Operations at the Voisey’s Bay mine site, about 35 kilometres southwest of Nain, run 365 days a year, regardless of weather or even holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Employees have to be on site at the fly-in/fly-out location to complete the daily work required at the open pit mine, concentrator and site residences.
This year — in a first for employees and the company — the management has put together a special offering in the name of Christmas spirit.
Arrangements have been made for 25 employees to have a family member or loved one join them at the site for three days, from Dec. 24-26. Interested employees will enter and names will be drawn at random, The Telegram was told.
“Christmas is a challenging time to be away from home and this was an opportunity to bring home a little bit closer and also give folks an opportunity to see where their loved one is working,” said Bob Carter, a spokesman for Vale in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Bill Legge, the manager of site services at Voisey’s Bay, said the idea came out of general management meetings and is only possible since the number of people on site drops during the Christmas season, due to contractor turnover and vacation time.
“Normal operation for us can be up to 280, 300 people. That time of year it would be closer to 200,” he said, meaning there will be open beds at the on-site accommodations.
There was a restriction on the number of people who could be brought in, but the company has found seven open seats on planned flights and will be adding an extra flight to and
from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to bring the total to 25.
When Legge spoke with The Telegram about the company’s plans in mid-December, a schedule of events to entertain the guests was not yet finalized. That said, intense discussion was underway over what might make for the most merriment.
“We have, at the mine site, a full-time recreation co-ordinator. So that person’s job is to arrange stuff like this and all the sporting events and to look after the recreation facilities we have here. We’ve got a squash court, gymnasium, weight room, cardio room, movie theatre, so … this person’s planning a lot of events,” Legge
Christmas movies, crafts and games are all in the mix. Activities will be offered day and night, since workers with guests may be assigned to a daytime or a nighttime shift.
The Telegram was told Santa will be delivering presents with his elves. Legge said Santa bares a striking resemblance to a senior manager on the site.
There will be two random draws for larger prizes on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
The company will be bringing a pastor to the site for a Christmas service.
A special menu is being prepared for employees and guests for Christmas.
“So, Christmas Eve they have traditional salt fish, moose stew,” Legge said. “Christmas Day is roast turkey, prime rib and coquilles Saint-Jacques.”
Legge said turkey is a given for Christmas Day. He speaks from experience — having spent a Christmas at the mine.
Asked what that experience was like, he said, “It’s difficult to say. At the time my kids were really small, so it was kind of hard to be away.
“It was my daughter’s first Christmas, if I remember correctly. So I just … it was my turn to work, so I worked until the 26th that year, and then I was off for a couple of weeks. We just planned Christmas for when I got home. We moved it two days, to the 27th, and kind of had Christmas at home.”
This year he will have Christmas Day off, but will be back at the Voisey’s Bay site for New Year’s.
“For New Year’s Eve, we have a live band (coming in) and a standup comedian,” Legge said. The band is called The Secrets and the comedian is
St. John’s Comedy Festival favourite John Sheehan.
Although there will be good food, family and frivolity throughout the holidays, Legge said there will also be some restrictions for safety reasons, particularly for Christmastime visitors.
Guests will be offered a tour of the mine site, but they will be restricted to specific, employee living areas for the bulk of their stay.
Everyone will be taken through a site safety orientation after getting off the flight in from Goose Bay. “They’ll go through the full orientation, the same as anyone coming to site,” Legge said.
And for their first year of flying in guests, those coming in will have to be 18 years of age or older.
If the holiday guest program is successful, the company will consider it for future seasons.