TED RAMSEY decided to move to Thornhill in the 1970s in large part because he was attracted by the promise of freedom the rural community offered to home builders like himself who wanted to do things their own way.
“I didn’t want the restrictions of someone breathing down my neck and supplying blueprints and that kind of thing. That’s why I moved there, because I could do it the way I wanted to do it,” said Ramsey, who now represents Thornhill as director of electoral area E for the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine.
“You were just a little bit different if you were from Thornhill,” Ramsey recalled. “We had a lot of characters who were colourful and sort of did what they wanted.”
“There is a bylaw in place that limits you to the number of chickens you have, but there was never anyone there to enforce it.”
“It’s a little more controlled now,” he continued. Several years ago the regional district hired a bylaw officer who now enforces rules governing design and construction in Thornhill.
The wild west days of do-it-yourself home construction that led to some “unique” designs has calmed down somewhat.
Early on there was no money to pay a bylaw officer, said Ramsey.
“So we’re always standing back, sort of the poor cousin of Terrace,” he said.
Going back decades there had been discussions about uniting the rural community of 4,500 with Terrace, creating a municipality.
The prospect did go to a referendum, which failed, and Thornhill residents, including the late Les Watmough, a long-serving regional district director and called the unofficial mayor of Thornhill, sought to keep their own identity.
And now with the northwest experiencing growth from industry-related business including Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat aluminum smelter modernization project, BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line and Veresen’s Dasque-Middle hydroelectric project, Thornhill has been feeling growth along with its larger neighbour.
“We have had more enquiries it seems about land and development opportunities but not much has been actually started,” said Ken Newman, who is a planner for the regional district.
What Thornhill does offer is land for a growing industrial services sector, something that is becoming a scarce commodity within Terrace’s own industrial services corridor on Keith Ave.
Some new starts include the Driving Force vehicle rental business, the rebar distributer CanaSteel, and the Northern Crane Company. And a small manufacturing business called Pacific Quality Exteriors has opened on River Drive behind the Chevron station, and there is movement on the old Ron King Trucking lands on Old Lakelse Lake Road which were sold recently to potential developers.
The past year has also seen changes in ownership and restructuring of current businesses including the sales of the Mazda/Subaru dealership and the Northern Motor Inn.
“Our trading name is the same. Northern Motor Inn,” said Jeremy Jeon, the new operations manager and stakeholder. “We wanted to keep their excellent reputation and improve our service to the people, not only to our customers but to our community and staff.”
Jeon said he wants to keep the same basic business structure of hotel, restaurant, club and beer and wine store in a combined space.
Though new to Thornhill, Jeon said he feels the area is expanding, and that Thornhill offers the space and location that companies want.
“I hope to see other hotels and motels coming into this area because I think there is a lot of space for it, and because this is very good place for this kind of business,” said Jeon.
Plentiful space and easy access off Hwy16 are what drew a large rebar supplier to Thornhill.
CanaSteel opened in November to customize and ship rebar, metal rods used for creating supporting structures in construction projects.
Its main client is the Rio Tinto Alcan modernization project, said yard manager Andreaw Dallman, adding that CanaSteel built a warehouse in Thornhill because shipping from its Prince George yard was becoming complicated.
“Alcan, Alcan, Alcan,” said Dallman. “After that the LNG projects and the expansion of the port in Prince Rupert. We have at least ten years of work ahead of us here.”
He said his company sends about 30,000 pounds of rebar to Kitimat a day, and that the large access zone at its Thornhill location makes it easier for semi trucks coming in and out.
“This way we have room to shuffle them in, shuffle them out. It’s good access,” said Dallman.
Good access is what attracted another company, Northern Crane Services, to Thornhill as well.
Supervisor Roy Prois said his company, which has to move large cranes and parts of cranes for its operations, benefits from the proximity to Highway 16.
“It’s a little less congested than other parts of town which helps when we need to head east,” said Prois.
Both Prois and Dallman said that the patchy cell service in Thorhill is one of their only complaints about operating a business there.
Prois said Northern Crane Services installed two boosters which help amplify cell signals, but he said a new cell tower is needed. Telus has been talking about putting in a Thornhill tower as part of an upgrade to their northern wireless corridor, though when this will happen is still uncertain.
Ramsey said that another factor related to infrastructure in Thornhill that holds business back is the lack of a sewer main.
He said septic systems add significant cost to business and home construction.
A comprehensive sewer system would add significantly to the Thornhill investment climate, Ramsey added.
Aside from industrial growth, Ramsey sees untapped potential in other industries such as recreation.
“We’re recreation rich,” he said. “When you start looking at recreation values, Thornhill has them all.”
The rod and gun club has more than 500 members, making it, according to Ramsey, one of the largest north of Vancouver. Though Thornhill also boasts a golf course and a riding arena, Ramsey insists recreation hasn’t nearly hit its peak in the area.
The potential for hang-gliding in Thornhill is “a whole industry sitting there doing nothing.”
He also thinks a ziplining business would be a good fit. Then there is the kayaking on Williams Creek with its 60 to 80 foot canyons and a dirt bike course near the airport.
Promotional efforts would be aided through a Thornhill tourism strategy, said Ramsey.