Friday, June 15, 2012

A most eclectic day in Trail!

It's been a long time since I had such an eclectic, varied and interesting a day as I had today in Trail.

It started with a breakfast with members of the Family Action Network which is part of the Health and Environment Program being undertaken by Teck and various health related professionals. Their goal is to assess the health of children in Trail and promote healthy lifestyles. I was interested in whether kids growing up in a community like Trail are indeed more or less healthy than those growing up in a city.  More specifically, what if any is the impact of the nearby Teck operation? Do Trail children benefit from the very active sports programs that people pursue here, and the fact that they can safely walk to school?  This is, after all, BC's number one Sports Town!

While we didn't reach any conclusions, I personally thought that what kids ate and drank, and whether they walked to school, participated in sports programs and the like, would likely have a greater health impact than living in a town with a smelter. But hopefully, research will be carried out to assess whether this is correct.

Following breakfast it was off to celebrate the completion of a new lighting project for a major mural on the side of the Memorial Centre at the entrance to the town. One of the revitalization projects suggested in the Downtown Plan is the lighting of the adjacent bridge. I hope this does happen since I think it would be a great initiative that could contribute to a more vibrant downtown area.

Tour of Teck operations

Following breakfast I was given a limited tour of the Teck operation. I say limited since the facility is immense and a full tour would likely take about a week.  I was struck by a number of things. While this was once the largest operation of its kind in the world, it is now one of the largest. Almost one and a half billion dollars has been spent on upgrading the facilities to meet new environmental standards and best practices.  New technologies are resulting in significant reductions in emissions. The company is now actively involved with E-Waste recycling for end of life electronics, amongst many other things.

While the site looked like a desolate wasteland in the 1930's this is no longer the case today. The surrounding area is very green, and Trail has won two national Communities in Bloom awards, in part as a result of monies invested by the company.

Trail is a company town and in many cases 5 generations of a family have worked at Teck and Cominco. The workforce is aging and many are retiring annually.  Interestingly, about 70% of retirees are staying in Trail and about 100 new employees are signing on every year.  While some are locals who left and returned, others are coming from other places.  The are coming for well-paid union jobs, and this should result in an increased demand for housing.

5N Plus Trail Inc
This is a local company that was purchased by a Montreal firm in 2009. As one of the founders said to me, we were a bunch of Trail boys trained at Teck who are now in a very unique and sophisticated business creating semi-conductors for thermal imaging.  They are one of only two companies in the world that do what they do!

As I toured their new and enlarged facilities I wished that I had paid more attention in chemistry class. I had very little understanding of what the company was doing, but it all seemed very innovative and green. I was told the company is dedicated to advanced semiconductor processing, metals purification, metals recycling and the development of a solar module recycling facility.  It seemed like a modern day version of what Teck was doing, although it too has modernized in recent years.  But it seems that this company is operating here because of its relationship with Teck.

KC Recycling Ltd.
I then went down the street to visit the largest lead-acid battery recycling plant in Western Canada. Residual plastics from the batteries are converted into tiny pellets and the lead is processed at the Teck operation.

The company also prepares end-of-life electronics (e-waste) for processing and metals reclamation. It was fantastic to watch all the TV's, computers and other electronic equipment being shredded and sorted to recover steel, silica, aluminum, copper and circuit boards. Again, materials are sent to Teck for final metals recovery.

Thinking about the amount of e-waste we are all generating in our lives, one could not help but appreciate the potential for this business.  Next door to KC Recycling was Toxco Waste.  Time did not permit a visit, but I learned that this is where my Prius Hybrid battery will likely go when it no longer functions. While the company waits for my battery, it recycles lithium batteries. It is apparently the largest facility of its the world!

Waneta Dam Expansion Project
I was then off to get suited up to visit the largest dam construction project currently underway in BC. It is costing 900 million and will one day provide additional power for the Teck operation, and other needs. It's not actually a new dam, but an expansion of one that is already in operation. I had never heard of this project but it was quite fantastic to watch.  A lot of rebar and say the least.

Columbia Gardens Winery
It was then off to a nearby winery for lunch.  This is not really a wine producing least not yet, but the lunch was delightful looking out over the vineyards. A second winery is being contemplated, although I should add that this one is for sale...with about 94 acres of land (all in the ALR) and a number of structures.

Colombo Lodge: Italian Heritage
After lunch Mike Martin and I set off to see Trail's Italian Heritage at a community plaza and lodge building housing hundreds of artifacts.  There were pictures of a younger Bruno Freschi and Thomas D'Aquino along with famous hockey and baseball players and other Italian-Canadian dignitaries. These included numerous past mayors including Sandy Santori, who went on to become an MLA and Cabinet Minister.  Sandy had joined us at some previous events and I must say....he has changed!

Star Grocery
From the Colombo Lodge we went over to meet Pasquale Amantea who for the past 40 years has operated Star Grocery, a well-known purveyor of Italian foods, meats, sausages and wine and beer supplies.  Pasquale greeted us with a large platter of Italian meats and cheeses which we took down to his basement where bottles of his home-made wine were breathing.  It was wonderful...especially since I hadn't eaten for almost an hour and a half!  But at 3:15 the Mayor arrived to let us know we had to leave...they were waiting for us at the new covered Bocce facility.

Four wonderful older Italian-Canadian men challenged the Mayor, Mike and me to a game. I was particularly charmed by Ozzie Lus (in the dark shirt), whose son Steve Lus works at CBC.  He tried to teach me the game, but I was a terrible student...perhaps because of the wine from lunch and Pasquale, and the beer being served during the game.
What a wonderful way to spend a Friday!

After a brief break, it was off to Colander Restaurant, a Trail institution for dinner with the Mayor and Mike and some of the people I had met during my brief visit. Lisa from the Royal Theatre was there (after leaving to start the film at her theatre) with her husband Jason, a local firefighter. It became apparent that everyone was very proud of Trail and eager to see further revitalization of the downtown area.  To my mind, it is just a matter of time, although there is no doubt that community leadership is required, along with some developers to take some initiative and make things happen.

My sense is that the time is ripe for some new infill developments providing apartments for seniors and others who want to live within the pedestrian scaled downtown.  While no one has done this before, that's no reason to keep delaying.  I suspect that in the coming months, the Mayor and Council will take some initiatives to demonstrate the potential demand and development opportunities.

Throughout my two days here I have been very impressed with the sense of civic pride. There is a good reason why so many people have left, only to return. Trail has a very special sense of place and community.


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