When Tumbler Ridge's only plumber wants some downtime, he has to get out of town.
That's what Mark Evans did last week. During a particularly taxing string of jobs, Evans, 30, noticed a pain in his leg. Doctors in Dawson Creek chalked it up as fractured—a stress injury caused by repeated kneeling and standing. They told him to take time off, so he went to Vancouver for some R&R.
"This wasn't just a 'I have lots of money and I want to get out of town' trip," he said on the phone from Vancouver. "It was a necessity. Just last week I had two people show up at my house to ask about work. If I'm in town, I'm going to be working."
It's an exceptionally busy time for Evans. The town, reeling from mine closures last year, has a swath of vacant homes and apartments that are a plumbing disaster waiting to happen. If a pipe cracks somewhere in Tumbler Ridge, Evans will likely be the one crawling around to fix it.
Evans is so in demand that he's deleted his Facebook page, which had become another way for people to contact him for plumbing work. The week of April 20 was one of his busiest ever, with 38 jobs.
"There was an hour job here, someone's pipe froze, a two hour job here, somebody needs a water line connected for a toilet," he said, listing off a day's work.
Evans moved to Tumbler Ridge in 2008, when the economic picture was rosier. Now, the population of 2,700 has almost certainly shrunk, and unemployment rates are in the double digits.
Born in Liverpool, England, Evans entered a plumbing apprenticeship program at age 16. He was working almost as soon as he got his ticket.
"I literally finished school, and while all my friends were taking their summers off, I was called right into a plumbing apprenticeship," he said with a sigh. "It was finish school, take the weekend off, you start on Monday."
His Welsh cousin married a woman with family connections in Tumbler Ridge, which led Evans to visit in 2008. His British tickets allowed him to do most plumbing work in Canada, and he set up shop as MGE Maintenance and Repair.
He briefly worked under the town's previous plumber, who passed away shortly after retirement. "I guess I was left to be the only one then," Evans said.
Now, work is a mix of bathroom installs, repairs, and the odd plumbing emergency. Those are becoming increasingly common. Evans recently responded to a call from a man who lives in Calgary but has a home in Tumbler Ridge.
"He turned up for a check on his house, just to spend a night, and when he got there, there was water coming through his kitchen ceiling," Evans said. "Emergencies like that, it's just amazing. A pipe is frozen or a furnance has given in and it cracks when it gets a little warmer."
Many who have left town have hired property management companies to check furnaces, bathroom fixtures and other potential trouble spots. Some rely on friends to check their homes.
"Sometimes a friend can forget, and if something has gone wrong that's when an issue can go undetected," he said.
Another time, a man left his apartment window slightly ajar before leaving town for Christmas. The room froze. When it thawed, it flooded. The apartment was on the ground floor, which minimized the damage. Evans has seen the worst case scenario, too.
Evans has worked in every apartment block in Tumbler Ridge, so he has a sense of how hollowed out the town has become in recent months. He estimates most apartment complexes around between 20 and 30 per cent full.
While Evans says he wants to stay in Tumbler Ridge, the frustration of living in a remote community going through a rough patch sometimes boils over. He describes trying to find a sold out part at the usually well-stocked hardware store.
"That can be frustrating," he said. "I have days when I think 'I can't do this much longer.' I have to go back and try to Mickey Mouse something back together because I can't get a basic connection that's usually here."
He's at the crossroads himself, deciding whether to stay in Tumbler Ridge long-term. He owns his home, which makes picking up and leaving more difficult given the current rental market.
"Usually the renter's deciding what he wants to pay, not what you get from him," he said.
On Monday, Evans will be back to the grind, dealing with plumbing problems in a town that has plenty of them. Just call ahead, and don't show up on his doorstep.