –
What do Anacortes, Washington; Cairns, Australia; and Niimi, Japan have in common? These three communities are seemingly unrelated, but their commonality is that they are all three sister cities to Sidney.
The “sister cities” or “twin towns” initiative began after the second World War in 1947 as a means to foster friendships and understanding between different cultures and countries that were once at war.
Sidney’s first Sister City Agreement was established in May 1984 with Cairns, Australia. The second was Anacortes, WA in June 1996 followed by Niimi, Japan (pictured) on July 1, 2008.
The Sidney Sister Cities Association (SSCA) oversees and cultivates an ongoing relationship with each sister city. Their focus is to “enrich the cultural and economic resources of each community through the planning and implementation of programs that foster mutual understanding, respect and goodwill.”
In this regard, Sister Cities has coordinated some fantastic initiatives that have reached far across the ocean and the globe. For instance, in 2014 SSCA sponsored local artist Richard Wong to travel to Cairns as an artist in residence at their unique Tanks Art Centre. The Art Centre is housed in three giant, concrete fuel tanks that were built in 1944 during WWII and used to hold fuel for refuelling Australian, American and British ships up until their decommissioning in 1987. The amazing transformation of these tanks provides a venue for an annual film festival, a market, live music, plays, workshops and more. The Tanks are adjacent to the Cairns Botanic Gardens, Centenary Lakes and Red and Blue Arrow Walking Trails of Mount Whitfield making it a must-see tourist destination.
Due to its close proximity and shared location on the Salish Sea, the relationship with Anacortes is particularly strong. One of their key cooperative projects is “Ferry Between Friends” which promotes the importance of the Washington State Ferry link. Sister Cities hosts an annual visit of Anacortes-area politicians, Sister City Association members and friends each spring when the ferry resumes service. Additionally, both communities send delegations to each other’s parades in July and December and three years ago the two Sister Cities associations organized an Art Exchange at their respective community art centres.
As might be expected, Niimi’s sister city association is more formal and closely connected to their municipal government. This was highlighted in 2013 when Sidney Sister Cities sponsored an assistant language teacher to go to Niimii and work in the school system for two years. This provided the association members with a firsthand account of life in Japan. Reciprocal visits have also been hosted throughout the years, and in 2015 Sister Cities President Sharon Stoneman, along with a Sidney delegation, visited Niimi.
Sharon explains: “One of our goals at SSCA is to make connections with the people of our sister cities; to share our town and our culture. It has been our experience when visiting our sister cities, whether in an official capacity or as private citizens, that those connections mean we arrive not as tourists, but as welcome visitors, to be included in the life of the community”.
The visit to Niimi was an extraordinary experience where delegates met many people and were invited into their homes and businesses. They experienced the history of Niimi through their annual Samurai Parade. This 300-year-old tradition is a recreation of the Samurai who travelled to Edo (now Tokyo) which was the seat of power, to pay respect. In return, they would be allowed to continue to reign over the district.
Sidney Sister Cities also undertakes initiatives to participate in the life of our community. This includes producing the annual Sidney calendar, participating in the town parades and running a booth at the Sidney Market. They work on projects with other community groups and have guest speakers from around the Peninsula at their monthly meetings to keep them up to date and connected with what is going on in the community.
For the future, Sister Cities is working on a photographic exhibition with all three of their sister cities. It will be a first for the Association and will bring together the cultures and works from all four communities under one roof for the people of Sidney and the Peninsula.