Trent Ernst, Editor
Last week, the District of Tumbler Ridge put out an open letter to the residents of Fort McMurray, and others affected by wild fires around the north.
“Our thoughts have been very much with the people of Fort McMurray in recent weeks as we have watched recent events unfold in your community,” says a letter from acting mayor Mike Caisley. “Through good economic times and bad in our own community, Fort McMurray has been an important lifeline for people in Tumbler Ridge who have moved from our community to yours for work or have chosen to live here and commute. We are very grateful for the positive impact Fort McMurray has had on our community.”
But now, writes Caisley, Fort McMurray residents have been forced to leave their town, with no idea when they will be able to return. “Tumbler Ridge has a large number of homes that have been vacated,” writes Caisley. “We have a large range of accommodations available including single family homes, apartments, and basement suites. Many of these are already furnished and ready to be moved into and lived in. We hope to provide short, medium, and long term accommodation solutions for those in transition.”
Councillor Will Howe was one of the drivers behind the invitation. He says that there’s a lot of support for residents in the short term, but what about in the medium term, or in the long term. “We have ample housing for people to live. We are a mining town. Let’s give them the information and the options we’ve got.”
The town is not offering these houses for free, as they are not the town’s to give. However, the town hopes that home owners not currently living here in Tumbler Ridge will be able to offer affordable housing options to displaced Fort McMurray residents. “Tumbler Ridge doesn’t have a thousand houses to give out, but there might be 1000 places to rent,” says Howe. “We’d love to give them away, but they’re not ours. But rent is low, there’s space at the school. We’ll help you with longer term solutions, getting people into long-term housing. And we don’t have all the answers, but now it’s important to at least make the offer.”
In his letter to the people of Fort McMurray, Caisley writes: “Tumbler Ridge has the infrastructure to support an influx of these people. “Tumbler Ridge has a wide range of services and recreational activities including a modern community centre with a hockey arena, swimming pool, tennis courts, playground, curling rink, and gym, a beautiful nine hole golf course, and more trails, waterfalls, and mountains than can be counted. Due to the drop in population, we currently have ample room in our schools and we can guarantee that all children will have full access to educational and extra-curricular opportunities. Similarly, we have well-equipped health care facilities and services including [general practitioners], public health nurses, a dentist, councilors, mental health professionals, BC ambulance, respiratory and dietary services and a patient transfer network. We are very proud of the range of services that our small community has to offer.”
While the District does not have any houses to offer, Teck does.
The company owns seven houses, one mobile home and one condo here in Tumbler Ridge. According to Ray Proulx, Senior Coordinator, Community and Aboriginal Affairs, the company is offering these for free to people displaced by the fires. They also own 18 housing units in Elkford, which they are making available, too.
“The units will be provided free of cost to evacuees for up to three months, with possible extensions arranged as necessary,” says Proulx.
“It comes down to the fact that many of our employees have relatives, friends, colleagues that have been affected, and we certainly want to help,” he says. “There are a lot of historical and social connections between Teck, and Quintette specifically, and Fort Mac. A lot of those social connections are alive and well, and we want to continue to support each other, even though we’re in different locations now. Teck employees have a long tradition of supporting people in their time of need.”
Since announcing the houses early last week, Teck has had six people inquire and has placed one family, who arrived last week.
However, with the announcement of a planned re-entry plan for the nearly 90,000 residents displaced by the fire, Proulx says they might not be seeing as many people as first expected. “I imagine the level of uptake has been impacted by re-entry plan.”
Last week, officials said that residents may be able to return to their homes, starting as early as June 1.
“With the nine units we’re offering, we were expecting full uptake,” says Proulx. “But there are probably a variety of factors involved, not just the re-entry plan. It’s easier for folks to come across the province if they have a social support network in place, so that’s probably impacting the decision for some people, too.”
Still, says Proulx, the company wanted people to know they were offering support, in more than just monetary ways.
The company recently donated $75,000 directly to the Red Cross, and will be matching donations made by employees, up to $25,000.
Proulx is asking local community members with family, friends or acquaintances who need housing to encourage them to fill out a brief application form, and return them to him at Ray.Proulx@teck.com.
“Priority will be given to families with children or other dependents,” says Proulx.
Jennifer Crisby, Economic Development Assistant for the District says she moved to Tumbler Ridge four years ago after spending over a decade in Fort McMurray. “This little town is known for its hospitality and generosity,” she says. “After losing my fiancé almost a year ago, I have seen first-hand, the generosity and heart this town has.”
Crisby has forwarded the District’s letter to all interested parties, including the city, to major employers in the area, to Alberta Emergency Services, and to the BC Government.
“I still have my home in Fort McMurray, as far as I know, and many others from this little town have called Fort McMurray home since the closure of our Coal Mines. Our hearts go out to all those affected. We know some towns have been overwhelmed with evacuees, so we want to let them know we are here and we want to help as well.”
Donations to help For McMurray can be made at the Lake View Credit Union. Simply donate to account 1000001932748.