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Residents of Old Fort, B.C., remain isolated as huge, creeping landslide continues its slow march

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VANCOUVER—As a slow-moving landslide continues to creep down from the cracked hillside towards the Peace River more than 24 hours after its descent began, the residents of the nearby Old Fort community outside Fort St. John, B.C., are still stranded with no safe way to leave their area.

Gordon Pardy, a longtime Old Fort resident who spoke with the Star on Sunday, said he and his wife, Bobbi, are staying put for the time being despite a conditional evacuation alert that had been issued by the Peace River Regional District.

A pair of Old Town residents walk by the landslide which has buried the only access road to their community, just a few kilometres outside of Fort St. John, B.C.
A pair of Old Town residents walk by the landslide which has buried the only access road to their community, just a few kilometres outside of Fort St. John, B.C.  (Courtesy Bobbi Pardy)

“We’re doing OK, hanging in here,” Pardy said by phone. “We’ll probably manage better than some people.”

The whole community has its water trucked along Old Fort Road — the only access to or from the Old Fort community — which the landslide had buckled and then buried over the past two days, he said. The asphalt buckled and heaved throughout Sunday, and is now buried under earth, trees and debris far higher than a person stands.

And since the community’s water is only delivered every two weeks, Pardy said, some residents are eyeing their personal reservoirs worriedly. The power was also cut Monday, he added, since the lines were directly below the oncoming landslide. That means Old Fort residents no longer have heat for their homes, he pointed out, and it’s -6 C in the Peace River area. It has also begun to snow.

The Peace River Regional District (PRRD) — the administrative body responsible for the area — issued a conditional evacuation alert for the Old Fort area Monday morning. The alert says residents may evacuate the area “if they feel it necessary to do so.” Those residents who evacuate will be provided with food and lodging by the PRRD. Alternatively, residents may remain in their homes, though the alert notes they must be “self-sufficient,” as there is currently no vehicle access and the road may not be repaired for several days.

“Residents who choose to stay will not be provided additional support (supplies, medication, etc.) at this time,” the alert reads.

Trish Morgan, director of the PRRD emergency operations centre, said the PRRD strongly encouraged residents to evacuate regardless of whether the landslide posed greater danger than simply isolating Old Fort.

Pictures provided to the Star by Bobbi Pardy show that the slide is moving slowly enough that trees brought along with the massive movement of earth actually remain upright. Bobbi likened the material to slow-moving lava; a person could outpace it at walking speed, she said, but there was so much earth it was just unstoppable.

But landslides in that part of the province — especially along the Peace River — are not uncommon, said John J. Clague, emeritus professor in the department of earth sciences at Simon Fraser University. Clague emphasized he had not visited the Old Fort slide, so couldn’t comment directly on that specific event.

“The soils up there are particularly prone to landsliding,” Clague said in an interview. “They’re very clay-y soils. A thick package of non-rock material — we call them sediments.”

These sediments, Clague said, are particularly thick in the Peace River Valley area. This is the kind of sticky soil, he said, that will make a mess of your boots when you walk through it. And because these soils have very low strengths when they’re deposited at the bottom of steep slopes (as they are in the area around Old Fort) they can be prone to fail, crack and provoke a landslide, as in this case, he said.

The fact that the trees remain vertical as they move down the slope aligns with the kinds of conditions that might typically be seen in landslides in that area, he said.

Gordon and Bobbi Pardy, meanwhile, said they are spending their hours checking in on neighbours and making sure everyone in the Old Fort area has what they need to stay safe.

“Some people are leaving,” Gordon said, noting the power outage had really changed the equation for some residents.

But at the moment, he added, the slide only appeared to be threatening them with isolation, and posed no direct danger to their home.

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering Canada’s cannabis economy. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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