The town of Houston is once again feeling the effects of a sawmill shutdown, as the recent Canfor closure has left residents and businesses with a sense of deja vu.
In 2014, Houston lost Houston Forest Products, affecting over 200 employees and leaving a dent in the community. Since then, the residents have come together and kept their small town strong, but another mill shutdown is bringing back some bad memories.
Canfor first announced the closure at the end of January, citing high operating costs, uncertain fibre supply and market conditions as the main reasons. Now, the town is left waiting as Canfor and their board of directors have yet to make an agreement on the future of the site.
“With a healthy forestry industry, we saw growth, expansion and positivity in Houston,” said Miake Elliot, owner and operator of Pawesome Adventure and Sport. “[It was] a rough few years after losing Houston Forest Products and Huckleberry (open pit copper mine) as employers so close together.”
Elliot has lived in Houston since 2008 and opened her business in 2018. She has seen the effects of both shutdowns firsthand and knows how much of an impact it can have on businesses in the community.
“Forestry curtailments became frequent and longer, [and] started to impact my business,” she said. “My revenue was telling me to reduce staff and hunker down for some lean times.”
Despite the challenges, Elliot was still able to grow and expand her business.
“At Pawesome, we were able to double in size and staff in 2021 and we were preparing for another online expansion,” she explained. “The casual expansion to a full service website had to become a priority in early 2023.”
Elliot goes on to explain how Houston relies on other surrounding areas.
“Our only hope in the retail sector is to draw in customers from other communities, hoping to keep Houston strong and healthy.”
Tarey Walles, a certified Holistic Health Practitioner and owner of Tarey’s Essentials, is also facing similar challenges.
“Our sweet little town has been hit hard by the news of the closure of Canfor and many people have had to pivot, sell their homes, find new jobs and relocate,” she said. “However, there are families who have chosen to stay in our beautiful community and find other jobs.”
Walles, who moved to Houston in 2019, goes on to say that Houston’s past should be a indication of things to come for the community.
“Houston has been hit in previous years with mine and mill closures and they have come back strong,” she said. “With all the uncertainty today, one thing I do know without a doubt in my soul, is we are Houston Strong and we will survive this.”
While there is still a chance Canfor will replace its closed sawmill, a new redevelopment is projected to take two years to build.
Canfor vice president of corporate communications, Michelle Ward, told Black Press Mediathat there is no shutdown of the mill but rather a cut down.
“For clarification, we have not shutdown the facility,” she said. “It has been curtailed for an extended period of time as we intend to build a new, state-of-the-art facility on the site.”
Canfor will be waiting until the end of July to make that crucial decision, dependant on approval by the company’s board.
Despite all the challenges and uncertainty, Walles believes the town of Houston will continue to be strong regardless of whatever happens.
“It is a time of pivoting and of our community helping each other, which we do well,” she said.
“I have never seen or been part of a community that sticks together and helps each other like I have witnessed and been blessed to be a part of here in Houston. We show up for each other in good times and tough times, and will come through this and be a stronger force than ever before.”