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GiveLife.ca

    
Day 21: Lloydminster, Alta.
Simple bag of pot tough to find
in town where fat wages buy plenty

JOHN STACKHOUSE

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

The first sign of Alberta's oil boom is a neon sign for a liquor store. The next is a girlie bar. Then a run of motels, half a dozen fast food joints and an autobody shop, the First Truck Centre, with its large plastic steer out front.

For any roughneck in from the bush, for the guys racing their TransAms up and down the Yellowhead Route, Lloydminster seems to have it all. Except drugs.

Cliff, a welder from Cape Breton, has been in town for a year, and knows all too well about the shortage. Today, he has to drive to Edmonton with his two teenaged sons to buy a few ounces of marijuana, the one thing he can't find in the land of plenty.

Demand for pot is so big around Lloydminster that prices run as high as $320 an ounce, Cliff explains as he struggles with his old Hyundai on the road to Edmonton. In the provincial capital, he can find some for $240 an ounce.

Marijuana is only the most casual narcotic on the oil patch. Ecstasy and crack are now big in Lloydminster, explains Cliff's 18-year-old son Nigel who is to return to school next week, hoping to make up for last year. He went to every class stoned, but still passed with average marks.

"It's not like it used to be," Cliff adds, taking another cigarette from Jason, his 16-year-old son who is slouched in the back seat. He's lying low, having spent a year incarcerated after leaving school in Grade 7.

"You now get crack houses in these small towns," Cliff says.

If there is a small town that represents this other side of Alberta's boom, it is Lloydminster -- everyone calls it Lloyd -- with its bright lights that draw rig workers from Alberta and Saskatchewan, the two provinces it straddles. On weekends, the town is awash with money as oil companies try to increase their cash flow, and labourers cash in. Roughnecks are making more than $20 an hour these days, while skilled labourers are pulling in $30 or more -- much more on jobs racing toward production.

(A lack of young people willing to do hard physical labour has only increased wages and overtime payments. Nigel took a $6-an-hour summer job at McDonald's rather than work in the field.)

Lloydminster's neon-lit strip and darker underside stand in sharp contrast to the wholesome image of the province presented by Alberta's conservatives. Indeed, after Lloyd, the highway returns to the tranquillity of farm country, then through Vegreville, home of the world's largest painted Easter egg, and across more neatly harvested fields and rounded bales.

Everywhere in rural Alberta there is a look of security amidst plenty, a look Cliff's sons stare at blankly while he wrestles with the steering wheel. Between cigarettes, Jason points out a herd of bison, and then a sign to Edmonton. We should be there in less than an hour.
John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on globeandmail.com, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published in September.

Day 21: Lloydminster, Alta.
Simple bag of pot tough to find
in town where fat wages buy plenty

JOHN STACKHOUSE

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

The first sign of Alberta's oil boom is a neon sign for a liquor store. The next is a girlie bar. Then a run of motels, half a dozen fast food joints and an autobody shop, the First Truck Centre, with its large plastic steer out front.

For any roughneck in from the bush, for the guys racing their TransAms up and down the Yellowhead Route, Lloydminster seems to have it all. Except drugs.

Cliff, a welder from Cape Breton, has been in town for a year, and knows all too well about the shortage. Today, he has to drive to Edmonton with his two teenaged sons to buy a few ounces of marijuana, the one thing he can't find in the land of plenty.

Demand for pot is so big around Lloydminster that prices run as high as $320 an ounce, Cliff explains as he struggles with his old Hyundai on the road to Edmonton. In the provincial capital, he can find some for $240 an ounce.

Marijuana is only the most casual narcotic on the oil patch. Ecstasy and crack are now big in Lloydminster, explains Cliff's 18-year-old son Nigel who is to return to school next week, hoping to make up for last year. He went to every class stoned, but still passed with average marks.

"It's not like it used to be," Cliff adds, taking another cigarette from Jason, his 16-year-old son who is slouched in the back seat. He's lying low, having spent a year incarcerated after leaving school in Grade 7.

"You now get crack houses in these small towns," Cliff says.

If there is a small town that represents this other side of Alberta's boom, it is Lloydminster -- everyone calls it Lloyd -- with its bright lights that draw rig workers from Alberta and Saskatchewan, the two provinces it straddles. On weekends, the town is awash with money as oil companies try to increase their cash flow, and labourers cash in. Roughnecks are making more than $20 an hour these days, while skilled labourers are pulling in $30 or more -- much more on jobs racing toward production.

(A lack of young people willing to do hard physical labour has only increased wages and overtime payments. Nigel took a $6-an-hour summer job at McDonald's rather than work in the field.)

Lloydminster's neon-lit strip and darker underside stand in sharp contrast to the wholesome image of the province presented by Alberta's conservatives. Indeed, after Lloyd, the highway returns to the tranquillity of farm country, then through Vegreville, home of the world's largest painted Easter egg, and across more neatly harvested fields and rounded bales.

Everywhere in rural Alberta there is a look of security amidst plenty, a look Cliff's sons stare at blankly while he wrestles with the steering wheel. Between cigarettes, Jason points out a herd of bison, and then a sign to Edmonton. We should be there in less than an hour.
John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on globeandmail.com, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published in September.


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