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Riposte

Anne Sluyter says Kitimat a healthier place to live than Vancouver
Kitimat - Alcan Paradise

The town which you so freely paint with a little-researched essay which I believe is based on assumptions and government pollution reports is not quite so "Canadian" as you paint it. Kitimat was never a "peaceful fishing village" as you describe it. It was the Summer and Winter village site for the Haisla Nation who supplied most of the West Coast First Nations with Eulachon oil - their equivalent to butter. No Europeans settled in Kitimat, contrary to your article, with the exception of a few missionary families, until 1952.

The townsite population, contrary to your article's assumptions, is made of of at least 34 different ethnic groups, the smallest of which is canadian-born residents. Skilled and unskilled labourers were actively recruited by Alcan in the 1950's from Europe, to work in a place and environment no canadian-born individual was expected at that time to wish to go to work. Displaced persons, refugees, university graduates and ex-military personnel moved from their war-torn homes for a better life. It is a tiny portrait of multicultural Canada co-existing with the Haisla people, who are also working at Alcan, Methanex and Eurocan.

I lived in Kitimat from 1987 until 1999 and left Lotus Land (Lower mainland, BC) for an opportunity to find employment and start life without a $400.000 mortgage. You can still buy a house there for less than $60,000. Unlike every other small town in BC, Kitimat was built as a planned town with the houses located North and East of the smelter and mill sites. No house is within 50 metres, or even two miles of Alcan, Eurocan, or Methanex, as your article implies. While living there, the families whose "menfolk" hunted fed their families with what they shot. There aren't any steroids or growth hormones in free range moose, geese or bear. The local grizzly bears are still fat and wary of humans and they don't need to visit the town site - perhaps you were thinking of Rivers Inlet - 500 miles south - where the local salmon run has been fished out and the grizzlies are starving? After returning to "civilisation" (the Lower Mailnland in 2000 I lost my sense of smell for a year thanks to the sulpher particulate from car exhaust and diesel exhaust in the air. My eyes burn here in the Lower Mainland like they never, ever did when I lived in Kitimat.
The people who live and work in Kitimat bear very little resemblance those portrayed in your article. Everyone who lives there works at one of the three industries. High wages are considered compensation for a dangerous and life-shortening work environment. They are managers, skilled tradesmen, and not the redneck idiots you make them out to be. The percentage of people who make their living from logging in Kitimat is probably less than 5%. A significant percentage of the population of Terrace also works in Kitimat and commutes daily to their work. Most loggers live in Terrace, a much more logical location as it is central to the four highways that meet there, and the logging mains to the back country.

While working in Kitimat the children I saw who had respiratory problems were the ones whose parents smoked at home. I don't recall seeing any children with brittle bone disease or other skeletal problems. Do you have any interviews with personnel at the "all the schools" (could you name one, perhaps?) you could quote from whom you recieved your statements about kids missing school "particularly in winter"? As winter is the season when low front after low front slams into the northwest coast of BC bringing endless rain, snow, and wind I would like to know when, more or less, is the time where there's "little wind and the smog builds up over the town"? The trees over Alcan are not dead. I have hiked the hill overlooking Alcan (do you know what it's called?) and there are indeed live trees on the hillside, some 10 metres tall.
Your portrayal of the smog in Kitimat is more accurate. It hangs like a pall on the west side of the valley, either drifting up towards Terrace or down the Douglas Channel. It will be there as long as the smelter is there, which probably won't be much longer as Alcan is actively pursuing power sales and "downsizing" its Kitimat Aluminum operations. So - end of problem?

Anne Sluyter

"Roy and Anne Sluyter" roysluyter@shaw.ca

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