Way back in 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was a smash hit movie, with 11 nominations for Academy Awards, and winning Best Original Story. Filled with political intrigue, the plot entranced audiences.
Fast forward almost 80 years, and it’s ‘Kamloops Councillors Go to Eastern Canada Mining Towns’. The plot seems destined to be just as gripping as the 1939 predecessor. But, the question remains, will sending two Kamloops city councillors to Timmins, Ontario, and Malartic, Quebec, resolve council’s questions and concerns about the proposed Ajax Mine.
I’d heard of Timmins before, but I’d never heard of Malartic, so I thought I’d find out a bit more about it.
Malartic, a small town of about 3,000 people, is located directly adjacent to a large open-pit mine. The pit. Google Maps Street View shows a small, well-kept town, with working class neighbourhoods.
I’ve never been there, but it looks like a lot of small Quebec towns I have been too, which, just like many small towns here in B.C., is past its glory days. The heydays are past for Malartic, but the people who live there seem to be doing okay. At least for now, people who live there seem to have a decent living. Chances are, like any small town, the kids can’t wait to grow up and leave. My guess is it is full of old people.
There are houses immediately adjacent the rim of a massive pit in Malartic. That’s very, very close, especially compared to the proposed Ajax Mine, where the rim of the current pit is about 3.4 km from the closest houses in Aberdeen. Certainly, by the end of Ajax’s mine life, the rim will be closer by maybe a kilometre to houses, but it won’t be immediately across the street from houses. I’m not sure if I’d want to live on the rim of a mine pit like Malartic, but that’s not what is being proposed for Kamloops.
I’ve never lived two or three kilometres from a mine pit either, but I’ve visited friends in Sudbury, another mining town in Ontario with mines across the street from houses. The people I visited lived within a few kilometres of a mine. They also lived within a few kilometres of Laurentian University with a medical school, an engineering school and an architecture school, as well as a host of other programs.
Sudbury also has Université de Sudbury, Cambrian College and Collège Boréal. Sudbury, a city of 160,000, hosts two art galleries, two professional theatre companies, and numerous community theatre companies. Sudbury also hosts a prominent gay bar. There are professional sports like an OHL hockey team, and they’ve hosted similar national and world sporting championships as Kamloops. My hosts told me how vibrant Sudbury was, not unlike Kamloops in what it has to offer, with maybe a bit more because the city is 40% Francophone, so there are many French cultural events as well.
Going to Malartic, the councillors will definitely see a big pit, but having a sense of what it would be like to live in, I’d say Sudbury would be a better comparison.
Why would anyone want to live right next to a mining pit? Perhaps after the councillors ask the people who live beside the pit at Malartic and Timmins (or maybe two or three kilometres away, like they will be in Kamloops), they can ask the Kamloops residents who live right next to Lafarge in Kamloops, or across the river at Campbell Creek. Certainly not everyone would want to live on a rim of a mine (although that is not what is being proposed for Ajax), but there are certainly people who choose to.
I’m not sure I’d live on the rim of a mine, but I live a block or so from the railway tracks in Kamloops and I have lived on the final descent of Vancouver airport. I’m no different than the people I visited in Sudbury, who picked the city for work, and grew to love it for everything it had to offer.
When the councillors visit Malartic and Timmins, it would be great for them to ask ‘why do you stay?’ and ‘why don’t you leave?’ There is good and bad in every place. I’d rather not hear the trains or feel their vibrations, but at the end of the day, I’d rather live downtown than anywhere else in Kamloops. And given that Kamloops has so much to offer, I’d rather live here than most anywhere else.
I’m not sure I’d want to live across the street from a mine pit. But I’m not sure if I’d want to live in Aberdeen either, but that’s because they have two months more of winter than downtowners like me have in the valley bottom.
I look forward to hearing what the councillors hear on their trip, and whether it changes any of their minds. One thing I think is certain though, is that after their trip back east, they’ll return to Kamloops and say how happy they are to live here.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.