RDEK reacts to mill closure

Representatives admit the future will be tough, plans already in the works to diversify local economy.

The Village of Canal Flats is about to transition into a new era this week as the Canfor sawmill will officially close on Monday.

The mill site, which has been in operation in one form or another since the 1960s, had a shift reduction in May that cut over 80 jobs, before a permanent closure was announced in September.

Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras says it’s been a tough time for the mill employees and the community after a monthly meeting of Regional District of East Kootenay directors on Friday.

“We had our last day yesterday—most of the guys were finished yesterday, I believe we still have a few guys working today,” Juras said. “Monday is the official closing date of the mill and that’ll be it.

“There’s a sombre tone in the Village right now, we’re very sad and it’s the end of an era for us, but we are moving forward, we do have a working group now moving on, which is a close group, but we’re moving forward and we’re looking at other opportunities.”

There was a sense in the Village that the mill was struggling, but Juras said the way it closed so suddenly is what caught everyone off guard. She noted that they thought they had more time to get a strategy together to diversify the local economy.

“We’d already been planning on that because it had been looming over our heads. The shock about it is that we thought we had a few more years to plan, so now we just have to speed up the process a little bit,” Juras said.

“Most of the people who were left there after the last layoff were people that had been there for 30-plus years, so that’s a long time to be with one company.”

Wendy Booth, the director for Area F for the RDEK up the Columbia Valley, said she participated in a workshop where a group of 30 economic development officers  and practitioners looked at Canal Flats as a case study, as part of a three-day course.

“The facilitator did a SWOT analysis, identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the Village from this group of people who are not from the valley, which made it very objective,” Booth said.

“Our job, being from the valley, was not to contribute to that conversation, rather listen and take in.”

A report summing up the conclusions of that workshop is currently in the works and it will be up to the Canal Flats mayor and council to implement any recommendations, she added.

Booth added that while the closing of the mill wasn’t necessarily a surprise, there has been a lot of support for the Village in terms of charting a path forward.

“I know that since the announcement was made six weeks ago, that the ministry and Canal Flats and the Columbia Basin Trust has all been working together with a transition plan and looking at next steps moving forward, so there has been a lot of support for Canal Flats out there.”