Upgrades to regional airports are part of the Ministry of Highways’ $89.4 million investment plan for northern Saskatchewan communities.
Kimiya Shokoohi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Most days, when produce reaches the grocery stores of Pelican Narrows in northern Saskatchewan, it spends hours on the road to its destination.
The long drive is not a complaint store manager Roberta Ryan hears often, but options can be limited for remote communities.
More than $1.45 million in improvements to the airport at Pelican Narrows are expected to be completed at the end of the month, the provincial government announced this week. The move is expected to improve the regional economy.
The province has budgeted $89.4 million to build, operate and maintain transportation in the northern regions to support industries like energy, mining and forestry.
Tourism and the transportation of people and goods also benefit; but Ryan, who manages the Northern grocery store in Pelican Narrows, said road transportation has been more than sufficient for its operations. The store gets most of its produce from Winnipeg.
Ryan moved to Pelican Narrows from Goose Bay, Newfoundland, two and half years ago and has been managing the store for most of the time since then. She said Pelican Narrows has not traditionally been a place known to attract tourists.
“The people are really nice,” Ryan said, adding that she’s not leaving anytime soon.
The provincial funds helped improve the airport’s runway, taxiway and apron, also know as the tarmac. The project, announced in the 2023 provincial budget, began operations in June.
“During specific seasons, a local airport often becomes the sole gateway to and from these northern communities,” Highways Minister Lori Carr said in a release.
Saskatchewan has 145 airports, but only 30 of them are located in the northern half the province. The Ministry of Highways owns and operates 16 of those.
The Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and a Vancouver-based mining company, McIlvena Bay Operating Ltd., reached an agreement in July for the construction and operation of a copper and zinc mine in the PBCN territory.
It’s unclear whether new mining projects will use government-run airports.
The highways ministry said expanded access to health care by way of rapid transportation is another benefit of the investment.
Kimiya Shokoohi is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The LJI program is federally funded by the Government of Canada.