A flowering cannabis plant is seen at Blissco Cannabis Corp. in Langley, B.C., on October 9, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Pot company hopes to replace jobs lost in mill closure in B.C. town

About 200 workers lost their jobs when the Tolko sawmill in Merritt shuttered in 2016

Arnold Meyer spent 40 years working at the Tolko Industries Ltd. mill in Merritt, but then he faced the reality of being laid off.

The 62-year-old was one of about 200 employees who lost their jobs in 2016, crippling the economy of the small town and prompting politicians to promise to restore the ailing forestry sector.

Two years later, the province’s lumber industry is still facing challenges, but a new sector is revving up. A cannabis company hopes to build a grow facility in Merritt, replacing jobs, including Meyer’s that were lost in the mill closure.

“It sounds good to me. They said they want me to be one of the first hires for when the plant opens up,” said Meyer, who held various positions at Tolko, where he mostly drove machinery.

Emerald Plants Health Source Inc., or EPHS, purchased a massive chunk of land in the city and plans to build an initial 3,700-square-metre facility before building up to potentially more than 100,000 square metres.

The facility would eventually employ more than 200 people in a range of jobs, from low-skill trimmer roles to higher-paid management jobs.

READ MORE: A look inside one of B.C.’s cannabis production facilities

Members of the company first learned about Meyer in a Canadian Press story on whether marijuana had the potential to revitalize small towns hit hard by resource job losses. In the 2017 article, Meyer said he hoped a cannabis company would create jobs in the community.

“It just resonated with us as a group as we read that article, that this could really change people’s lives in Merritt,” said Jeff Hancock, executive vice-president of Emerald.

“I think that’s really what Arnold Meyer symbolizes to us as a company.”

Emerald also hopes to contact others formerly employed by Tolko. There are many transferable skills from mill work to cannabis and other skills can be learned, Hancock said, adding the company had good conversations with city staff and plans to put in its formal application soon.

It aims to break ground in the second quarter of 2019 and plans to start production in the second or third quarter of the following year, he said.

Newly elected Merritt Mayor Linda Brown said some younger Tolko employees left town to work at other mills run by the company or seek other employment, while some older employees found themselves retiring earlier than planned.

Brown said she still has questions for Emerald, including whether the jobs will pay well, but she expects to support an application when it’s put forward.

“We need industry. We need developments in there. That’s what I got elected on, was that kind of a platform, developing the city,” she said.

Tolko did not return a request for comment but said in 2016 a lack of timber supply forced it to close the mill. The union that represented the employees declined comment.

Emerald is a Health Canada-licensed producer that already has a facility in Montreal. Hancock and others with the company have energy industry backgrounds and have developed ways to reduce the energy costs associated with cannabis, he said.

Meyer was skeptical when Emerald first contacted him but now he’s looking forward to meeting company representatives in Merritt soon, he said.

Asked how it felt to be part of their inspiration for the project, Meyer laughed.

“My chest got big and my head started to swell and I got a bunch more feathers in my hat,” he joked.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Invermere gets new CAO

Invermere found his new CAO after a long period of research.

Radium council discusses short term rentals

RHS council are elaborating the second draft plan for STR

Farmers’ Institute report highlights emerging local food scene

Beef cattle ranching remains mainstay of valley agriculture

Beautification process begins in Canal Flats downtown

Canal Flats wants to improve the esthetic of the town

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Totem pole considered cultural appropriation removed from Nelson’s Hume School

The pole had also become rotted and was seen as dangerous to students

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

‘It’s a boy’: Southern Resident killer whale calf born to J Pod is healthy, researchers say

J35 had previously done a ‘Tour of Grief,’ carrying her dead calf for 17 days

Most Read