The world is changing before our eyes, and it seems everywhere we look there is an opportunity for Manitoba. Mineral resources, hydro, current fascination with indigenous art – these are just a few of the advantages Manitoba and its people have to offer.
Others have recognized the possibilities for years, but they were frustrated by a government that had bought into an empty UNESCO dream of a vast wilderness park north of 53 in our province. It seemed that every avenue for development was discouraged, regulated out of existence or outright blocked until Manitoba became the forgotten province.
Then we brought in a new regime and the excitement carried us into the number one spot on the Fraser Institute’s list of great places to invest in mining. Problem was that the ink was hardly dry on the minister’s mandate letter before industry expectations rose to an unrealistic pitch. What industry and others had not considered was just how long it takes to make changes to attitudes that control actions when they have been entrenched in the civil service for almost four decades.
But don’t be discouraged. This government is determined to make good things happen, not just in the mining portfolio, but in the way we manage all our resources. And the beneficiaries will be all the people of this great province, including our earliest partners, the First Nations. Read about their brilliant plan to create a northern utility corridor to Port Nelson, the original point on Hudson Bay for the shortest ocean route to European (and eastern Canadian) markets.
This plan has been under development for several years and has wide support among First Nations who are excited about the economic prospects it opens for their isolated communities. It will not be easy to realize this great vision – there will be powerful resistance from Ontario and Quebec who have long controlled the vital gateway to the Atlantic, but prairie riches should benefit prairie people and that is the plan here. We need to be able to ship our grain, our petroleum, and our manufactured goods from a port controlled by our own people – and by that, I mean our Indigenous partners in this land. That is the true and meaningful way to reconciliation.
There is more, though. Remember that Manitoba is home to many desirable minerals. Everything from gold, nickel, zinc and copper to rarer lithium and cesium deposits are mined here. A small amount of platinum, cobalt and silver, by-products of other mining activities, fill out our portfolio which also includes potash further south, indications of diamonds at Knee Lake between Oxford House and Gods Lake and there is still interest in uranium at Wollaston Lake.
Currently, only a small proportion of these metals is being extracted: still some copper and zinc at Flin Flon and gold at Snow Lake by Hudbay; a bit of nickel and copper at Thompson by Vale and cesium by Sinomine Rare Metals Resources Co. Ltd. at Bernic Lake. Several operations are under pause, including the CaNickel Mining nickel mine at Wabowden; Vale’s Birchtree mine at Thompson and the True North gold mine at Bissett. A small amount of platinum, cobalt and silver are also extracted as, by-products of other mining activities.
Currrently, there are some promising explorations underway. The Manitoba government lists several of them on its website at https://www.gov.mb.ca/iem/industry/exp-dev/index.html#d, but the information is only current up to 2017. According to my own contacts and research however, there are a handful of promising sites.
North of Snow Lake, Snow Lake Resources is exploring a large lithium resource and is actively pursing development plans. Vision Lithium, with assets in New Brunswick and Quebec, has a large and promising resource at Godslith near God’s Lake. Vision Lithium applied for a mineral exploration license early this year and are having discussions with the Manto Sipi Cree.
On the gold front, Alamos has a development project at Lynn Lake and reported in February this year that it expects to begin open pit mining in Lynn Lake by 2025, although some are saying that is contingent on a feasibility study to be completed and decided upon in 2022.
Yamana Gold had been exploring the likelihood of developing its Domain site near the Ontario border and said, a year and half ago, that it was “continuing to evaluate” the potential there and that it was engaging with the Bunibonibee Cree Nation at that time. Yamana did not mention Manitoba in its Jan. 25, 2021, update and 10-year development plan.
John Morse of the Manitoba Mining Association says that while the recently announced single window concept is a welcome move, industry is waiting to see how it works and to hear the long-term strategy for northern mining development, which encompasses hydro plans and the long-awaited decision to increase permit lengths and the amount of time it takes to get a permit.
The province has indicated that change is in the offing, but uncertainty is creating a scarcity of capital, he says. Another of the challenges is a high rate of attrition and a shortage of people to work in the department which is slowly being brought back up to capacity.
Shastri Ramnath, chair of the Manitoba Liaison Committee on Mining and Exploration, which was appointed in 2019 to provide advice to the minister on priority issues, says that they have recommended a three-to-five-year permit to the government, and she is confident that this will bear fruit soon. She also says that the new director of permitting is working hard to get up to speed on the issues.
Chuck Davidson is a member of the Community Economic Development Fund which has been charged with the task of rolling out the strategy created by the Look North Team which was appointed by the government back in 2016 as one of its first initiatives.
He says progress is being made but that things have always been slow to take hold in the North. The new $20 million development fund is stimulating a lot of interest and that there has been a “huge uptake” by smaller enterprises where nobody had paid any attention to them for many years.
Chair of the CEDF board, Jamie Wilson, is also looking forward to a return to action on the development front, where CEDF funds for lending had been frozen since 2017. While the 2021 report was not yet available at press time, the 2020 CEDF report contains some sensible and well thought out recommendations for action in the North. If adopted on and acted upon, their work will be a major step forward in realizing some of our dreams.
A new CEO of the fund is raising hopes of a more creative and assertive approach to development of new enterprises in the north.
For many years, Manitoba concentrated mainly in development of the Hydro resource, investing billions and selling the excess of shore for more than it cost to produce. Now that this investment has been made it is time for payback. A small portion of this has been realized with a sale of power to Saskatchewan, but there remains much to be done. Instead of simply exporting the product, Manitoba Hydro must look locally to benefitting the North. This includes investing in electrical vehicle chargers of high speed capacity – level three or better – to allow tourist traffic to explore the North and to support the changes that will very soon be taking place in the long haul transport industry.
More on this topic in another issue.
We often overlook the financial impact of the arts on our economy, and this is just as true of the north as it is everywhere else. But as usual, Manitoba is just a little different. We have these wonderful independent pockets of arts expertise, especially in Flin Flon, as you know if you have been reading Elly Spencer every issue for the last three years. But this is not confined to just that town. Penny Rawlings in Churchill, who owns the Arctic Trading Company, has been buying and selling wonderful indigenous art for years to people from all over the world. She is aware of market prices and the potential to create and sell so much more. She also says that there is a local Churchill group that have set up an Arts Collective in that town.
That fits in well with the plans of Crystal Kolt who has been putting Flin Flon on the arts map for many years, going back to the day when she brazenly took her local choir to Carnegie Hall in New York to now when she and her NorVa group have created a virtual market called the Uptown Emporium, where they can take local art to the world via the magic of the Internet.
Over at the University College of the North, President Doug Lauvstad sees the potential. He is a bit of an artist himself as an accomplished wildlife photographer. The Pas has an amazing residue of talent and expertise illustrated by The Pas Arts Council which has been mounting a juried arts show for 44 years! In Thompson, wolf capital of the world and home of a ten-storey high wolf mural, every year for the past 40 years has seen the Festival of the Arts celebrate local talent. Senator Pat Bovey wrote a report on the potential for monetization of local artwork some years ago that will soon be dusted off.
Meanwhile, beautiful art is being created every day in every First Nations community, often just for the sheer love of it. Sometimes, First Nations folks such as Edna Nabess have turned their talent into a business, Edna with a store called Cree-Ations in Winnipeg. It started with slippers and moccasins and has burgeoned into art-worthy apparel. Or Theresa Wride who does caribou art so fine that it was used as a presentation to Queen Elizabeth. Theresa, born at Oxford House, is part of the Flin Flon NorVa group.
Is there a way to bring all this talent together in the North? A group of creative people think so and are working on a plan to make it happen. Doug Lauvstad has taken the initiative, using the connections of his university college campuses to try and knit a northern arts community into a lovely, patterned picture that can help local artists make a living and bring travellers north to enjoy what is offered.
Stay tuned. There will be more on offer.
We have run out of space and time, but watch next month for a look at tourism, forestry and fishing. It is time to wake up, Manitoba, to recognize and appreciate the incredible world just a few miles up the road in some of the most beautiful and bountiful terrain on the planet – and did I mention the people?