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

William Griffin arrested in Houston homicide

RCMP have now arrested William Griffin, the man wanted in connection to… Continue reading

B.C. First Nation Chief Ed John faces historic sex charges

John served as minister for children and families under then-premier Ujjah Dosanjh

RCMP traffic stop leads to recovery of stolen Peterson Contracting service truck

Welder found in the back of a different vehicle by RCMP

Acwalscta students take on Spirit North bike race

Spirit North is an athletics program that aims to engage First Nations youth in sports

BCTF rejects mediator’s recommendations for settlement

Negotiations between B.C. teachers and the province will continue

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

Maddison Yetman had been looking forward to voting in her first federal election since junior high school

Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Lily Copeland says she felt intimidated and trapped by Williams

Cleanup in the works after tanker truck fire leads to oil spill in B.C.’s Peace region

The province said the majority of the spilled oil likely burned away in the fire.

BC VIEWS: Action needed on healthcare workplace violence

While we’ve been talking about it, the number of B.C. victims has only grown

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

MacLean says “Coach’s Corner is no more” following Cherry’s dismissal from Hockey Night

Cherry had singled out new immigrants in for not honouring Canada’s veterans and fallen soldiers

MacKinnon powers Avs to 5-4 OT win over Canucks

Vancouver battled back late to pick up single point

Poole’s Land finale: Tofino’s legendary ‘hippie commune’ being dismantled

Series of land-use fines inspire owner Michael Poole to sell the roughly 20-acre property.

Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Candice Servatius, who is an evangelical Christian, is suing School District 70

Most Read