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Bralorne’s only business closes its doors

Backcountry motel, pub can’t attract workers
Bralorne's gold mine is open but the local motel and bar have shut down. Pique file photo

By Cindy Filipenko

Forget stopping for a beer in Bralorne. The only business in the tiny town has closed due to a staff shortage. The 10-room Mines Motel and adjacent Claim Jumper Bar and Grill closed down on Nov. 5 when the business’s manager sustained a back injury that left her unable to return to work.

Finding a new manager in the town of 19 has proven so far impossible for co-owner and Squamish resident Jacques Beaudoin. Signs advertising the job have been posted as far away as Pemberton.

Beaudoin acknowledges that finding qualified staff is a regional problem, due in part because of the landlocked nature of the location.

“You can get out over The Hurley (Pass) or through Gold Bridge. It takes a certain type of person to do the job. Ideally, I think it would suit a couple best. They could manage the whole place most of the time, and when it gets busy, say a party of 20 is coming in, they could hire as needed.”

Primarily a tourist destination, the motel operation has been instrumental in serving the snowmobiling community since its inception. With the best early snow season in memory and five new commercial sled operators tenured for this winter, the closure represents a significant loss of opportunity.

“You come here on New Year’s Eve, every room in town is full, the pub is full,” says Beaudoin. “It’s incredible.

Many of those people who have booked New Year’s sled vacations from out of province have been told their reservations have been cancelled.

“We also sell fuel here and the guy who does in Gold Bridge opens whenever he feels like it,” says Beaudoin. “People here are mad at us for closing, but we had no choice.”

The locking of The Mines Motel’s doors represents a hardship not only for tourists, but for residents in both Bralorne and nearby Gold Bridge. But as time goes on, there are fewer and fewer locals in the area.

Bralorne was once sustained by mining, with 4.1 million ounces of gold taken from the three mines that operated in the area between 1897 and 1971. The Bralorne Mine was re-opened in 1982. In 2004, the staff was reduced from 60 to 22 workers.

Bralorne Gold Mines has currently undertaken a $3 million drill exploration program as part of an eight-phase program to develop ore reserves for a 280 tonne-per-day operation. Initial drilling results have been positive and they are beginning to drill on the King vein, the area’s richest gold source, that was first tapped in the 1930s.

President William Kocken anticipates that the mining operation will return to pre-2004 levels of employment in 2007.

“When I came here in 2003, I let them know in Gold Bridge that I was hiring. If you’ve ever been to Gold Bridge you know that sign reads: ‘Population: 43’ — by the end of two weeks, I had 42 applications.”

Of the workers Kocken eventually hired, 20 were locals and another 12 rented homes in the area, while some preferred to live in the mining camp.

While resource-based jobs pay better than service industry jobs, logging, mining and fishing are subject to changes in legislation and the marketplace. For almost two decades, various provincial governments’ mantras have been that B.C. is moving from a resource-based to a service-based economy with tourism at the lead. How can this be achieved if there aren’t people ready to take the jobs?

Whistler's staffing shortages have been making headlines for the past two years. Remote areas with low populations present a more acute version of this problem.

John Leschyson, director of Industry Human Resource Development for Go2, the tourism industry’s human resources arm, says that to date his organization has focused on regional studies, examining major territories such as the Sea to Sky corridor.

“We don’t have research specific to remote locations,” he admits.

The Department of Recreation Tourism Management at Malaspina College has done some initial research into the issue. Department head Nicole Vaugeois says that as a province B.C. is entering a 30-year labour shortage. Having not experienced this before, solutions will have to be necessarily creative.

“Bralorne is not alone. This is happening across the province,” says Vaugeois.

“The reality is that small business owners need to get creative and think outside the box. For example, in Dawson Creek, I think it was the Ft. Nelson Hotel, they couldn’t get a cook, and so they hired one from another province and offered to fly him home every two weeks.

“A lot of people think ‘I need to pay more money,’ but that’s not true, particularly of this new generation who aren’t as motivated by money as they are by other quality of life issues.”

Vaugeois notes that to find those potential workers businesses have tied into colleges and other education institutions offering tourism courses. Another tactic employers have used is issuing long-term contracts that outline an increased level of responsibility as length of service increases.

“Employee dissatisfaction can stem from limited opportunities to increased responsibilities and skills. Things change if they can see employment as not just a job, but being on the career track.”

While businesses everywhere in the province are vulnerable to the current labour shortage, rural communities have the added issue of depopulation.

“Communities need to come together and decide what they can offer people who want to move.”

Vauegois cites a phenomenon known as amenity-based migration, where people decide to move based on lifestyle issues.

“People move where they want to live and create their employment after,” she explains.

Creating awareness as to what individual areas offer is a key component to success.

“Younger people don’t know what’s out there. They think the jobs for tourism are only in Vancouver and Whistler.”

While these findings, once disseminated, may help to develop future job strategies for the area, the current feeling in the region is one of loss.

“I see it as a relatively major loss,” says Russ Oakley, who represents the area on the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. “The snow and the trails are here and a valuable amenity has been lost.”

Oakley, who resides in Gold Bridge, describes tourism as a major economic generator in the area and an industry that has developed on its own.

“The industry is self-driven at this point. As people are discovering the area, it’s expanding — people being entrepreneurial and all.”

A continued influx of non-resident owners points to a shifting demographic in the region, with some making significant investments.

“There are a couple of homes under construction at Gunn Lake that are in excess of $1 million,” says the director for Electoral Area A. “It’s going to improve as time goes on.”

While he waits for things to improve, the closed motel and pub’s owner remains torn. Although Beaudoin loves the area, he’s not prepared to take on the day-to-day operations of the businesses and questions the feasibility of being an absentee owner.

“It’s no secret, the business is up for sale,” he admits. “While we’re looking for someone to manage the place, it would be great to find a couple who want to buy it and take it on.”

The pub and 10-room motel are listed at $350,000.