A corridor to the Ring of Fire may not bring instant riches for the Township of Pickle Lake, so the end-of-the-road community is out to blaze its own path of prosperity.
Mayor Karl Hopf isn’t pinning his hopes that mining in the Far North will be the saviour of his economically stagnating municipality of 425, but rather a wait-and-see proposition as they explore other avenues of growth.
“Geographically, Pickle Lake is not in the best position to receive major benefits from those projects.”
Located at the end of Highway 599, Pickle Lake was a mining town until the late 1960s before transforming itself into a supply base servicing the remote First Nation communities. The Ring of Fire is about 300 kilometres to the northeast.
Last spring, Ottawa and Queen’s Park announced a $785,000 study to examine an east-west road corridor connecting the Ring to the provincial highway network, presumably starting near Pickle Lake. The funding was left in the hands of the First Nation communities of Webequie, Eabametoong, Neskantaga and Nibinmik.
Hopf has some reservations whether an all-season road will provide any kind of favourable spinoffs.
“We support the east-west road in principle…but the benefit to Pickle Lake is negligible.”
If anything, he thinks the township will become drive-by country for truckers coming out of the Ring of Fire.
Hopf anticipates convoys of ore trucks rumbling past to offload at a proposed rail transhipment point further south. He doubts if the town can be a staging base or a bedroom community for the miners, a lesson learned from Goldcorp’s nearby Musselwhite Mine.
After eight years of talk, Hopf said many aspects remain unresolved; whether it’s a concrete plan for infrastructure, selecting an access road route, mine construction and deciding on a power transmission corridor.
“Things are slowly coming to the point where it’s stuck, almost on pause.”
On the power supply front, Hopf said there are two competing First Nation-owned transmission companies with tabled plans to connect remote communities to the Ontario grid.
Hopf said he’s offered to facilitate a merger of the two since his community could use the extra power.
“If somebody wanted to start a small pressboard mill here and needed four megawatts for the saws and production, we wouldn’t have the power.”
Hopf said the corridor issue needs to be settled before regional development can proceed.
To better promote itself, the township received almost $200,000 from FedNor to recruit an economic development officer (EDO). Hopf was hopeful of having someone in place by July.
Pickle Lake last had an EDO in the mid-2000s and, unfortunately, hasn’t experienced any growth in 12 years.
“We definitely have to get the ball rolling in attempting to diversify,” said Hopf. “A new mine might come along every 10 to 30 years. With the rising costs of hydro, water and sewer, small municipalities like ours fight for every nickel.”
Hopf wants to tap into the province’s new $31-billion infrastructure fund and revitalize its lakeside cottage lot program.
An initial round of development on Kapkichi Lake went well with 35 lots sold within six months.
Through a Crown land disposition process, they’ve received permission to launch a second round of 25 lots on Pickle Lake itself a few years back, but there’s been no push to promote that.
“We’ve been ready to roll for five years. We’re going to market that a little differently.”