The Dryden Observer

Your Source for Dryden News

No longer the smell of prosperity

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

Generations of Drydenites have grown up in awe of that looming grey superstructure on its western edge.

As a small child I imagined they were skyscrapers in the distance, an impressive city skyline that could trick those who rounded the Two-Mile Corner for the first time into believing for a moment they had arrived at the very seat of cosmopolitan sophistication in the Northwest.

Pride takes on strange forms sometimes and indeed local culture has found ways to embrace and celebrate the compromises we’ve made as a community in the name of commitment to forestry.

In the 50s the town mascot was a cartoon skunk called ‘Prosperity’ — a way of laughing off the smell that visitors still complain of when travelling through.

As a kid I remember the free car wash station, the mill’s solution to residents who complained of fallout ash from the mill stacks dissolving the paint on their cars.

We have also become particularly good at hiding from our children our community’s status as a textbook example of environmental disaster, re: Reed Paper’s dumping of 10 tons of mercury into the Wabigoon River from 1962 to 1970 — leaving the job to far-flung universities to inform our sons and daughters of the shameful local legacy.

Dryden made its bed a long time ago. We’ve chosen, at every turn in our history, the path of least resistance for the continued extraction of natural resources. In doing so, we’ve missed other opportunities to grow.

Traditionally, the rewards we’ve reaped for being a ‘company town’ have been significant, particularly in the boom times, the days of the 75-cent dollar and affordable electricity.

The forest industry works on an unspoken ‘social contract’ with its host communities and province. In exchange for the right to consume publicly-owned natural resources, they provide jobs and property tax income to the community.

These days, the local Walmart likely employs more people than the Dryden mill site and an industrial property tax assessment appeal has dropped the mill’s assessed value from $50 million to $14 million, creating a massive dearth in taxation revenue.

While this is certainly more the city’s problem than Domtar’s, it should be acknowledged that from this point forward the mill will not be pulling the same weight it traditionally has in Dryden. While it continues to consume Crown resources at the same rate, its contribution to the community, once as high as 20 per cent of the city’s tax rolls, drops well into the single digits.

The social contract between Dryden and its mill has been rather suddenly re-written. I’m interested to know how this might change the community’s view towards an industry we’ve traditionally let get away with just about everything over the past century.

If it’s no longer the smell of our prosperity, then it just stinks.

4 thoughts on “No longer the smell of prosperity

  1. Reading home town news has always been an important interest for me. Economy has been a question for several years the world around.
    By the way a city ,is a city thickly populated, Dryden sits in a middle of a sparsley populated country.
    I live in small town southern ontario, and we are a Town !!!! Not a city. Even though we have immense
    population all around us!! Does “city “name, help the town, the town of Dryden?” I have always wondered. Thanks.
    I love keeping up news from my home area. I lived there in the good times, so wonderful! Precious memories.
    I Pray for your Leaders. All Leaders in the world. I have read with interest the Dryden Observer, several year even though I get information on Yahoo..
    I am a Dryden-nite, also born and raised in Quibell, Ontario

  2. Right on. Almost everyone has known this for years. Our resources, forestry, mining, water are for all people. I’m not against development and free enterprise in any way, however, todays business model is far from free. We the taxpayer invest heavily in these industries, (millions for co gen) but we benefit little. When the mill finally shuts it’s doors I fully expect the “taxpayer” to be on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up the mess left behind. We have to treat industry and big business just like they treat us. When we decide they are no longer an asset they become a liability and need to be let go.

  3. Mr. Marchand, you have succeeded in summarizing what I’ve been feeling about Dryden for quite some time. It is pretty clear Domtar has used a model for valuing their plant after site amelioration costs have been factored in. If they felt the mill was a going concern, this methodology wouldn’t have been introduced. I really can’t believe how far the mill has fallen since the hay-days of the 1980s and early 90s.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.