With all that’s gone on in 2020 so far, which we’re only halfway through, one would be forgiven if they didn’t realize it’s been about a year now since the announced closure of West Fraser Chasm Mill and the announced indefinite suspension at the 100 Mile Norbord Mill.
The 2017 Wildfires and the mill closures have put a strain on the 100 Mile economy made only worse by the COVID-19 shutdowns. While 100 Mile House and B.C. as a whole have largely been able to flatten the curve of the virus’ infection rate and even drive it down it’s a hit many local businesses can ill afford, which is why many are encouraging the community to shop and support local now more than ever.
One of these voices is Mayor Mitch Campsall who, along with council, is working to try and bring new business and industry to 100 Mile House. The mill closures have been hard especially on families, Campsall said, and his heart goes out to those whose lives have been totally disrupted by them.
“One thing this community is very good at is we’re very resilient and we’re working hard to relieve some of those issues (families face),” Campsall said. “The first industry will never be the same, we are working together with my staff and council to get other industries to come here. COVID has definitely not been any help this year to add to what (hardships) have already been there and we’ve had a rough year, no doubt about it.”
Despite everything that’s been thrown at 100 Mile in recent years, Campsall says the community does not lie down and neither does he or his team. He intends to help bring the community back and get the projects that COVID-19 slowed down back on track, which he hopes will be announced within the next year or so.
While they do have businesses and industries interested in investing in 100 Mile, Campsall said their partners have requested he not give any details until their plans are closer to fruition. He was able to say he’s working with an aspect of the forest industry interested in coming to 100 Mile House that is different from what the community has ever had.
“Right now our small businesses, the resorts in our area are hurting. It is time to definitely shop local and use our local businesses and resorts. Camp local we have some of the best resorts in B.C.,” Campsall said. “If you’ve never gone fishing we have some of the best fishing across B.C. and our resorts would be more than happy to outfit you. This year is a year to be local and do everything you can local.”
Campsall wanted to reiterate that the District of 100 Mile House is working diligently with businesses big and small and will talk with anyone who knocks on their door. He’d like to thank the community for continuing to work together during these trying times and encourages everyone to continue to help those who need it in the community.
MLA Donna Barnett agreed that the impact of the mill closures have been substantial as there have been quite a few people who have had to move on to other communities for work, either taking their families with them or leaving them here to commute. Many of the younger loggers and forest workers moved on to places like Alberta, Barnett said, where there was little to no slowdown in the industry.
“Of course what that does is takes your young families out of the community and really and truly we need young people, some of us with grey hair need to step back and let the younger community take over,” Barnett said.
Despite the challenges, overall she thinks the community has done quite well over the last year. The trend of retirees moving to the area has continued and their purchases of property have kept prices at a reasonable rate, in Barnett’s opinion.
Next year will be the time when the area sees the true impact of the closures, Barnett said, as unemployment insurance and job training programs help soften the blow. She does know there are plans in the work to begin doing something with the junk-wood in the area but none of these projects have yet been finalized.
When asked if she sees mills reopening Barnett said she’s more concerned the trend is moving in the opposite direction. If you look at the world as it is today, especially the American market and the price of doing business, she worries that the B.C. market can’t compete. She hopes in the future that some of the Cariboo-Chilcotin’s remaining mineral deposits are developed into a mine in the next decade or two as a possible source of jobs and revenue.
“The future is uncertain throughout the whole country, throughout Canada, British Colombia and certainly in the Cariboo Chilcotin. Land use issues and reconciliation… create a real air of uncertainty and we can’t ignore the issues, we have to deal with them. The best way you can have some certainty is to get everyone at the table and resolve the issues,” Barnett said.