Where does Tumbler Ridge Fit in a Global Economy?

Dyan Dunsmoor-Farley

Hello Tumbler Ridge. You may have seen a newcomer wandering around taking photos of everyday things, hanging out at the community centre and asking odd questions. That would be me—Dyan Dunsmoor-Farley. I am a researcher from the University of Victoria studying the impact of the global economy on small, resource-dependent towns. I know you have seen your fair share of researchers here, so first of all thanks for making me feel welcome and answering my questions.

Small communities like Tumbler Ridge are at the vanguard of change in a global economy. Many small British Columbia communities are increasingly pressured to engage with multinational corporations over resource extraction and distribution (e.g., forestry, mining, agriculture, etc.). Many of these corporations have no real roots in communities, make decisions at a distance, and have significant power and resource advantages relative to the communities affected. That doesn’t make them bad, but it is a reality that small communities have to deal with. This research is intended to better understand how small communities that have experienced externally-generated ruptures resulting from globalization are responding and what the implications are for local autonomy and sustainability.

To answer these questions, I am looking at three BC communities to understand how they have adjusted from the recessions in the 1980s and 90s to the present. The three communities—Gabriola Island, Tofino, and Tumbler Ridge—all have one thing in common: they were each deeply involved with or affected by corporate resource extraction decisions.

On Gabriola Island, the rupture resulted from a decision by Weldwood Forest Company to divest itself of its privately owned Gabriola holdings, a process intended to leave a community legacy but that tore the community apart—a rift that lasted 20 years.

In Tofino, the rupture resulted from forestry company MacMillan Bloedel’s decision to clearcut in its timber license in the adjacent Clayoquot Sound resulting in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Tumbler Ridge’s rupture(s) occurred after an anticipated long term contract to provide coal to Japan fell through. Each of these communities were profoundly impacted by globalization.

And perhaps, they have one other thing in common—they are all ‘islanded’—that is, you don’t accidentally get to these communities, you have to intend to go there. But aside from their experience of rupture and out of the way location, these communities diverge on a number of fronts: history, geography, the nature of the resource, local governance arrangements, relationships with First Nations, and relationship with the state. These differences make things interesting. Would things have been different on Gabriola Island if they had a similar governance model to Tumbler Ridge? What can Tumbler Ridge learn from the experience of a forestry-dependent community that has transitioned to tourism, like Tofino? Do the different geographies make a difference?

Each of these communities also differs in population: Gabriola has the highest population at 4045, Tumbler Ridge at 2647 and Tofino at 1876, which raises the question of whether size matters. Can you have a robust economy without growth? In places like Gabriola and Tofino growth is severely constrained because of geography, in Tumbler Ridge it feels like you could grow forever.

Which brings me to my visit to Tumbler Ridge. Besides wandering around and taking pictures, I have been talking to people informally (at the grocery store, the museum, the golf club, the community centre, the library, in restaurants, the gas station . . . you get the picture) and I have been conducting formal interviews. I have interviewed people who have lived here a long time as well as newcomers, people who are active in the business community, people who have been employed in mining industry, people involved with local government, and people concerned with the health and wellbeing of the community.

Sometimes these people are highly visible in the community and involved on many fronts. But, not everyone fits that profile and yet their points of view are also important. To capture those perspectives I have created a survey. To take part in the survey you need to be 19 or over and resident in the District of Tumbler Ridge. You can access the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WJBXTVK.

Why should you care? As someone from a small community, I observe everyday how much people in my community know and how that knowledge can be a powerful tool if tapped into. You can contribute to that base of knowledge—your perspective is important. And each of the case study communities can benefit from each other’s experiences and the lessons learned in adapting to a global economy. Please take the survey and if you have any questions, you can contact me at ddfarley@uvic.ca. If you don’t have access to the Internet, the library will be able to help you connect.

My week here is coming to an end. Now that the sun has returned it is easy to see how beautiful this place is. Thank you for making me feel welcome in your community. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas and to sharing what I learn from you. Let’s see if Tumbler Ridge can get more per capital responses than Tofino or Gabriola.