Editorial: The Trouble with Transients

Trent Ernst, Editor

I just got off the phone with someone down in the Campbell River Area. Her company, Compliance Coal, is working on starting up an underground coal mine in the Comox Valley/Port Alberni area. It’s a flip of a coin as to whether their Raven Underground or our Murray River Coal Mine will be the second underground coal mine in the province.

While we were talking, she mentioned that there were a number of people from the Tumbler Ridge area now living down on the island in that area, and she asked if Tumbler Ridge was still recovering or was fully recovered from the closure of the two coal mines a dozen years ago.

I mentioned last week’s editorial, where I claimed (completely unsubstantiated, I might add), that Tumbler Ridge seems to be doing as well as it ever has been. “The big issue,” says I, “is that back when the mines were started, the shifts were four and four. Now, the shifts are seven on and seven off, so we have this huge transient workforce. People come here and work for seven days, and then go home for a week to the place they called home.”

And then my lips kept moving as a though flickered across the frontal lobes: “Exactly like so many people from Tumbler Ridge did during those years when there was no mine here.”

And suddenly, the word “transient” seemed so…judgemental. The word is often used to describe homeless people on the streets of Vancouver: no job, no home, no connection to anything. Yes, the word still contains the meaning of temporary or short term, but it also brings with it the baggage of the vagabond or tramp.

And yes, there are people who are working here short-term for whom all these words might apply: the young and the restless, come to make money for seven days so they can blow it all in the next seven. Ego operor ego partem. I work, therefore I party (I love Google Translate.) But there are a number of people who are working here to support their families, who for reasons of finances or personal preferences, chose not to live here.

I have heard a number of stories, especially last summer, of people who were desperately trying to move to Tumbler Ridge, but a combination of the high cost of housing and inability to secure a mortgage meant they had to find other places to live, some as far away as William’s Lake.

But I’ve also heard stories of people who have grown up in places like Grande Prairie, who have been raised there, and are raising their families there. For these people, Tumbler Ridge could never be home. Home is where the heart is, and their hearts are firmly in these places.

And I think back ten years ago, to the stories of men and women who wanted desperately to stay here in Tumbler Ridge, and willing to travel the better part of two days every fortnight to go work in mines as far away as Yellowknife simply because this was home.

And I discovered that, if I were to champion the latter as heroes in the survival of Tumbler Ridge during the dark ages, to demonize the former would simply be hypocrisy.

Yes, it would be good for more people to live here. More people=more services=more businesses wanting to start up in town=more ad sales for paper=raise for editor. But we need to find a way to engage these people. We need to attract permanent residents rather than moan and complain about the transients.

I know, the two issues are not separate. If everyone who worked at the mines also lived in town, the gates of heaven would open, spilling milk and honey once more down the streets of Tumbler Ridge as heavenly virgins escorted us to paradise, or back to 1988, or something like that.

However, this is the hand we’ve been dealt. This is the town we have. A town faced with new challenges and new opportunities. A town that some people might not yet consider home.