More frustration in Churchill as residents asked to conserve propane

Frustration is growing in Churchill as residents grapple with a propane shortage more than a year after flood waters cut the only rail connection to the northern Manitoba community.

Order to conserve fuel comes as residents await word on fate of rail line

Frustration is growing Churchill as residents are asked to conserve propane due to a looming shortage. (Submitted by Omnitrax)

Frustration is growing in Churchill yet again as residents grapple with a propane shortage more than a year after flood waters cut the only rail connection to the northern Manitoba community.

Residents were asked to conserve the fuel Friday after Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization warned the community's propane supply was hitting critically low levels.

With no rail line into the community, propane has to be brought in by sea and the last shipment arrived in October. The next shipment isn't expected to arrive until mid-July.

"I knew it was going to happen, I mean, they only sent up so much last year," said Patricia Kandiurin, 52, who has lived in Churchill her whole life.

"It couldn't sustain us because all of our housing units in Churchill are propane heated."

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said Friday the news couldn't come at a worse time, with temperatures in the province's most northern town forecast to dip to just above freezing over the weekend.

In a news release late Friday, the town asked residents to conserve propane.

It asked residents to conserve energy while managing temperatures in homes and businesses whenever possible, keep windows and doors closed to conserve heat and use safe alternatives for heat, such as electric space heaters or wood stoves.

Kandiurin said she and her husband have been taking all the precautions advised by the town, keeping her windows closed and turning down thermostats down.

Losing hope

Kandiurin says the bad news on top of bad news has some in the community losing hope.

"They are saying, 'We'll never get a rail,' but I still have hope," she said Saturday. "I have to — we all have to — if we don't have hope we don't have anything."

The rail line to Churchill was washed out by a flood in May 2017.

Denver-based Omnitrax, which owns and operated the line before the flood, refused to repair the tracks, saying it couldn't afford the cost and had been trying to sell the northern port and rail line.

The company estimated the cost of repairs to be between $40 million and $60 million.

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Residents along the line and in Churchill, a town of 900 that lies approximately 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, have faced increasing costs for commodities, including food, heating fuel and gasoline.

Kandiurin, who is diabetic, says the rising food costs facing the community have been hard on everybody.

"No one can afford to eat healthy here with the prices of produce," she said, adding she recently paid $16 for a bag of cherries.

"There are single mothers with four kids and I feel for for them."

'It's been such a hard year already'

Amanda Proulx works at the Arctic Trading Company, where staff have been using space heaters and a wood stove to keep warm.

"It's a little frustrating. It's been such a hard year already and Churchill doesn't necessarily warm up as fast as everywhere else so it's still kind of chilly up here," she said.

"Our business in particular, we spent the last week without heat at all."

Amanda Proulx, 24, who works at the Arctic Trading Company in Churchill, says the propane shortage has left the business conserving their heat. (Submitted by Amanda Proulx)

With whale season just getting underway — traditionally a busy time of year for the community as tourists travel from around the world to watch the whales — Proulx says the shelves at her store are nearly bare.

She said the Arctic Trading Company, which sells souvenirs to the tourists, hasn't been able to afford to bring in new merchandise by air.

"The tourists are starting to pick up now, but we don't really have the stock for them to buy so it's kind of a moot point and with (us) being a fly-in only community right now, our stock has to be flown up in planes and it's very expensive," she said.

"We don't really have the funds to stock up for whale season. We're just struggling financially."

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Both Proulx and Kandiurin are quick to answer when asked what needs to happen.

There needs to be shovels in the ground fixing the rail line, they say.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the residents of Churchill. Late last month the federal government announced a tentative deal had been struck to bring ownership of the Port of Churchill and the rail line back into Canadian hands.

'This isn't just a rail line. This is our North': Churchill's forgotten rail line

5 years ago
Duration 12:47
'This isn't just a rail line. This is our North': Churchill's forgotten rail line

Two groups representing northern communities and First Nations, One North and Missinippi Rail L, joined forces with Toronto-based investment company Fairfax Financial Holdings and now have an agreement in principle to buy the beleaguered assets from Omnitrax.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is expected in Churchill for a series of meetings and announcements next week, and Kandiurin is hopeful one of those announcements will include a start date for the repair work needed on the line.

"I'm hoping he's coming to tell us that everything is a go and everything is going to be fixed," she said.

"We'll have our lives back and won't be basically held hostage anymore — because that is what it feels like."

With files from Erin Brohman and Sean Kavanagh


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