Sobeys closing IGA store in OCN, blames 'current economic situation'

Manitobans living in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and The Pas are losing a place to buy their groceries, as the IGA store on the First Nation is closing in the coming weeks. The 47 people who work there will be out of a job.

47 jobs lost in closure of grocery store in First Nation community

The shelves at the IGA store in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation are bare and the store's closing will throw 47 people out of work. (submitted)

In another blow to a beleaguered​ region, 47 jobs will be lost on Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas, Man., when the IGA store there closes in the coming weeks.

The area is already bracing for the closure of the Tolko paper mill in early December, while leaders from OCN are also still mulling whether to move the band's casino to Winnipeg because of a lack of business.

The region has also been hit by the shutdown of the port of Churchill and reduced service down the rail line from the The Pas to Churchill.

The shelves in the IGA are bare, in preparation for the closure. 

A spokesperson for Sobeys, the company that owns IGA, says the store will close permanently in the next few weeks.

"Given the current economic situation in the community and the continued under-performance of the store, we came to a mutual conclusion with the franchisee that it was necessary to close the store," Sobeys spokesperson Keri Scobie said in a statement.

The Pas Mayor Jim Scott said the closure is unfortunate, though he noted that there are a number of other locations where people can buy groceries, including an Extra Foods and a privately run food store.

"It's not like we have to go to a corner store for groceries," said Scott.

However, he admits it is another in a series of bad news stories for the community.

"This has been a 90-day period no community should go through," said Scott.

'We need to redo our community'

Hundreds of jobs could be lost if the Tolko mill shuts down in December.

The Manitoba government has changed provincial regulations to allow a three-year moratorium on pension payments if a U.S. company buys the mill. The workers have already voted to take a 10 per cent pay cut and are considering pension concessions as well.

The NDP MLA for the area, Amanda Lathlin, declined to comment.

The mayor says the community is starting to look past the recent string of bad news and toward the future. 

"We need to redo our community. We have to be seen as something else," Scott said.

A meeting involving 15 communities from the region and others along the Bay Line rail route to Churchill is scheduled for this Friday in The Pas.

Scott expects plenty of discussion about the Bay Line, currently owned by U.S. billionaire Pat Broe and his company, OmniTrax Rail. The company cut service along the rail line this past summer and there are efforts, headed by the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, to purchase the line from the company,

There is still a sense of purpose throughout the region, Scott said.

"We are all on the same page," he said. "It's going to be done by northerners. We've tried the American billionaire route."