Big data, bright future: new tech centre aims to revitalize former B.C. mill town

The new Columbia Lake Technology Centre in Canal Flats will house a large data centre and offer an estimated 100 jobs in the industry.

The Canfor sawmill, Canal Flats biggest employer, shut down in 2015 and left community struggling

Data centres are essentially the hubs of the internet which host massive amounts of online and backed-up data in secure facilities. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The community of Canal Flats in the East Kootenay is replacing industrial jobs with technological ones.

The new Columbia Lake Technology Centre will house a large data centre and offer an estimated 100 jobs in the industry.

Data centres are essentially the hubs of the internet which host massive amounts of online and backed-up data in secure facilities.

The technology centre will be built on the same 405-hectare site where the Canfor sawmill once stood, which was the community's biggest employer for nearly a century.

When the mill closed its doors in Nov 2015, it hit residents hard. A total of 170 jobs were lost and people flooded out in droves.

New investment

In 2017, Brian Fehr, chairman and managing director of the multinational forestry-sector corporation BID Group, acquired the site as a personal investment.

Originally from Vanderhoof, Fehr launched a construction company with his brother and father in 1983 that specialized in sawmills and large industrial plants, and later moved on to create automated systems for the industry.

The success of the company's technology meant a reduction in the number of mills needed, as well as the number of jobs. But Fehr saw the opportunity to create new jobs, said local entrepreneur Brian Fry.

Tech support

Fry is partnering with Fehr to grow the big tech project and help attract people to the community.

"Someone like me who has been a technology entrepreneur forever… saw that we could turn this into a really interesting… world class technology centre," Fry told Daybreak South's Chris Walker.

Fry was the co-owner of the Kelowna-based computer server and cloud service provider, RackForce, which put the city on the map with the international technology industry.

The company sold for $33 million in 2015 to the Toronto-based TeraGo Networks and still operates out of Kelowna at the Gigacenter.

Big data

He said the size of the new property will allow them to build large computer servers to process massive amounts of data, which is a service in high demand right now with the rise in automated vehicles, artificial intelligence and digital currency.

The centre will be connected to fibre optic networks which allows the company to receive and send data easily, said Fry.

"We're milliseconds from anywhere in the world… once you're connected to the right types of networks, you think in milliseconds not in kilometres."

The old Canfor site is already being used by BID Group for steel fabrication, which currently employs 20 workers. Once the technology centre is operating, it will offer about 100 jobs, according to Fry. It's scheduled to open in October 2018.

Premier John Horgan attended the announcement on Tuesday evening to show his support for the project.

To hear the full interview with Brian Fry listen to media below:

The Columbia Lake Technology Centre will house a large data centre and offer an estimated 100 jobs in the industry. 7:10

With files from Daybreak South

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