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School closings meant bump in business on the slopes

Eric Jamieson arrives with his three sons at the Shaughnessy Point Grey Out of School Care Society located at Quilchena Elementary school in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, March 5, 2012.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

Grouse Mountain had an unexpected economic windfall during the three-day strike by teachers earlier this week.

"It was smokin' busy all the time," said Sarah Lusk, the ski mountain's public-relations manager. "There were six times as many people as we normally see here on a Monday, hundreds more."

Ski and snowboarding camps were offered to mirror the school day but at a cost of $72 for those without a season's pass to the slopes. A more modest program with wildlife rangers and snow games cost $45 for those without a pass.

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No one was complaining – about the strike or the cost. "It looked like [parents]took the time off. What a great way to spend a couple of days off school," Ms. Lusk said. "Monday was the most amazing up here, it was gorgeous, sunny, people just soaking up the rays, getting a suntan."

Grouse Mountain was one of several B.C. businesses that saw opportunity in the strike that closed down schools across the province.

But the unexpected bump in business for some came at a cost for others. Families had to pay for camps and daycare, while many work places had to accommodate employees who booked off to care for their children.

How much did the strike cost the province?

The savings to government from teachers not collecting their salaries were estimated at $11-million a day. But no firm figure was available this week on impact on business or the cost to families.

"No doubt there is a cost, but there is not a button to push to figure it out," said John Winter, chief executive officer of the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce. "I don't know how you could put a dollar figure on it."

If the number of children who showed up at school was any indication, few parents felt stuck. The schools were open and prepared to supervise children who had no other options. Thirteen of 31,000 elementary school children came to school in the Vancouver School District on the first day of the strike. On the second day, only seven showed up.

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Administrators at neighbouring Surrey School District, with 70,000 elementary and secondary school children, did not report any children being dropped off at their schools. If some showed up, they were supervised without any special accommodations.

Several community facilities offered daycare and special programs for children of working parents. Kerrigan Gymnastics Academy in Coquitlam offered a half-day program for $25 and a full-day program for $45.

Families were making arrangements to help each other out, owner Sara Kerrigan said. Siblings of different ages would come with cousins. The gym had 12 children on Monday in its program, and by Wednesday, 17 had showed up.

But staying away from schools did not necessarily mean parents were paying for an alternative. In many families, relatives pitched in to take care of the children.

Mr. Winter said his wife looked after their grandchildren during the strike. She met many grandmothers at the playground doing the same thing.

"My guess is, [a strike of]three days did not have an alarming effect on the economy. But if it is extended, it will," Mr. Winter said.

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