Selkirk College and Zellstoff Celgar Bonded By History and the Future
It’s a kindred bond that has provided an economic and social foundation for the West Kootenay over the last 50 years.
Fuelled by the natural resources that drive the regional economy, Zellstoff Celgar and Selkirk College help define what it is to live in rural British Columbia. Both came to be in the 1960s, a time of great opportunity in the West Kootenay.
As Selkirk College celebrates its 50th year of providing inspiring and relevant post-secondary education in 2016-2017, that bond is stronger than ever.
“Zellstoff Celgar is an important engine for the region and Selkirk College helps to keep us that way,” says Zellstoff Celgar Human Resources Manager John Belland. “This is a big operation and we have diverse needs for a variety different skillsets and people with different backgrounds. From that perspective there is no doubt that Selkirk College touches Celgar in most departments and is a critical partner in making sure we have the right people with the right skills for the right jobs.”
The relationship was cemented the day Selkirk College opened its doors to students in September, 1966. Due in part to a railway and carpenters’ strike that summer, the new Castlegar Campus at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers was not ready on time. With the college in a bind, Celgar offered up the onsite bunkhouses remaining from the mill’s initial construction days as a way to get the Fall Semester underway.
For the first four months of class, the 458 charter students and Selkirk College staff were housed in the cozy quarters on the mill site. It was a unique challenge that provided a now legendary start for all those involved. When students moved to the new Castlegar Campus in January, 1967 they staged The Great Trek which added further layers to the lore of those early days.
There’s No Place Like Home
Dave MacKinnon has worked at Zellstoff Celgar for 38 years. An electrician, MacKinnon is one of 400 mill employees who contributes to the success of the operation along the banks of the Columbia River.
Born-and-raised in the West Kootenay, MacKinnon smiles widely when he talks about the opportunities the company has afforded his family over the last four decades.
“Celgar and the entire area has been really good to me… I have a great life,” says the 57-year-old.
When MacKinnon graduated from high school in Castlegar, he wasted no time in starting his career at Celgar. In the 1980s he took some computer training at Selkirk College and then when he was 38, the company helped him work towards his electrical apprenticeship. He again looked to Selkirk College, this time Nelson’s Silver King Campus where trades training is offered.
“It was a little later in life to be going back to school, but I rose to the challenge and I did fine,” says the Red Seal electrician who completed his required classroom training at Selkirk College.
With a blended family that includes five children, Selkirk College has also been vital in providing post-secondary to his loved ones. MacKinnon’s wife is a graduate of the Hairdressing Program and after 19 years switched gears to take the Classroom & Community Support Worker Program which led to the completion of a degree from the University of Victoria. Two sons have attended Selkirk College in carpentry and electrical, two daughters have taken the Nursing Program and his middle daughter got her start at Selkirk College before moving onto Okanagan College.
“The fact they all got to live at home and attend Selkirk College was a huge benefit to our family,” says MacKinnon. “We emphasized to our kids that it was in their best interest to take advantage of checking out what they wanted to do for education right here in their hometown.”
The ties go deeper as both of MacKinnon’s brothers have attended Selkirk College and even his parents have taken courses through the Community Education & Workplace Training department.
“I cannot imagine what this community would be like without Selkirk College,” says the avid outdoorsman. “Every member of my family will tell you that they appreciate the fact that Selkirk College is just down the road.”
Selkirk College a Key Recruitment Tool
Back in the Zellstoff Celgar Human Resources Department, Belland says having a top notch post-secondary institution providing education throughout the region is valued beyond training the local workforce.
“We need to look outside the Kootenays from time to time to bring people in for specialized expertise,” says Belland, who arrived to his post at Zellstoff Celgar three years ago from the Lower Mainland. “When it comes to attracting people from elsewhere, having an institution like Selkirk College is key. When people are making the decision to relocate and they see we have a quality post-secondary option right here, that helps attract quality people to our company.”
One of the reasons Belland and his family chose to move to the West Kootenay was the tremendous outdoor pursuits that rest at his backdoor. With three teenage children equally enthused about the recreational options in their region, Belland says his oldest daughter is likely to start her post-secondary pathway in the School of University Arts & Sciences after she graduates from high school this coming spring.
“Being able to spend that first two years at home is very valuable to her because she has only really been able to enjoy her new home for three years,” says Belland. “Now she can enjoy everything this area has to offer for a couple more years while she is still going to school. The skiing, the mountain bike riding and the access to the outdoors is a lot harder in Calgary or Toronto or Montreal.”
With the region continuing to grow and the future bright, Belland says Zellstoff Celgar and Selkirk College will continue to strengthen the bond over the next 50 years.
“The two organizations go back to day-one together, it’s a critical relationship,” he says.