The Promise of Northern Development

FTLComm - La Ronge - March 17, 2001
pictures by: Judy shire

When the Europeans first began exploring North America they were overwhelmed at the vast expanse and variety of land forms they found. From the beginning of settlement the leading edge of development was the frontier. As time went on that frontier changed as it advanced with the expanding domain of the European settlement. As little time as a century ago that frontier was the empty Great Central plains onto which the railroad developers
brought European settlers to
establish farming outposts to justify the construction of continental railway networks.

About the same time the North became the "new" frontier as miners seeking the instant riches of gold poured into the Northern Portion of BC and then into Yukon seeking their fortune.

When the second war came the North American Frontier became the undefended

Northwest and resulted in the Alaskan highway.

In the middle of the 20th century Prime Minister John Diefenbaker pointed to Canada's undeveloped North and tried to develop what he called "roads to resources" and in the last two decades we have seen mega projects developed or attempted only to fall sadly short of their promised outcomes.

Many economists have pointed out that this constant belief in the yellow brick road of the North and of American frontiers has been a total myth largely set forth by developers and entrepreneurs seeking their own riches. However, as countries neither the United States nor Canada have conscientiously attempted to use both of their frontiers to provide them with economic expansion. The development in Alaska of its oil and gas reserves was a one shot deal prompted by the need for energy and seemed never to have had the comprehensive approach needed to make it a positive and successful order of business.

Canadians have almost always considered the Northern frontier as something to be temporarily exploited then abandoned when the profits slowed. In 1980 all of Canadian attention turned toward the development of a pipeline project along the Alaskan highway but when conventional oil supplies blossomed the project fizzled.

This week it was announced that the only copper mine in Saskatchewan would be shut down due to a build up in inventory by the mining company Hudson Bay Oil and Gas. This is the standard method of operation for Northern exploitation. Faro, Cassiar, Tungsten, are all Yukon related mega mining projects, all closed down after hopes and dreams of Northern development saw positive development and settlement in the frontier.

Here in Saskatchewan the aboriginal people insisted that they be made part of the process of Northern development and they are indeed included in the development of Saskatchewan's uranium mining business which seems to go from boom to bus on a monthly basis.

But the concentration of extractive exploitative development almost guarantees failure. Today La Ronge is on the edge of Saskatchewan's Northern frontier with offices and service support to mining and exploration projects that attempt to find magical money pits North.

What is not a myth is that when you involve people and their creativity and ability to find real solutions a positive and permanent cash flow can develop. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been following the Ontario example of just extracting from the North. We need to consider other models and see what we can do to develop unique and permanent development in the whole Northern half of the province which is now all but completely uninhabited. By considering what we can do with this land and how both its indigenous people and those who move there can develop trading, manufacturing, commercial ventures that do not involve the boom and bust of mining and clear cut forestry.

Let us consider some alternatives.

  • To the immediate West of Cumberland House there is an amazing delta filled with the most fertile soil and is just teeming with life. The Delta is more that fifty miles wide and seventy miles long. Plant a road into that delta with some bridges and offer the land to both aboriginal and other would be farmers and who knows what towns and villages might spring up as the land would support a much more diverse form of agriculture that almost anywhere else in the world.

  • Between Cumberland House and Red Earth is a huge swamp, it is the habitat of a wide range of wild life and because of the difficulties to travel through it few people have ever seen the mysteries of this area. What an opportunity to develop wild life tourism, to take people out into a place were all kinds of animals live.

  • With communications technology being what it is becoming there is no need for us to concentrate life in Regina and Saskatoon, why not establish a Northern college of arts and science at Buffalo Narrows or La Loche.

  • With most of the worlds uranium why are we shipping this stuff away for fools to fashion into bombs. Electricity is in extremely short supply in the United States, why not start building nuclear power plants at Walaston Lake, far from large populated centres and export the power while developing bigger and better means of using this dangerous resource. A construction crew could build power plant after power plant while twenty years later a deconstruction crew could dismantle the things one after another in a continuous loop of construction, power production, deconstruction and so on.

A cure for economic recession is economic expansion, now is the time to seriously consider Northern development only plan this process to be permanent and ongoing. With development would come prosperity and a larger population using Saskatchewan's empty resource rich environment.

Timothy W. Shire