Saskatchewan Business Year in Review Part 1: Prince Albert and the North

Region sees new governmental funding, continued expansion of forestry, exciting natural resource developments, and new agriculture facilities.

Despite the ongoing pandemic and its economic effects, Saskatchewan saw many exciting developments in many industries and sectors. In fact, the province continued to be a leader in job growth, manufacturing and merchandise sales, and broad industry development.

This year-in-review begins with northern Saskatchewan and Prince Albert, whose industries add much to the province’s economic growth.

PrairiesCan will continue supporting the north

On August 5, the federal government announced that Western Economic Diversification would become Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan), a distinct regional development agency for Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba with two of its seven new offices being built in Prince Albert and Regina.

PrairiesCan will be responsible for administering the Government of Canada’s Regional Air Transportation Initiative (RATI) to help seven prairie carriers and airports to remain operational during the pandemic. Of the $4 million in RATI funding the City of Prince Albert and the Town of La Ronge will each receive up to $300,000.

The forestry sector doubles-down

In 2020, Saskatchewan’s forestry sector surged with over $1.1 billion worth of forest products sold that year, an almost 30 per cent increase over 2019.

This year, Prince Albert also saw major expansions in their forestry industry as One Sky Forest Products’ proposed new Oriented Strand Board (OSB) mill was granted timber allocations by the Saskatchewan Government and the company is in partnership with twelve First Nations. The $250 million One Sky mill will have a capacity of 600 million square feet of OSB annually, and they anticipate the project will create around 700 jobs.

Also contributing to the government plan to double the Saskatchewan forestry sector by 2030 is Paper Excellence’s restarting of the Prince Albert Pulp Mill, which will create 200 jobs and contribute $300 million to the local economy annually. Additionally, the government approved timber allocations for an expansion of Dunkley Lumber’s mill at Carrot River and the Carrier Forest Products’ sawmill in Big River.

Later, Paper Excellence and One Sky Forest Products announced they will be working together through a new co-location agreement announced on November 30. The agreement will see One Sky co-locating its OSB production at Paper Excellence’s mill.

Ten new cell towers improve connectivity in rural parts of the province

Northern and rural Saskatchewan will be receiving improved wireless and high-speed internet services as SaskTel completed the $107 million Government of Saskatchewan’s Wireless Saskatchewan initiative on Sept. 10. This included launching macro cell towers in Aberdeen, Candle Lake, Carrot River, East Fairwell, Kuroki, Makwa, Marean Lake, Mount Pleasant and Prince Albert, bringing better 4G LTE service to those areas.

Cameco’s comeback

The 2020 Mining Journal Intelligence World Risk Report ranked Saskatchewan among the very top jurisdictions globally for doing business in the mining sector and the province continues growing a strong natural resource sector.

With Cameco intending to be a supplier for innovative small modular reactors in Canada and around the world, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas to explore how the companies can work together on commercializing and deploying this technology. Later, the company signed MOUs with Synthos Green Energy and  Terrestrial Energy.

In 2021, uranium prices hit a six-year high with the long-term uranium forecast price (by 2028) reaching $60 USD according to Shaw and Partners. Despite reporting a net loss of $5 million in the first quarter of the year Cameco restarted production at its Cigar Lake uranium mine after a brief suspension from December 2020 to April 2021 to deal with COVID-19 risks.

Since 2018, Cameco’s McArthur River and Key Lake operation has been suspended due to prolonged market weakness. But at the TD Securities Virtual Uranium Roundtable held on Oct. 7, Senior Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer, Grant Isaac, discussed possible plans for the reopening of McArthur River and operations could recommence within 18-24 months if the decision is made.

Uranium exploration and the sector’s atomic future

Additionally, Saskatchewan’s uranium industry looks very promising with advance stage projects being performed by NextGen Energy, Denison Mines, Orano Canada, and Fission Uranium.

Power Metal Resources completed the Phase 1 work on its program in the Athabasca Basin finding uranium and a suite of rare-earth elements in its initial exploration. Trench Metals Corp. also received lab results from its recent exploration of its wholly owned Gorilla Lake Uranium Project identifying a vast number of anomalous uranium showings.

Pegasus Resources Inc. also announced the acquisition of new properties at the northwest edge of the Basin. The uranium land package encompasses approximately 60,054 ha over 19 mineral claims and includes the Pine Channel, Mozzie Lake, Wollaston Northeast, and Bentley Lake properties.

Baselode Energy Corp. has started groundwork exploration on its Catharsis Uranium project in the Athabasca Basin area. The company currently controls 177,000 hectares for exploration.

Fission Uranium Corp. commenced a feasibility study for its PLS high-grade uranium project, also in the Athabasca Basin area. Believed to be one of the lowest-cost uranium mines in the world, phase one of the project commences this month with completion planned for early to mid-2022.

Copper mine goes carbon neutral and promising gold deposits

The Foran Mining Corporation announced on May 18, that its McIlvenna Bay project near Flin Flon is now the world’s first carbon-neutral copper development project. On June 8, the company had identified six high-priority targets at the site.

Foran Mining raised $100 million in private placement to support the copper project and the company released a pre-feasibility study which estimated the mine could have a nine-year lifespan. Further updates on its mineral resource estimate for its McIlvenna Bay Deposit indicated resources increased by 70 per cent, proving the viability of the project.

At the La Ronge Gold Belt of northeastern Saskatchewan, MAS Gold provided updates for the North Lake gold deposit. Compared with the 2020 estimate, the 2021 update increased the estimated tonnes by 28.3% and the amount of insitu gold by 18.5%, despite a 7.6% drop in the average estimated grade.

Continuing education in the north

On October 18, Saskatchewan Polytechnic launched its new “Surge Micro-Credentials,” short, focused courses that accelerate skills in a specific area with students earning an “industry-recognized micro-credential and/or micro-learning digital badges” with each credential.

The need to upskill and reskill was present before the pandemic and was made more urgent by COVID-19, and Surge micro-credentials are designed in collaboration with input from top-tier industry partners including the International Minerals Innovation Institute, Microsoft, and is supported by the Government of Saskatchewan.

The Government of Saskatchewan also announced on November 17 that it will be working with Northern Career Quest Inc. and is providing approximately $2 million in funding to support training and employment services to Indigenous job seekers residing in the northern part of the province.

The funding will allow Northern Career Quest Inc. to facilitate industry-led training programs, employability support and employment services to 400 Indigenous job seekers. The Indigenous and Métis residents from the Prince Albert Grand Council and Meadow Lake Tribal Council regions will have the opportunity to increase their qualification and in-demand skills in order to obtain and maintain employment.

New facilities in Melfort and Lake Lenore

The Melfort City Council passed a motion to allow the Winnipeg-based grain company G3 Canada Limited to begin construction on a new grain elevator expected to cost $55.8 million, provide a 42,000 tonne storage capacity, and is expected to be completed in early 2023.

The elevator network is supplying the G3 Terminal in Vancouver that opened last year and will be serviced by the Canadian National Railway.

Finally, the Lake Lenore Ag Co-op is seeing the near completion of a new 1600 metric tonne dry fertilizer plant at its facility in the village. The old plant was dismantled and was replaced with a modern $2.5 million fertilizer plant with added storage and new blending system capable of using the latest technologies to produce better fertilizers.