Kimberley: A Good Place to Be?

I grew up in a mining town in the Southeast corner of British Columbia, Kimberley.  My father with a grade 8 education worked as a surveyor and then a first-aid attendant in the mine and my mother with her (at the time) grade 12 education worked at the ski hill.  These position required no post-secondary education and offered liveable wages. The mine, touted as the “world’s largest lead and zinc mine” was fully unionized.  The ski hill, community owned, was also unionized.

Cominco (now called Teck [TCK.B]) ran the Sullivan Mine and offered a place for the uneducated to work.  The primary caveat here would be that the mining world was one predominantly populated by white males.  Nobody I associated with had parents who had attended college, let alone university.  In my later years I got to know the sons of the one of the local doctors and the children of the city’s Operations and Environment Services department, other than that though the people I grew up with had parents like mine.  Parents worked in the mine; or at the ski hill; maybe the grocery store or the gas station.  Some worked at the nearby pulp mill, while others logged.  Twenty years ago in this community these families, with no education beyond grade 12 (if that) could live in homes they owned, take vacations, and lead stable mostly happy lives.

In the year 1998 Kimberley Ski and Summer Resort was sold to Charlie Locke, a man whose business is, improbable as it may seem, owning mountains.  The Sullivan Mine closed in 2001.  Left without a raison d’être, many people have worked hard to build something sustainable.  Now two communities exist.  One is made up of those who move here from larger communities for what they see as a laid-back, outdoors lifestyle.  This community is composed of educated individuals, people who work in health-care or education.  They commute to Cranbrook.  Or they are those with the financial resiliency to become entrepreneurs in a town without a local economic base.

The second community is composed of those who were raised in the town.  Those whose parents worked in the mine and who learned to labour from a working-class education system.  The people in this community work in resource extraction industries.  The men do stints in Alberta or in the Elk Valley coal mines.  The women stay at home with the children.  There are a few that straddle the communities, but the two solitudes remain fairly distinct.

At this time trends are pointing in one direction: the imminent superfluousness of the hewers of wood and drawers of water.  With the collapse of oil and coal, with the glacial but irreversible shift away from non-renewables, the uneducated individuals will soon be unemployed.  Perhaps there will be a service industry for them to enter, but that will likely be centred in Cranbrook.

The population of professionals who have moved to Kimberley to enjoy the lifestyle, does not a town make.  As the resource remittance well runs dry, so to will the viability of the town.  The small shops will collapse.  Home prices will drop further.  Eventually the professionals will move to Cranbrook.  So to will those forced out of the resource sector and into the service sector.  What will be left in Kimberley is a ski resort owned by a conglomerate from Calgary, some golf courses, and some stragglers.  The work will be gone.

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