Let's be blunt. Last week was a bad news week for Thompson and Northern Manitoba. You can shoot the messenger if it makes you feel better, but sometimes there is just no way to spin bad news other than as being bad news.
Vale's Manitoba Operations smelter was down for five days after an electrode on the Number 2 furnace super heated and caused the contact pads and isolation wood to catch fire shut the surface facility down for five days. Fortunately, there were no injuries. It is the third newsworthy fire at Vale since May 2008 when an $8 million fire in the main conveyor belt at No. 1 crusher in the Thompson Mill damaged the mill and T-1 mine and forced more than 300 workers from the job temporarily, damaging structural steel, crane supports and rails, along with the roof and No. 1 crusher leg.
Mine rescue teams were also called into Birchtree mine last May 30 after a small fire on the 2700 Level ramp. The fire was caused by the failure of a hydraulic hose on a piece of underground equipment known as a load-haul-dump vehicle, or more commonly known as a scooptram. Two workers who were in the vicinity of the fire were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure and released later the same day. At the time of the fire, there were 23 employees working underground in Birchtree – some employees of Vale and some of Macintyre & Associates. And in September 2010, there was an evacuation of 70 underground employees at the T-1 and T-3 mines due to smoke. Normal work didn't resume until the night shift three days later while crews worked to contain, isolate and eliminate the smoke from a bulk production block that had been blasted three weeks earlier.
Just as things returned to normal at Vale, word arrived that Thompson had plunged to 103rd place this year from 43rd last year in the closely-watched annual MoneySense magazine survey, which ranks cities across the country from best to worst places to live in Canada – both overall and in specific categories. It is Thompson's worst-ever overall showing in the survey. Our previous lowest ranking was 88th place overall in 2009, after the city's highest ranking of 19th place overall a year earlier in 2008. Thompson ended up in 25th place in 2007.
At the same time, MNP (formerly Meyers Norris Penny) released its long-awaited 43-page Governance and Organizational Effectiveness Review of the School District of Mystery Lake in the wake of trustee bickering and infighting, allegations of students' marks being changed and inappropriate activities for community service credits, the firing last year of R.D. Parker Collegiate probationary principal Ryan Land and resignation in January of superintendent Bev Hammond, and, for those under the illusion things somehow magically changed after Land and Hammond's departures, the still publicly unanswered questions surrounding a recent high school trip and possession of illegal drugs in Fernie, British Columbia. A lack of communication and long-term planning, low morale and an authoritative, top-down management culture are among the issues affecting the school board, said the March 19 report released by NDP Education Minister Nancy Allan's office.
What to think? What to do?
One of our online commenters, known by the username "t-dog," wrote March 22: "I would contend that the two most limiting factors to creating a high quality of life here is the apathy and slothfulness of community leaders and residents of the City of Thompson. The fact of the Vale smelter and refinery closure has been known for over a year now and very little meaningful action has been taken to ensure the sustainability of Thompson beyond 2015.
"The 'if you don't like the way things are here, then move away' attitude must stop. Blaming people for identifying community issues instead of moving to solve these issues is counterproductive and will not build a better community.
"Life is too short to waste on being stuck in a cold isolated town that offers few diversions for boredom. Kudos to the MoneySense poll for their impartial and accurate ranking of Canadian cities.
"Last one here after 2015 please turn the lights out."
While we think t-dog overstates the case, he or she admittedly makes some valid points when they say, "The 'if you don't like the way things are here, then move away' attitude must stop. Blaming people for identifying community issues instead of moving to solve these issues is counterproductive and will not build a better community."
There is much to cherish about Thompson. Many of us came intending to make our fortune, or at least a decent salary for a few years in a place where jobs are actually plentiful and opportunities for advancement or career change abundant, and then leave again. And, yes, you know the punch line: we're still here calling Thompson home years later in an archetypal story of the North. You stay for the jobs and money, sure, but also for the people, friends and co-workers, who become as close or closer than family. You stay also for the proximity to fishing, snowmobiling, hunting, skiing or almost any other outdoor recreation you enjoy, which is often literally out your back door, and if not, likely no further away than Paint Lake.