‘I’m proud to see where we are’: since 2002, Athabasca Basin Development has flourished in northern Saskatchewan, and that’s drawing recognition in the south

Athabasca Basin Development board members and employees post for a photo following the company’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2022. Photo from the Athabasca Basin Development Facebook page.

It’s not hard for Athabasca Basin Development board chair Anne Robillard to decide what she’s most proud of.

The Saskatchewan investment company has made inroads in the air travel, contracting, security, and automotive industries, among others, since it began in 2022. Since then, they’ve racked up awards for their efforts, including the Indigenous Business of the Year award at the Samuel McLeod Business Awards in Prince Albert.

Robillard said she’s proud of the awards, but even more proud of the growth they’ve brought to northern communities.

“Business investment was pretty new to us,” Robillard said, reflecting back on the organization’s last 20 years. “Where we are today, I’m proud to see where we are, and honoured.”

Athabasca Basin Developments is owned by a partnership of seven northern communities in Treaty 8 and Treaty 10 territory. Partners include Hatchet Lake Development, Black Lake Venture, Fond du Lac Development, the Northern Hamlet of Stoney Rapids, and the Northern Settlements of Wollaston Lake, Uranium City, and Camsell Portage.

Many of the northern communities are only accessible by road in the winter months, and the region is among the least environmentally disturbed in Canada.

The company’s original goal was to unify the seven northern communities and building something for future generations. The founders recognized there had to be more economic opportunity than just mining and natural resource development. They wanted to maximize opportunity for the next generation, and Robillard is confident they’re doing just that.

“We contribute a lot into (the region),” Robillard said. “We meet periodically, the leadership, the development corps. Building on to the community (and) giving back, is the key.”

Partnerships have been key to Athabasca’s development. In 2014, they partnered with Prince Albert Development Corporation and Paskwayak Business Development to purchase Arctic Beverages, a Winnipeg-based Pepsi franchisee and food distribution company with a presence in northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as Nunavut.

Athabasca Basin Development board chair Anne Robillard (right) address the crowd after accepting the Indigenous Business of the Year Award at the Samuel McLeod Business Awards in Prince Albert on April 14. Jason Kerr/Daily Herald.

A few years later, they joined another partnership, this time with PIC Investment Group in Saskatoon, to invest in Long Lake Insurance.

Robillard said the growth has been phenomenal, especially compared to where they started: with a Saskatchewan Highways road maintenance contract in 2002.

“We’ve come a long ways right from the beginning,” she said. “We’ve changed our business model and we’ve started looking at investments.”

Robillard added that they’ve made it a priority to give back to the community. That includes efforts to bring artists to northern Saskatchewan, like the January school tour by award-winning middle grade and young adult author David A. Robertson. They also host an annual Christmas Dinner in Prince Albert for Athabasca students studying in the community.

Those efforts, and their investment track record, helped land them the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce’s Indigenous Business of the Year award. Robillard said it was an honour to be recognized and a bit nerve-wracking too.

“Beforehand I was nervous,” she said with a laugh. “Usually I’m a public speaker, but with this event, I was beyond excited. When we won the award (and) it was truly a blessing. Having (been) a part of the company since the inception and learning the ropes along the way, (I’m) very honoured.”

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca