Portrait of a mill worker

In the wake of the 2017 BKB Cedar Mill fire that led to major lay-offs, one former mill worker is working through his challenges, one at a time

by Andru McCracken


Bob Collins in front of his house on Second Avenue in McBride. / ANDRU MCCRACKEN

The lingering effects of a near-fatal car crash in 2015 and a mill fire this spring have conspired to take Bob Collins out of the work force, but the 41-year-old isn’t going to let a brain injury hold him back.

Bob lives with his father on 2nd Avenue in McBride. Bob is one of the many people who were put out of work because of a fire at BKB Cedar Mill this spring.

A church friend recommended that he visit the Brain Injury Group in Prince George. He said advice from the Brain Injury Group have gone a long way to helping him deal with other people and stressful situations. He and his father now recognize when he gets flooded.

“Everybody gets flooded. When I get flooded, I start going in circles. I pick up one thing, forget what I am doing and pick up another thing. Once that word came up, it helped my dad and I understand what was going on,” he said.

He’s now left the workforce as it has become more difficult to learn new skills. With his job at BKB gone, he’s not in a position to learn a new job, though he is creating some beautiful rock work and antler carvings.

As a veteran of McBride’s cedar post and rail industry, he believes more should be done to support the industry. And he doesn’t mind voicing his opposition to the Ancient Forest Provincial Park.

“Sure it’s a beautiful park and all that, but I could take you to places 10 minutes from here that are the same thing,” he said.

“All of us workers got shafted.”

He believes they put many McBride workers out of a job and closed TRC Cedar. At its height, TRC Cedar employed 70 people.

“Lots of kids went in and out of that mill, they got enough money to go to school, to buy a car, to become carpenters, and welders,” he said.

He would like to see the McBride Community Forest Corporation run a local cedar mill and get local kids working at an adjoining mulch bagging plant.

He cannot abide the waste that he sees piled up on logging blocks.

“If we all threw $50 in, we could saw that lumber that is left over there and everyone would have enough lumber to build a house instead of burning it,” he said. “Shit, we got to pay carbon tax, and they just burn that stuff?”

“There are cedar trees falling, laying on the ground that are rotting away. I could go in there and take a shake block off it and make some money at it. But I can’t do that because it is against the law. Yet they fell a tree,” he said. “There should be a law against that. The waste that is out there makes me sad.”

Bob Collins Sr. / ANDRU MCCRACKEN

Bob has been vocal about issues facing McBride.

Apart from advocating for a revitalized cedar forest economy, Bob said that there are some simple things that could improve the town for the youth.

He believes that a 40-foot dugout near town, created as a result of the work on the village’s new sewage lagoons should be stocked with fish and turned into a fishing hole for local kids.

While Sports Fishing BC was interested in the idea, Bob said without council’s blessing the project was a nonstarter. A week after he mentioned the idea, the village was hauling refuse to fill it up.

“I was a kid here once. I know what those kids are going through,” he said.

“Kids didn’t have much here before, they have even less now. The adults need to stop looking at themselves and starting looking at the future for the kids here.”

As a kid, his home life wasn’t great. His father was an alcoholic then and his mother left when he was eight.

After starting Grade 7 for the second time at age 12, he decided he didn’t need the hassle and judgment coming from fellow students. A couple months in, he decide to leave school.

He began working as a dishwasher at 12 years of age and soon started working at a construction company.

“I’ve been paying into Canada Pension for 29 years and I’m 41,” he said.