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Worker's Shortage Success Story

Tumbler Ridge Thrives

While many Peace region communities are seeing great success in creating attractive communities that bring families to the region and keep them here, Tumbler Ridge is one of the standouts.

"It's been a goal of [ours] that we want to make Tumbler Ridge the choice destination for young families," said Darwin Wren, Mayor of Tumbler Ridge.

In the recently released Federal census, Tumbler Ridge took the trophy in northeastern B.C. for growth when they more than tripled the regional average and reported a 10.4 per cent growth. This number isn't out of line with their growth over the past decade, either.

According to BC Stats, the district grew 27.3 per cent from 2001 to 2003 and another 5.28 percent from 2003 to 2006.

The unprecedented growth of the small town, known largely for their mining industry and plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities, is largely credited to their efforts to attract investment and people to the town and to grow the tourism industry presented by the natural recreation opportunities in their backyard.

Wren said it's really been about building on the natural beauty of the area and making good living as accessible as possible.

However, the District of Tumbler Ridge did not always have such success to boast about.

The town itself is barely 30 years old, having been built when Denison Mines, Teck Corporation, the Japanese Steel Industry and the Government of BC reached an agreement that allowed the Northeast Coal Development to proceed. In only three years, the town and two mines were built from scratch.

However, in August 2000, the Quintette Coal Mine was shut down, followed not long after by the closure of the Bullmoose Mine in 2003. These closures caused a great deal of social and economic difficulties as the small town struggled to keep people due to challenges with finding employment.

Not discouraged, the town launched an international marketing campaign that promoted Tumbler Ridge as a family-friendly place with affordable housing and a high quality of life in a beautiful and majestic natural setting. These efforts began building a new population base and projected a desirable image for the town.

Then, in 2005, the area saw a resurgence of industry when the Western Coal Wolverine Mine opened, followed by Peace River Coal`s Trend Mine. These projects brought much needed employment back to the area and attracted more families, creating a diverse population and a unique sense of community.

"Certainly having the employment opportunities locally has been a benefit to that, but amenities are a big thing and that's an area where we have some plans coming forward and some recent successes," said Wren.

One of those successes includes giving their community centre a facelift to make it more attractive and usable by community members.

Wren said they are also working on bringing more amenities to the town. Projects on the go right now include reviewing a plan to enhance all town playgrounds, planning a potential spray park and completing a feasibility study for a ski hill facility.

The town being so young also represents a unique ability to build community.

"Tumbler Ridge is really in a unique position in that it's roughly 30 years old. So we're just now starting to build a community in the sense of generations living here, and that's very exciting," said Wren. "There's so much opportunity to build community and it's also a very welcoming atmosphere for outsiders because most people living in Tumbler Ridge have been here for a short time. So everyone is in the same position where it's a new community, it's their community and they want to build it together."

The town has also worked heavily to bring more tourism to the area, promoting waterfalls and dinosaurs to build a unique persona that attracts thousands of people every year.

The community has also come together and demonstrated great pride in their quality of life, even winning 2011`s Healthy Families Walking Challenge. The $60,000 prize was won due to the pride of the community; even though less than 3,000 people call the town home, nearly 1200 maps and photos of the best hikes and walks in the area were submitted by community members.

"Those monies are going in to our trail systems," said Wren. "We're going to be working towards promoting some of those vistas within the community and also we're looking to expand on other recreational things like snowmobiling, ATVing and river boating. All of those things are what really makes Tumbler Ridge unique and quite attractive for families."

Wren said they are also working hard to address issues that are common such as housing; the town strategy is to create a mix of affordable and estate housing so they can cater to young families and people looking to retire to somewhere beautiful as well.

Overall, Wren said they're excited about the growth of the town and look forward to what the future will bring.

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