Sunday, October 24, 2021
Oct. 24, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

Vancouver and Sister Cities: One and done?

While other municipalities take on multiple Sister Cities, Vancouver stands pat with one — Joyo, Japan — citing costs vs. benefits

By , Columbian politics reporter
8 Photos
The Joyo, Japan delegation enjoys Fourth of July festivities at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2015 led by Anne McEnerny-Ogle. McEnerny-Ogle has served as a Sister City liaison since before her election as mayor.
The Joyo, Japan delegation enjoys Fourth of July festivities at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2015 led by Anne McEnerny-Ogle. McEnerny-Ogle has served as a Sister City liaison since before her election as mayor. City of Vancouve Photo Gallery

It would seem like a no-brainer — or as the Russians would call it, a bez problem — to link the cities on either end of Valery Chkalov’s historic 1937 flight. But when Shchelkovo, Russia, reached out to Vancouver in hopes of forming a Sister City partnership, Vancouver said “nyet.”

In a geopolitical climate where cross-national partnerships are valued, the city of Vancouver prefers to foster one and only one Sister City partnership: Joyo, Japan. A relationship with Arequipa, Peru, began in 1961 but was allowed to lapse in 1993, two years before Joyo became Vancouver’s new sister.

Other local cities have many more siblings. Camas, for example, has five, Portland has nine and Seattle boasts 21. Even Kelso maintains two Sister Cities. Some even utilize the program to plunge headfirst into branding. To wit, Boring, Ore., has partnered with Dull, Scotland, and Bland, Australia, to form a Sister City triad known as the “League of Extraordinary Communities.”

A famous flight

Shchelkovo is famous locally and internationally as the starting point of the first transpolar flight during which Chkalov and his crew flew 5,475 miles in 63 hours. The flight concluded at Pearson Field 80 years ago. His journey is memorialized across Vancouver, including Chkalov Drive, which bears the pilot’s name, and a monument at Pearson Field. The monument, erected in 1975, was the first in the U.S. to commemorate a Russian accomplishment.

The head of Shchelkovo’s Municipal District, Alexey Valov, reached out to the city in late 2017 hopeful not only for a response but for a relationship. Valov received neither.

Bill Boerum, chairman emeritus for Sister Cities International, reached out to Vancouver a second time on Shchelkovo’s behalf.

“I’m not sure how this was transmitted to you (in Russian for sure and likely with an English version), or into whose hands it may have been delivered. Our friends in Russia are awaiting the courtesy of an acknowledgement, and more hopefully an indication of your consideration of the invitation,” Boerum wrote in an email to the city council. “I hope that Vancouver will give genuine consideration to Shchelkovo’s warm-hearted invitation.”

The city did consider the invitation, albeit briefly.

“We sent a letter thanking them for their offer and telling them we’re not interested,” said Jan Bader, Vancouver’s program and policy development manager, who oversees the Sister City program.

Bader added that Vancouver turns down most Sister City requests because of the financial commitment.

“There’s also the question ‘What benefit does our city get out of this?’ ” she said.

Did You Know?

The Sister City program was created in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower during a conference on citizen diplomacy. Eisenhower envisioned the program as a facilitator to form bonds between different cities to encourage peace and prosperity.

Journey to Joyo

Vancouver’s first interaction with Japan was in 1984 when a delegation from the Columbia River Economic Development Council visited the country. By 1986, the Marshall House in Vancouver was hosting a Nihonga-style art exhibit sponsored by two companies, Wacoal and Kyocera. Joyo presented a Nihonga artwork to Vancouver two years later. The piece hangs in the Marshall House. The first citizen exchange began in 1996 after the Sister City partnership was official.

There’s some tracking of the relationship in the form of a city document titled “Celebrating Friendship,” but Vancouver doesn’t keep a list of gifts given or received and a local delegation rarely visits Joyo anymore unless already in Japan on other business. Visiting Kyocera headquarters, for example, may afford a pit stop in Joyo. But Joyo delegations continue to visit regularly, including a stop in April for the annual Sakura Festival at Clark College.

Bader said the city relies on private sponsors to fund Sister City relationships.

“Washington state doesn’t allow you to use public money to support Sister Cities,” she said. “You can pay for staff time, but all the other things that go along with the Sister City program — hosting people, travel, gifts, all of that kind of stuff — you have to raise private dollars for.”

The relationship with Joyo is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Vancouver.

“You have to have some kind of community partner who’s willing to shoulder that private fundraising piece,” she added.

Bader said when Shchelkovo reached out to Vancouver, she checked with The Historic Trust as a potential sponsor but was turned down.

“We just think about who the logical community partner would be in one of these,” she said.

Trust Executive Director Mike True said he thinks the Sister City program is great for the community, but Pearson Field, where Chkalov completed the historic flight, is now managed by the National Park Service.

“It really wasn’t our place to be the main steward,” True added.

The city did try to formulate a relationship with Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2013. Bravo! Vancouver, a local concert promotion company, offered to sponsor the relationship. Bravo!’s Michael Kissinger serves as a guest conductor with the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra.

Unfortunately, Bader said, Dubrovnik never responded to Vancouver’s outreach.

Camas and its sisters

Camas takes a different approach to Sister Cities. The city benefits from the Camas Sister City Organization, a 501(c)(3) volunteer-based organization.

“We receive funding from membership dues, donations, and a small contribution from the city of Camas,” said Jennifer Myers-Power, chair of the Camas Sister City Organization.

Vancouver’s Sister City

Joyo, Japan is Vancouver’s lone Sister City.

 Founded: 1972. (Vancouver: Founded 1825.)

 Population: 76,869. (Vancouver: 174,826 in 2016.)

 Size: 12.6 square miles. (Vancouver: 46.46 square miles in 2016.)

 Industry: Joyo is known for gold and silver threads. Joyo produces 60 percent of all gold and silver thread in Japan.

 First visit of Joyo representatives to Vancouver: 1986.

The group’s funding allows Camas to sustain five Sister City relationships in two countries: Hamamatsu and Taki-cho in Japan, and Morawica, Zabierzow and Krapkowice in Poland. Myers-Power said the organization formed in 1984 when the first Sister City, Hamamatsu, became official.

Hamamatsu stems from a friendship between a Camas teacher and his Japanese colleagues when he taught in Japan during the 1980s.

Sharp Corp.’s move to Camas brought Taki-cho’s partnership along with it.

The relationship with the three Polish cities grew from involvement in the Washington City/County Managers Association and its organizations: The Foundation for the Support of Local Democracy and The Forum of Sekretarze, Myers-Power said.

“We host exchanges yearly on a student level and slightly less frequently we hold adult exchanges, as well,” she said.

Camas still entertains offers for additional Sister City relationships, Myers-Power said, but the decision does depend on donations.

“We take each offer under consideration depending upon our financial position and how full our calendar is,” she said.

Vancouver hasn’t considered trying out a new funding method that might allow for additional Sister Cities, Bader said. The city continues to rely on Rotary and fundraising by the mayor to fund its current Sister City relationship.

“Along with other groups, like Rotary, we’re looking for opportunities that foster peace and understanding,” said Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who was involved with Joyo before being elected mayor last year.

She values the opportunity Joyo’s relationship brings to discuss global tensions and celebrate culture.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see what’s going on outside your little village,” she said.

Sister Cities around the state

Other Southwest Washington cities with sisters:


Hamamatsu, Japan

Krapkowice, Poland

Morawice, Poland

Taki-cho, Japan

Zabierzow, Poland


Kelso, Scotland

Makinohara, Japan


Wako City, Japan

elsewhere in washington

• Anacortes

Kisakata, Japan

Lomonosov, Russia

Sidney, B.C.

Vela Luka, Croatia

• Auburn

Tamba, Japan

Guangshan, China

Mola di Bari, Italy

Pyeongchang, South Korea

• Bellevue

Hualien, Taiwan

Kladno, Czech Republic

Liepaja, Latvia

Yao, Japan

• Bellingham

Cheongju, South Korea

Nakhodka, Russia

Port Stephens, Australia

Punta Arenas, Chile

Tateyama, Japan

Vaasa, Finland

Tsetserleg, Mongolia

• Bremerton

Kure, Japan

• Chehalis

Inasa, Japan

• Chelan

Kato, Japan

• Covington

Tatsuno, Japan

• Des Moines

Changle City, China

• DuPont

Qionghai City, China

• Edmonds

Hekinan, Japan

• Ephrata

Gunpo City, South Korea

• Everett

Iwakuni, Japan

Sligo, Ireland

Sovetskaya Gavan, Russia

• Federal Way

Donghae, South Korea

Hachinohe, Japan

• Ferndale

Minamiboso, Japan

• Friday Harbor

Tserchelling, Netherlands

Vela Luka, Croatia

• Grant County

Gunpo City, South Korea

• Issaquah

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Sunndal, Norway

• Kent

El Grullo, Mexico

Sunnfjord, Norway

Tamba, Japan

Yangzhou, China

• Kirkland

Emmerich, Germany

• Kittitas County

Sanda, Japan

• Lacey

MinskMazowieki, Poland

• LaConner

Olga, Russia

• Lakewood

Bauang, Philippines

Okinawa City, Japan

• Lynden

Langley, B.C.

• Lynnwood

Damyang, South Korea

• Mercer Island

Thonon les Bains, France

• Moses Lake

Yonezawa, Japan

• Mount Vernon Chilliwack, B.C

• Okanogan

Kagoshima, Japan

• Olympia

Kato, Japan

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

• Omak

Summerland, B.C.

• Othello

Wulensi, Ghana

• Port Angeles

Mutsu Shi, Japan

• Port Townsend

Ichikawa, Japan

• Prosser

Vani Municipality, Georgia

Van Municipality, Georgia

• Pullman

Kasai, Japan

• Renton

Cuautla, Mexico

Nishiwaki, Japan

• Richland

Hsinchu, Taiwan

• Seattle

Beer Sheva, Israel

Bergen, Norway

Cebu, Philippines

Chongqing, China

Christchurch, New Zealand

Daejon, South Korea

Galway, Ireland

Gdynia, Poland

Haiphong, Vietnam

Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Kobe, Japan

Limbe, Cameroon

Mazatlan, Mexico

Mombasa, Kenya

Nantes, France

Pecs, Hungary

Perugia, Italy

Reykjavic, Iceland

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Surabaya, Indonesia

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

• Sequim

Shiso, Japan

• Shelton

Sanya, Taiwan

Talsi, Latvia

• Shoreline

Boryeong, South Korea

• Snoqualmie

Gangjin, South Korea

Chaclacayo, Peru

• Spokane

Chechon, South Korea

Jilin, China

Limerick, Ireland

Nishinomiya, Japan

San Luis Petosi, Italy

• Tacoma

Alesund, Norway

Cienfuegos, Cuba

Davao, Philippines

El Jadida, Morocco

Fuzhou, China

George, South Africa

Gunsan, Korea

Kiryat Motzkin, Israel

Kitakyushu, Japan

Taichung, Taiwan

Vladivostok, Russia

Biot, France

• Tukwila

Miyoshi, Japan

• Tumwater

Mubende, Uganda

• University Place

Jiangyou, China

Karsiyaka, Turkey

• Walla Walla

Sasayama, Japan

• Wenatchee

Kuroishi, Japan

Misawa, Japan

• East Wenatchee

Misawa, Japan

• Yakima

Itayanagi, Japan

Morelia, Mexico

Joyo’s delegation will once again return to Vancouver this spring to attend the annual Sakura Festival. McEnerny-Ogle said she’ll use that visit to discuss mutual concerns about North Korea and the economic impact of China.

As to the possibility of expanding Vancouver’s Sister City program, the mayor also conceded funding is an issue.

“I’d love to expand it,” she said. “But it comes with a financial cost.”

Knowing now that Camas is able to maintain five Sister Cities, McEnerny-Ogle said she’s going to take Mayor Scott Higgins aside and see what Vancouver can do to follow suit.

Columbian politics reporter