Tourism hits warp speed in Vulcan, after bid for Star Trek premiere

Before hitching its fortunes to the Starship Enterprise, the southern Alberta town of Vulcan had dropped out of warp speed and appeared to be drifting into anonymity.

VULCAN — Before hitching its fortunes to the Starship Enterprise, the southern Alberta town of Vulcan had dropped out of warp speed and appeared to be drifting into anonymity.

It wasn’t far from being a ghost town, a place nobody — boldly or otherwise — appeared ready to visit.

The hotel on the main strip was boarded up, the top two floors condemned. Many other businesses in the town of 1,942 people were also shuttered.

“It used to be on afternoons, downtown, you could shoot a cannon and not hit anybody,” says resident Pat Wisener.

Now, thanks to word of mouth from loyal Trekkers who keep coming back, ever-expanding attractions and a boost from actor Leonard Nimoy, the town is taking flight as a stand-alone tourist destination.

Vulcan, which shares its name with the home planet of Mr. Spock from the original space series, months ago had launched a high-profile quest for the Canadian premiere of the latest blockbuster Star Trek movie.

That mission failed. But after Nimoy, who portrayed the original Spock, called up the media to complain that the community was being “illogically” ignored, Vulcan got a Calgary-based sneak peek — and a whole lot of publicity.

More visitors since the movie’s release last month have led to an almost 30 per cent increase in tourist numbers compared to last year at this time, said tourism co-ordinator Dayna Dickens.

“For tourism in small-town Alberta, that’s really phenomenal, especially in this year of economic downtime.”

Klingons, Romulans, Starfleet officers and the simply curious poured in for this weekend’s Spock Days and VulCON Star Trek convention.

They filled up the community’s three hotels — including the one once boarded up. It now boasts four theme rooms, including, yes, one that’s crammed with all things Trek.

At the convention kickoff party, Klingons balanced their batleths — weapons with sharp half moon blades — as they prepared to lead celebrity guests into a specially built Trek Station that houses most of the community’s memorabilia.

Rob Uhrig, who came from Ottawa, said Vulcan is an out-of-this-world experience for a devoted fan.

Uhrig, a member of the Klingon club KAG Canada, said other conventions are run by corporations out to make money, but Vulcan truly focuses on making a fan’s experience the most important.

“Vulcan is great. The people here treat us like we’re the celebrities. ”

“This place is more like a festival. I don’t know how else to describe it. Where else are you going to go through a parade through town? You don’t see anything like that at a normal convention.”

Community stores have also jumped onboard since Grace Klitmoller first floated the idea in the early 1990s of using Vulcan’s Star Trek connection to encourage tourism.

She got a galactic whiff of what could be when she heard people were taking pictures of the road sign next to the town.

Trek-related signs grace the windows of many of the stores along the town’s main drag. “Trespassers will be vaporized!” warn some.

And it’s not unusual to find a menu item listed first in Klingon, followed by its English translation.

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