By Andru McCracken
I spent a day cat skiing with a group of men from Edmonton and Calgary on Mica Mountain – we got to know each other as the snow cat made its way up the mountain after every run. There were ear to ear grins all through the tracked snow bus, but when I asked the old standby, ‘what do you do?’ to my seat mates, the smiles quickly faded.
They were on average the same age as me. Two of the men I sat with worked in the oil industry in Calgary. You didn’t need to be a body language expert to know they worried about the future.
Someone mentioned that there are two completely empty office towers in Calgary.
There is a dark pall that hangs over Alberta.
Alberta has always been boom and bust but this bust feels different. Rail blockades, pipeline delays, talk of climate change. It makes a bad situation worse. It’s as if the future doesn’t include Alberta and the rest of Canada can’t wait to move on.
The climate emergency wasn’t cooked up to hurt Albertans… but it must feel like it.
My seat mates asked about our mill closure. I was surprised they knew of it.
I told them that we now have a ‘cockroach’ economy.
Losing the mill was kind of like being nuked.
What survived is bombproof. We won’t have another upset like that again since there isn’t an industry that employs so many people here.
Visitors always ask what drives the local economy. It’s a natural, if annoying, question.
Back when more than a hundred skilled workers made up 10% of the population and 30% of the workforce, we didn’t have to guess about what drove the economy. Back when a building full of professionals in McBride cared for the forest in a local district office, we knew what we were about. Forestry was king.
Could we even imagine then where we are now?
It’s been a long haul, a lot of time has passed since the major mills in Valemount and McBride closed. It’s tough to try and imagine what it was that helped get us through.
Perhaps the lesson is that you do get through it.
We moved on somehow. It’s not right, it’s not fair and we shouldn’t have had to, but we did.
We’re still here, but different.
My heart goes out to the folks in Alberta struggling with an uncertain future. It’s hard times in the province I grew up in.