Saskatchewan

'We would probably become a ghost town': Coronach, Sask., wrestles with an uncertain post-coal future

Uncertainty and frustration boiled to the surface during a recent town hall about what the future of the town of Coronach, Sask., will look like without a coal mine.

Task force focused on phase-out transition meets with residents Coronach, a town that 'revolves around coal'

The coal mine near Coronach, Sask. (SRC)

Uncertainty and frustration boiled to the surface during a recent town hall about what the future of the town of Coronach, Sask., will look like without a coal mine.

The federal government announced earlier this year it will take measures to speed up the phase-out of the use of traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030, which will mean closures of mines.

No date has been set for the closure of Coronach's mine, but a federal task force assigned to assist with the transition visited the southern Saskatchewan town on Wednesday to listen to residents.

Many residents said a new industry for the people of Coronach should be implemented in response to the anticipated closure of the town's mine. Some questioned where they would live or work after the mine and plant closure. 

People stand at the Coronach town hall to show they're affected by the phasing out of coal in Canada. (SRC)

Town Coun. Sharon Adam asked people who will be affected to stand. Nearly the entire room rose to their feet. 

If the mine closed and SaskPower was no longer running coal … we would probably become a ghost town very quickly.-Catherine Mackay-Wilson

The Poplar River mine is just outside of Coronach,  a town with a population of around 650 people 163 kilometres southwest of Regina.

The coal mine is owned by Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal Company.

SaskPower's coal-fired Poplar River Power Station near Coronach is the second-worst polluter in the province, next to the Boundary Dam, according to 2014 information from Ministry of Environment officials.

Currently, more than 30 per cent of Saskatchewan's electrical capacity comes from coal. The province hopes to get to 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

A coal community 

Kristin Catherwood is the intangible cultural heritage development officer at Heritage Saskatchewan. She and her colleagues did a "living heritage project" on coal in Coronach last year. 

So how important is coal in Coronach?

"It's why Coronach is here," Catherwood said. 

"Coal has sustained this community since its earliest homestead days.

Kristin Catherwood is the intangible cultural heritage development officer at Heritage Saskatchewan. (SRC)

"Since the 1970s, [the mine has] provided give or take 300 jobs and sometimes more when there's certain projects going on. And in an area like this, in a rural area in southern Saskatchewan, 300 jobs is a huge amount of employment," she said. 

Catherwood also mentioned that many people work in the coal industry to subsidize their farming and ranching operations. She said the industry allows more young people to stay in the area.

'The town revolves around coal' 

Catherine Mackay-Wilson, town administrator for Coronach, said around two-thirds of the adult population works either at the power plant or the mine. 

"The town revolves around coal," she said. 

Catherine Mackay-Wilson, town administrator for Coronach, said the community could become a ghost town if, or when, the mine closes. (SRC)

"Without coal, we sort of feel like we have something hovering over our heads that coal will leave and we don't know when or why or what will happen to the town. It's sort of an overhanging threat all the time.

"If the mine closed and SaskPower was no longer running coal … we would probably become a ghost town very quickly."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said more than 50 per cent of Saskatchewan's electrical capacity comes from coal. It is, in fact, more than 30 per cent.
    Jun 14, 2018 8:35 PM CT

With files from Raphael Beaumont-Drouin/SRC and The Canadian Press

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