Luke Strimbold

Luke Strimbold


AGE: 23

COMPANY: Village of Burns Lake

“Helping to heal his tiny northern community, stricken with grief, confusion and anger, became the defining challenge of his mayoralty”

On Friday, January 20, 2012, an explosion ripped through the Babine Forest Products sawmill east of Burns Lake, killing two mill workers and injuring 19. Mayor Luke Strimbold first heard the news via Facebook, while attending a family gathering in Vancouver. He was 21, and he’d been in the job for one month.

“Instantly I had goosebumps, not knowing what was going on,” he recalls. He was on the first flight home the following morning. When he arrived, it wasn’t entirely clear what was going on. The damage was painfully obvious, but the fight over what had caused it would rage for another two years. A statement from the mill operator blames “fine sawdust from beetle-kill wood,” but a WorkSafeBC investigation found plugged-up air-filter bags and malfunctioning water-misting systems at Babine. Helping to heal his tiny northern community, stricken with grief, confusion and anger, became the defining challenge of his mayoralty.

Strimbold started by assembling community leaders, including the chiefs of nearby First Nations bands, to build solidarity and a shared sense of mission. Even as he was consoling the workers and families of victims at the community hall that weekend, his mind was turning to the rebuilding process. With the town’s largest employer a smouldering ruin, 500 mill workers, logging contractors, foresters and truck drivers were wondering what they were going to do come Monday morning.

Strimbold knew the economic recovery was going to be a long, steep hill, so he looked to the chiefs, local business leaders and the provincial government to help the community begin its long recovery. In the two years since the explosion, he helped secure funding for a $2-million downtown revitalization project, $3-million “multi-use facility” expansion, and new $5-million hospital and community health centre.

Arguably his biggest victory is the community forest. With approximately 500,000 square metres of timber managed co-operatively by the six local First Nations governments, the Village of Burns Lake and the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, it’s the largest of its kind in the province and it entrusts the people of the region with responsibility for their future prosperity. Burns Lake is healing, and its young mayor is doing more than his part. –David Godsall

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