B.C.'s Historic Hat Creek Ranch employees face uncertain future | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C.'s Historic Hat Creek Ranch employees face uncertain future

Employees at the Historic Hat Creek Ranch welcome visitors from around the world.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Historic Hat Creek Ranch

KAMLOOPS - The Historic Hat Creek Ranch in Cache Creek is facing operational uncertainty and the people employed there are worried about their future.

Robert Sharkey, chair of the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society which manages the site, says the employees of Hat Creek Ranch are unsure of their future due to issues between the provincial government's Heritage Branch, the Bonaparte Indian Band and the ranch.

After 15 years of contracted operations, the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society has been given a conditional one-year extension on its contract with the Heritage Branch. He says this has left the employees, visitors and locals unsure of what the future holds.

“It kind of makes it intolerable to operate a business… we’re under a conditional one year right now, and it lost us all the bookings for 2020 and 2021. If we enter another one year, I would call it a death spiral financially,” Sharkey says. “Employees, staff, management - they've got to look after themselves. If we can't commit to them, how can they commit to us?”

Sharkey says in 2004,15-year contracts were issued for various heritage sites across the province such as Hat Creek, Yale and Barkerville. Sharkey says the operators of the other sites have been granted a five-year extension on their contracts, while Hat Creek Ranch has not.

“It would appear, talking to other sites, that we just happen to be at ground zero. Everybody else seems to have a reasonable future,” Sharkey says.

In late July, the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch put forward a Request For Proposal to continue overseeing operations of the site. The Bonaparte Indian Band also voiced interest and Sharkey says private discussions between the Heritage Branch and Bonaparte Indian Band often left the Hat Creek Society in the dark.

Sharkey says another issue that arose during the process was the provincial government's commitment to the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Sharkey points out that the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch are supportive of local indigenous groups, and says some of the board members are from the Bonaparte Indian Band. He also notes how indigenous employees could be affected by an unstable future for Hat Creek Ranch.

"After that (Request For Proposal) there was yet another seismic shift in the requirements from the N.D.P. government... It changed their willingness to make a commitment to us based on trying to incorporate the Indigenous aspect," Sharkey says. "We have a large Indigenous content in the heritage presentation, historic presentation and interpretation of the site. We have 30 per cent First Nations wonderful employees and they love it."

One of the employees who worries about his future is the ranch's chief executive officer Don Pearce who lives on-site.

"I'd be out of a job, along with my 40 employees. I'm the only one that lives on site so I would have to pack up my house and move, and I would have to find a new job, a new house, everything,” Pearce says.

Sharkey says the Bonaparte Indian Band has been deemed an inappropriate candidate to operate the site, and the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society were offered to continue running the site with a conditional one-year extension. Sharkey says this is not good enough, as site operations will not be successful if no tour groups, weddings or events can be booked in advance.

Sharkey took to Facebook to share his take on the situation.

Credit: FACEBOOK / Historic Hat Creek

Sharkey says when the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society were offered the conditional one-year extension, the board members immediately voiced their dismay and called for a five-year extension. Sharkey says the Hat Creek Ranch has been one of the most successful heritage sites in B.C.

"This year was our best year ever, we were holding it together with uncertainty and telling people, 'Look, we think we can get a stable future, but it doesn't look like that,'" Sharkey says.

Although they are hoping to be issued a five-year extension, Sharkey is unsure of when that decision could be made, if ever. Sharkey is not certain if or when the employees would take job action and hopes he doesn’t have to find out.

Sharkey urges people to support the continued operations of Hat Creek Ranch by contacting their MLA, the Heritage Branch or Premier John Horgan.

No one from the Heritage Branch or the Bonaparte Indian Band has responded to requests for comment.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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