Trochu, Alta., loses more than 140 jobs in a community of only 1,100 after plant fire

It'll be a long road to recovery for a central Alberta town and many of its residents after a fire at a processing plant belonging to its biggest employer, leaving at least 140 people without work.

The Sunterra Meats facility in Trochu — a town of about 1,100 people roughly 145 kilometres northeast of Calgary — was damaged in a blaze on June 17.

There are few details about the fire's cause currently, but the company is working to figure out the extent of the damage and what its next steps will be.

"The intention is to rebuild, but until we know what the exact circumstance is, it's hard to make a decision there," said Glen Price, a director with the business.

There were no injuries related to the fire, but around 600 hanging hogs that were set for processing had to be destroyed.

The local community is rallying to help the workers, hosting at least three fundraisers.

It'll be a three to four weeks before Sunterra understands the full scope of the situation, but the domino effects of the incident will last far longer, according to Trochu Mayor Barry Kletke.

"Our school has a population of about 270 people. I'd say about 60 of the students there belong to people who work at the plant," he said.

"Sunterra is our biggest employer and it is gonna be a huge economic drag."

Those who work at the plant have been issued layoff notices and could be out of work for up to eight to 10 months, Kletke said.

It'll take three to four weeks for Sunterra to know the full scope of the damage caused by the fire and what the next steps are.
It'll take three to four weeks for Sunterra to know the full scope of the damage caused by the fire and what the next steps are. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Since the day of the fire, fundraising efforts have been in full swing to help those impacted by the blaze.

Town council has called businesses and other employers around the area asking if they're taking on workers.

The local food bank has been asking for donations, and other measures are being taken in a bid to help people land on their feet.

"We're asking the people who do own their houses to talk to their banks to see if they can get a mortgage payment vacation," Kletke said, adding there are also strategies in place to talk to landlords about reduced rent.

The citizenship status of some of the workers has, however, complicated the situation.

Many who were employees at the plant were either temporary foreign workers who are working toward getting their permanent residency, or permanent residents who are working toward becoming Canadian citizens.

Kletke said town council is working with the area's member of Parliament to find a way forward for those who have residency concerns.

"We have some people that are two months away, on the rural renewal stream, from getting their permanent residency so we're just scrambling to figure out a way that we can make sure that anyone who wants to be a Canadian can stay," Kletke said.

"So we really, really, really want to keep as many people in our community, they have become a massive part of Trochu. Immigration in general is, the only way we're moving the needle with our population, so we are looking at all options that we can can think of to support them."

According to Kletke, a lot of people that were employed at the plant are newcomers from the Philippines. There are other places where people can work, but because of their status in Canada, it isn't so straightforward.

Generoso Gozo is with Trochu's Filipino community and has family and friends that worked at the plant.
Generoso Gozo is with Trochu's Filipino community and has family and friends who worked at the plant. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Generoso Gozo, a resident of Trochu who moved to the town from the Philippines about 15 years ago, was in a situation similar to what those who were laid off are experiencing.

"A foreign worker who would've moved here [recently] and has no vehicle, as well as the papers, they aren't allowed to work somewhere else without the documents, " said Gozo.

"That's the worst nightmare that I'm seeing, I've been in that situation a long time ago when I started in Canada."