Recent History – 1999
June 28, 1999, By Kelly Henschel, Daily News Staff
Tumbler Ridge isn’t ready to roll over and die just yet.
“I believe people are still taking this well in their stride,” says Mayor Paul Kealy of the recent layoff notices given to 125 workers at Quintette Coal.
“There’s still some shock and disbelief in the community, but not as much as there was last time when there was over 200 employees laid off.” The last time was in April, 1998 when more than 270 positions were reduced at Quintette, one of the two mining operations in Tumbler Ridge.
This April, Bullmoose Mine dismissed another 68 workers as well. While residents are definitely not hardened to these types of job cuts, Kealy says, it means the town is just going to have to work harder to diversify the economy in the one-resource community.
“It may take another few years to become totally diverse so we’re not as reliant on coal as when we first built,” he says, hoping focus will turn to opportunities such as forestry, gas exploration and tourism.
However, Kealy admits, the loss of jobs will mean some painful times for the town of 2,700. “Some of the businesses have threatened that they many have to reduce or close down,” he says. “This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Chris Smith, owner of The Parrot Tree, a small clothing store in Tumbler Ridge, has already felt the sting of past layoffs. Last year she had to buy out her partner because of all the layoffs, she says, and now the future looks uncertain once again.
Wes Klause, the owner of People’s Drug Mart in the mining town, says he’s also lost business and already had to cut employee hours after the layoffs last year.
“As a business owner in Tumbler Ridge, I would say it’s bleak,” says Klause of the future. “It’s pretty hard on everyone,” Smith agrees.
Her own family has been impacted as well. Her son lost his job at Bullmoose and her husband is waiting to find out if he still has a job at Quintette.
“It’s pretty sad, but what can you do?” she says. “I guess we’re just going to ride along for a little while and see what happens.”
At present, most families are just trying to digest the news, says Kevin Pack, a nine-year veteran at Quintette.
“A lot of the guys are joking about it, but underlying it all, I think a lot of them are upset that this is happening again,” he says.
Many are frustrated as they wait for word this week as to the final verdict about their jobs, says Harold Robinson. “Some guys are just biting their nails waiting for the judgment as to who’s actually going to get a layoff,” he says.
Having been laid off himself four times in the last year, Robinson says he’s had enough and will take a voluntary dismissal. “I’m looking for something a little more stable now,” he says. “I think that’s what a lot of the guys are going to be doing.”
Although there’s a good chance he will be one of those laid off, Pack says his family will be staying in Tumbler Ridge. However he says, watching friends leave is very hard.
“For those of us who stay behind, it’s depressing to watch all those moving vans rolling in”, he says. “Last year we watched a lot of family and friends leave. It puts a real damper on the community.”
Kealy still holds out hope for a brighter future for the town.
“I just hope this is the end of it and we can get on with the rest of our lives and grow from here,” he says. “We’re not giving up yet.”