As the investigation into the Sea to Sky Gondola’s collapse early Aug. 10 continues, the Squamish business community is rallying to support the employees who have found themselves out of work while the gondola remains closed.
Within a week of the gondola’s forced closure, the Squamish Chamber of Commerce began working on a database of the local businesses offering employment. Not only have dozens of gondola employees found themselves suddenly out of work, but other local businesses are feeling the effects of one of Squamish’s largest employers coming to a halt.
The gondola has announced that it hopes to re-open in Spring 2020. A brand new cable and all 30 cabins will be replaced. But as the equipment has to be ordered in from Europe, there will be a long lull in the attraction’s operations. In the meantime, Squamish businesses welcomed gondola employees who found themselves suddenly without a regular
“We cannot begin to express our gratitude to Squamish businesses for coming forward with opportunities,” executive director of the Squamish Chamber, Louise Walker, wrote in an email. “In a matter of hours, we received over 130 positions, and more are coming in. We have every type of job possible, from servers and cooks, to accountants and mechanics.
“After Saturday’s incident, our thoughts were with the fantastic team at the Sea to Sky Gondola. We understood a number of people may have their employment impacted by the closure of the Sea to Sky Gondola, but ‘thoughts’ don’t do much, so we joined forces with Tourism Squamish to take action,” she wrote.
Tourism Squamish and the Squamish Chamber of Commerce hosted a job fair for gondola employees on Friday, Aug. 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Squamish Adventure Centre. Kirby Brown, the general manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola, told The Chief that the gondola has an evacuation crew of around 30 people, a catering team for events and educational guides on call.
Those casual positions will resume when the gondola is running again. A core in-house team of 75 people will be retained, Brown said, although they will have extra time to take extended holidays. Another 75 seasonal workers are perhaps the most impacted, with their contracts cut short.
“The facilitation by Tourism Squamish and the Squamish Chamber — even the Whistler Chamber reached out — is just so heartwarming,” he said.
Brown was at the job fair, and was offering references for his attending employees.
Brown said everyone on the gondola staff was still on the payroll last week and with some additional time. Employees in staff housing are able to stay, even if they accept a job somewhere else before the gondola is operational again. For the month of August, the rent in the gondola’s staff accommodation is frozen, Brown said.
“I can’t overstate the lift that it gives us to be able to focus on reopening, knowing that you guys are out there looking after us,” he said.
And while the community rises up to help the gondola, the Sea to Sky Gondola is giving right back. A day after the gondola was discovered on the ground, the Squamish Food Bank received an email saying the Sea to Sky Gondola was donating the perishable produce from its restaurant.
On Aug. 14, just four days after the gondola was forced to close, the bank’s project manager said the gondola donated about 500 to 600 pounds of food — and more to Squamish Helping Hands.
“It was pretty awesome. A good thing to come out of a very bad event,” Emma Cox said.
The Squamish Food Bank normally buys its produce at a discounted rate from Nesters. The costs total a few hundred dollars every month.
“It will be nice for people coming to the food bank on Wednesday, because we have green onions, we have jalapeño peppers, we have lettuce, we have zucchini — we just have tonnes of awesome produce we don’t normally have. We normally buy the kind of basics, like carrots, potatoes, apples.”
On a regular food bank day, Cox said they’ll see between 120 and 150 people, including families with kids.
Fresh produce helps with the Squamish Food Bank’s goal to encourage healthy eating. Having the donated produce, Cox said, “will look like a nice kind of farmers’ market in there.
“I thought it was amazing that after everything that’s happened, I can imagine it’s pretty hectic and there’s lots to think about,” Cox said. “I don’t think it was easy for them to co-ordinate getting all the food down and organized, distributing it to the people in the community, but they took the time to
Brown said the gondola’s food and beverage team came up with the idea to donate the food.
“We got them up the hill as quickly as we could in a fleet of trucks to rescue the food so that they could get as much as they could into the food bank and Helping Hands while it was still fresh and pristine,” Brown said.
There’s a second wave of less perishable food that will be distributed soon, Brown added.
The gondola team, Brown said, has been “responding with such common sense and big hearts and they’re trying to do the right thing all at once.”
Squamish RCMP continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the cable, which they said appears to have been cut in the early morning of Aug. 10. No one was injured, but the damage caused will total in the millions, said the gondola’s Christy Allan.
The police have not released new details about the case to the public since Aug. 12.
While Brown could not provide new details about the investigation, he said he has full confidence in the RCMP’s investigation, which he said has been very thorough.
For those looking forward to getting back to the gondola, the company says it will honour season passes as if they were frozen on the morning of Aug. 10.
On opening day, the company said passes will have the exact amount of time left on it as of Aug. 10. No days will be lost.