An iconic sawmill in Kelowna is no more.
The city’s Tolko mill had its last day of operation Wednesday, a Kelowna industrial fixture for almost 90 years at its lakeshore location in the north end of the city.
Last year on Nov. 8, workers at the mill were told the operation would permanently shut down due to logging costs, market conditions and policies as of Jan. 8, 2020.
With the shutdown, United Steelworkers president Pat McGregor said workers are now receiving resources to help get them back on their feet.
“We’re working with bunch of entities, including the City of Kelowna, the B.C. government and WorkBC to help get the workers financial information and guidance,” said McGregor.
“A lot are starting to access the $69 million (financial) package the provincial government had set up for them in October.”
In the package, $40 million is set aside to provide early retirement bridging programs for older workers, $15 million is provided to establish a new employment program focused on fire prevention and community projects, and another $12 million is provided to help workers access new skills training.
While some of the younger workers laid off are looking for other mill employment opportunities, McGregor said the majority of them are leaving the forest industry for good.
“The younger workers were part of the first set of layoffs in July (2018),” said McGregor.
“While some of them have uprooted from Kelowna to work at the Tolko mills in Armstrong, Lumby and Lavington, most are looking to get out of the industry.”
McGregor said some of the employees worked at the mill for decades.
“We had third and fourth generation workers at the mill,” acknowledged McGregor.
“It’s pretty emotional.
“One person had been there 44 years and it was the first and only job he’s ever had.”
McGregor said there are four remaining hourly employees at the site who are performing security duties.