Rena Hummel says you can tell a lot about the state of the local economy not just by looking at what comes into the town’s dump, but by what goes out as well.
The self confessed junk-ie should know – she’s been working at the Kitimat dump for nearly 18 years, and has seen the boom and bust cycles first hand.
“You can always gauge the town by what was being dropped off here. Before the boom people will rather fix a sink than replace it and drop the old one off here,” said Rena. “When the booms come it’s a different story – you see lots of empty TV boxes and practically new furniture.”
“Before you would also see tons of stuff being brought to the dump during spring cleaning. Now you’re seeing again that people are hanging onto stuff.”
Like so many of Kitimat’s long time residents, Rena says she has seen the town slowly aging along with the people, and while many have moved away when they’ve retired, many who were around in the early days chose to stay.
“I always know when the retirees are moving away from Kitimat – they bring their garbage to the dump and I can see by what they’re bringing that they’re moving,” said Rena.
She says the same applies to couples moving, and even couples who are breaking up – it’s all there, on the back of trucks and trailers, each load telling its own story.
Rena’s story in Kitimat began when her family moved to Kitimat in 1966 when she was 12, brought here by Alcan who had initiated a program to offer non-violent criminals who were in jail and who had experience in the trades the opportunity to work at the plant.
Her father took them up on their offer, and after working a three-month probation period, was permanently employed and allowed to bring his family from Kamloops up to Kitimat.
“We lived at the Kitimat Hotel first. I remember the RCMP checking up on us all the time,” said Rena.
She said she was immediately struck by the differences between Kamloops and Kitimat, Kamloops dry and Kitimat wet, with lots of snow. She was also struck by the number of different nationalities and cultures in Kitimat at the time.
“Kitimat was a lot more diverse than Kamloops. People here were always from somewhere else. You weren’t meeting people that were born here,” said Rena.
She said as a kid she loved the social aspect in Kitimat, the fact that people were willing to mingle and the different cultures.
“People brought things to Kitimat that we were just not used to, especially different foods,” said Rena.
She said she had never had Dutch food until she met her husband Albert, who she married when she was 16 and still in high school. She’s quick to point out that she was not pregnant at the time!
“Now, if my daughter had said at 16 that she wanted to get married, I would have had something to say about it. Even now, my granddaughter likes to remind me that I was married very young when I lecture her about getting married too young.”
Rena and Albert had three daughters, Mickey, Tamara and Cynthia, all born and raised in Kitimat.
Mickey passed away from melanoma cancer, while Tamara moved to Prince Rupert and Cynthia decided to stay in Kitimat, a familiar face at the skating rink where she coaches.
Rena admits that she has had a lot of jobs in her time in Kitimat, everything from working at a restaurant on the docks to tree planting for the forest services. It was while working for forestry that she and a number of female colleagues decided to go it on their own and started a tree-planting business.
The five friends ran the business very successfully until the time demands that came with traveling throughout the province became too much for their women, who were all raising children at the time.
They called it quits and went their own way, and Rena went job hunting again, working a number of jobs, including working at the post office, driving taxi cabs for a few years and a stint at Eurocan.
“I have a very long resume, which was quite intimidating for some potential employers,” said Rena.
One of those employers who wasn’t put off by her resume is her current employer, who asked Rena whether she would consider taking over the management of the dump because of her experience in tree planting.
She said she shared his philosophy of recycling as much as they possibly can at the dump, and today the dump is divided up into sections of different materials piled up throughout the dump.
Looking around the dump at some of the items, it’s not hard to see why Rena knows so much about Kitimat – much of its history lies among the everyday waste.
“People don’t like seeing their stuff thrown out. They prefer giving it to me to make sure it goes to someone else,” said Rena.