'I need to plan for the future': Hotel owner says Churchill businesses need answers about support

A Churchill business owner says he needs answers about what to expect from the provincial and federal governments after the suspension of rail service to the community.

Province has held off on making specific promises pending a damage assessment report

Churchill, Man., calls for help after losing railway

CBC News

4 years ago
Train traffic ended in late May after floods washed out tracks. Churchill relies on rail to bring in essentials, including groceries and fuel. 2:02

A Churchill business owner says he needs answers about what to expect from the provincial and federal governments after the suspension of rail service to the community.

"I am a very optimistic guy, I'm a big community guy. I want to feel this is going to pull through," said John Hrominchuk Jr., who owns two hotels in the northern Manitoba town of about 900, about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
John Hrominchuk Jr. owns two hotels in Churchill, but says he'll only be able to open one this year thanks to loss of rail service. (CBC)

"But I'm also a smart guy and there's a lot of things happening now that the math just doesn't add up."

All train traffic to the community was shut down in late May after flooding washed out tracks in 19 locations between Gillam, Man., and Churchill. The town relies on rail to bring in essentials including groceries and fuel.

Omnitrax, the owner of the rail line, said service may not resume until spring of 2018.

Premier Brian Pallister said the province won't announce concrete promises or subsidies for the town until a damage assessment is completed, which Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said could take as long as four weeks.

"It would be very premature for me to start talking about subsidies when I don't know the actual nature of the needs," Pallister told reporters Wednesday. "That's why it's important to assess the situation properly and fully."

Premier Brian Pallister on Churchill

CBC News Manitoba

4 years ago
Manitoba's premier said Churchill and other northern communities that rely on the flood-damaged Hudson Bay line will likely have to manage without a railway for some time. 2:07

Spence has already urged the province to speed up that process.

Hrominchuk said he and other business owners need an indication now of what they can expect going forward. He's not opening one of his two hotels due to cancellations and he's already getting nervous about polar bear season.

"I'm without words sometimes, because I just don't know the answers. They had a meeting with the town. The town doesn't have a lot of answers," he said.

"Hopefully very soon the province and the federal government become a lot more vocal and take a position on Churchill, just to give us a base point, either it's a go or not [a] go. I need to plan for the future. I've got to see if it's worth running a business in Churchill."

'The face of Manitoba'

Business owners in the community have already laid off workers as tourists cancel stays and the price of food increases thanks to the much-higher cost of shipping by air instead of rail. 

Tavia Brereton is a sous-chef at the Tundra Inn, which let five employees go on Saturday. She said she flew to Churchill for the job, and another employee who had been laid off had already purchased his ticket to do the same.

"I was kind of mentoring him down in Winnipeg, and he's pretty upset that he can't come up," she said. "But he and his mother are coming up just for a visit to see what it's like and hopefully we can show them that Churchill — we're very resilient."

This section of the Hudson Bay Railway is just one of 19 areas between Gillam and Churchill that are impassable after flooding. (OmniTrax)

Hrominchuk said he's held off re-hiring two seasonal employees and has put a hold on three staff scheduled to return to the Dancing Bear restaurant in his Churchill Hotel.

Pallister said Wednesday about 80 per cent of tourists to Churchill travel by air, not rail. But Hrominchuk said that 20 per cent is his profit margin.

He wants to see the provincial and federal governments commit to supporting the community in a meaningful way.

"The face of Manitoba half the time is the polar bear. You know, I see it, I'm involved in that, I love it that we do that," he said.

"But sometimes I got to ask my question — what is Churchill getting out of Manitoba? Because I know what Manitoba is getting out of Churchill, but I don't know what Churchill is getting out of Manitoba. It's not a rail line."

With files from Jacaudrey Charbonneau, Jillian Taylor, Laura Glowacki