Launching the world’s longest EV rally to promote cold weather testing in Thompson

Dorothy Dobbie

At a dinner in Halifax for the Canadian Association of Former Members of Parliament, I sat next to the Canadian Vice President for Rolls Royce. He was delighted to tell me about the company’s connections to Manitoba where they ran a cold weather testing facility in Thompson. He was full of enthusiasm for the future and the expansion of the business up there.
That was several years ago, and soon other companies started testing everything from jet engines to snowmobiles in addition to automobiles. This activity brought millions of dollars into Thompson and the province. Thompson became known as the Winter Weather Testing Capital of Canada.
From 2005 to 2015, Thompson Unlimited, an economic development corporation funded by Inco and later Vale, kept Thompson on the front burner of those thinking about cold weather testing, but the funding ran out after 10 years and the activity has diminished. Meanwhile, five rival northern centres have begun poaching in the field and Thompson is losing ground.
When local civic leader Volker Beckman heard that Yellowknife had their eyes on the prize and wanted to take over the title as the cold weather testing centre for Canada, he sprang into action. He and the local Chamber of Commerce pulled together 20 local businesses that each agreed to contribute $5,000 a year to fund a new initiative.
Last year, they came to Winnipeg and met with several ministers and their deputies, looking for a government partnership to bolster the local effort. The meetings were met with enthusiasm but then silence fell and they had no further response from the deputies or their staff. The Thompson delegation began looking for other sources of assistance at the federal level and are still pursuing this.
The current trend and opportunity for critical cold weather testing lies with the skyrocketing growth of electrical vehicles and their batteries. Over 200 different electric vehicles will be available over the next few years as the world truly takes hold of this technology. Unmanned flying vehicles are also on the rise in use by everyone from local photographers to the world’s’ military.
Hearing about the Whitehorse bid, and that the first ever electrical vehicle conference would be held in Austin, Texas in 2019, Volker couldn’t avoid the feeling of urgency. He, a chamber of commerce member and the local Community Futures person started planning to attend the conference with funding once again from the local community. Air tickets from Thompson to Winnipeg were donated by Calm Air.
They were disappointed that nobody from the government or Manitoba Hydro attended with them although an invitation was extended.
On the suggestion of Robert Elms, president of the Electrical Vehicle Association, once at the conference, they began to float the possibility of the first ever North American EV Rally to run from Galveston to Churchill, the idea being to travel sea to sea in a north/south directions, some 3,300 km as the crow flies. The enterprising Americans were captivated by the possibilities and our Manitoba delegation came back with a plan to shine some light on the Manitoba advantages as both the winter testing capital for the world and Manitoba as the home of “low hydro rates and sustainable energy advantages”. It’s a big plan. But they think big in the North and they can handle most of the many interesting logistics. They have already enlisted the support of Galveston as one anchor.
But they need one thing they can’t supply without the support of Manitoba Hydro – charging stations along the way! Hydro should be jumping at the opportunity to attract this investment.
To make this a reality, they know they will need the full co-operation and support of several Manitoba agencies and departments. Among these are Travel Manitoba, various Manitoba chambers of commerce as well as the environmental department and Manitoba Hydro.
They are not a pie in the sky group. They want to start with a pilot project of 50 to 100 vehicles. Calm Air and New Flyer have both expressed sponsorship interest.
Here is a lovely little nugget all wrapped up and almost ready to go, courtesy of the local community. It would offer not only a boost to the sagging spirits of Thompson, whose mining and smelting roots are withering, but numerous other benefits as well. In addition to putting Manitoba on the EV map (and perhaps a future investment by Elon Musk who is looking for copious supplies of nickel), it would offer opportunities to become a leader in the electrical vehicle universe, help Manitoba realize its promise to become a sustainable energy province and provide a boon to the tourism industry.