Ice Road Trucking with NRT

NRT Ice Roads

Winter is nearly over and Northern Resource Trucking enjoyed another good season of Ice Road Trucking.

This time of year at NRT is always busy. Steady runs into the uranium mines keep the regular fleet running steady. When the mills are in operation, the mines tend to be busy with all their usual bulk and freight orders. Propane trucks are going full tilt to keep up with cold-weather demands, too.

On top of this, icy weather means icy roads—the ice road for SSR Mining Inc.’s Seabee Gold Operation in particular. Because of Seabee’s remote location, supplies must be flown in during spring, summer, and fall months, which is very expensive. So the mine tries to get in as much of its non-perishable supplies during the winter ice road season to save costs. That means NRT’s ice road dispatchers and drivers are working full tilt to get those loads organized and delivered on time!

The ice road is such a staple of the season with NRT that it is easy to take for granted. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make each season safe and successful.
“First, SSR Mining sends someone out on a Skidoo to plot the road’s course,” NRT President Dave McIlmoyl explains. “When the ice is thick enough to support the weight of their Snow Cats they blade the snow off the ice to make the road one hundred feet wide.”

Removing the snow actually helps the ice build faster and stronger. Thick snow creates a blanket of insulation that slows the freezing process and can result in softer ice. Once the ice is exposed, the cold is better able to penetrate and the road hardens up. When the ice is thick enough, plow trucks and graders maintain the road. This traffic actually helps to build the ice, too.

NRT measures the ice thickness and determines when it is safe to put their trucks on the road. Although the road into Seabee is a private road, SSR Mining and NRT follow the same system as provincial and territorial governments of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories to determine the thickness of the ice. Thirty inches of clear, blue ice is required to haul a maximum of 80,000 lbs of gross vehicle weight.

In past years, NRT sent a half-ton truck, two men, and a chainsaw out to do plunge cut testing in the middle and outer edges of the road. These cuts were made every 500 meters. This would be done multiple times so that every 100 meters of the road was tested by the end of the season.

This year, NRT has invested in a new ground penetrating radar system. The radar system is housed inside a plastic toboggan that can be pulled behind a Skidoo or pick-up truck. It sends a beam straight down which bounces back when it hits the water. This information is sent via Bluetooth to an industrial strength tablet computer designed to operate in extreme conditions. If the radar system detects any variations in the ice thickness, a manual plunge test is conducted with the chainsaw in order to verify the results.

These radar systems—built and designed by Sensors & Software Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario—are used around the world including ice roads in northern Europe and Russia as well as in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

The 2020 ice road season began on February 7th, starting with loads of 60,000 lbs (gross vehicle weights) on 28 inches of ice. After one week of lighter loads, the ice has thickened enough to allow for fully loaded trucks to start crossing. Some years the ice has been ready in early January, but this doesn’t translate into a longer season.

“Our experience has been that the earlier you start, the earlier the road goes out,” McIlmoyl says. “The later you start, the later the road goes out. For some reason, the ice only seems to last six to eight weeks.”

Safety is of paramount importance to both NRT and SSR Mining, so every measure is taken to ensure that drivers, equipment, and cargo make it through the season in one piece. Ice marshals patrol the ice all season and trucks convoy in and out of the mine, communicating via radio.

Loaded trucks are only able to travel at 15 km/hr and unloaded trucks at 25 km/hr on the ice. Outgoing trucks must wait on site or on the portages until incoming trucks are off the ice to avoid having trucks meet in the middle of the lake.

Typically, ice road work is finished by the end of March. Closer to spring, the road becomes much more difficult to maintain, though. Muskegs and springs start to flow which can cause overflow onto the ice, or the ice recedes from the shore. Portages can also become too soft and rutted in the strong spring sunshine.

“On an ice road, you don’t get any prizes for pushing the limits,” McIlmoyl says. NRT’s ice road policies are designed with that in mind.

Unearthing and Preserving Heritage Resources in Saskatchewan

Cannorth_Preserving Heritage

With eight staff members in full- and part-time capacities, CanNorth’s heritage division boasts the largest heritage department in the province with the most permit holders based out of Saskatchewan. Indeed, CanNorth’s industrious archaeologists are making an impact within the company itself and within the broader archaeological community.

Each of the eight archaeologists specializes in a unique area of research, and CanNorth’s heritage department retains professionals in Precontact period archaeology of Northern Saskatchewan, Precontact period archaeology in Southern Saskatchewan, Historic period archaeology in Saskatchewan, Historic period archaeology (with a focus on Stanley Mission) in Northern Saskatchewan, Fur-trade period archaeology, archaeological analysis, WWII karst cave archaeology in Micronesia, and dendrochronology, the scientific method of dating trees, in the Northwest Territories.

The CanNorth heritage division has held approximately 250 provincial (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) and federal (Parks Canada) permits since its inception in 2011, and the preservation and protection of cultural and heritage resources in Saskatchewan remains the highest priority for these archaeologists when conducting heritage assessments for developments in this province. CanNorth’s heritage department has successfully completed heritage assessments throughout Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba. Past and present clients include First Nations, environmental companies, oil and gas sector companies, forestry sector companies, mining sector companies, engineering companies, Crown companies, urban and rural municipalities, and subdivisions.

CanNorth archaeologists have undertaken many interesting projects in the past nine years, but three projects in particular stand out for their uniqueness and heritage interest: an excavation for a major oil and gas pipeline on the South Saskatchewan River; the Chief Mistawasis Bridge work near Wanuskewin that unearthed oversized bison skulls; and the Traffic Bridge work near downtown Saskatoon that uncovered a number of artifacts from the S.S. City of Medicine Hat.

The archaeology of the excavation along the South Saskatchewan River in the summer/fall of 2015 turned up over 4,000 artifacts, and although most of the artifacts were quite modest, CanNorth archaeologists gained interesting historical information from these findings. This project involved a large excavation of approximately 100 square meters to a depth of approximately 1.5 m. The goal of the excavation was to collect interpretive scientific data regarding the site through controlled excavation and then to document heritage resources and their context. The site was meticulously excavated using shovels, pointing trowels, and brushes, and the excavated soils were screened through a quarter-inch mesh screen. CanNorth archaeologists interpreted that the site consisted of a Late Precontact period campsite (from approximately 2,000 to 170 years ago) where pottery was used (actual finger prints of the craftsperson were discovered on the pottery itself). The South Saskatchewan River, which paralleled the excavation site, was a source of an important toolstone found near the site (e.g., silicified peat and petrified wood). Archaeologists suspect that at least one of the important activities at this site was the procurement of this stone.

The Chief Mistawasis Bridge work near Wanuskewin in 2016 included the discovery of skulls of an extinct species of bison that measured roughly 33% larger than modern bison. The bison species is either bison antiquus or bison occidentalis, as the skulls show characteristic features of each species. One theory is that the skulls represent the evolutionary transition between the two species. Another hypothesis is that the skulls actually represent a uniquely Saskatchewan/Saskatoonian population that was genetically different from other populations of extinct bison, as the skulls were larger than those expected to be found in bison occidentalis (in the range of bison antiquus) but the spread of the horn core (tip to tip) resembles the species bison occidentalis. If the skulls are bison antiquus, which is how the province’s paleontologists are interpreting the findings, they are over 10,000 years old; if they are bison occidentalis, they date between 11,000 to 5,000 years old. At any rate, the skulls represent an extinct form of bison that roamed in what is now Saskatchewan a very long time ago. The skulls can be found on display in the T. rex Discovery Centre in Eastend, Saskatchewan. Although archaeologists did not find any evidence that the bison unearthed near the Chief Mistawasis Bridge were killed by local First Nations, there is a nearby site in the North Park/Richmond Heights community in Saskatoon that suggests that people represented by the Clovis archaeological culture (dated to 11,300 to 10,900 years ago) were around to hunt these very big bison.

The Traffic Bridge work in downtown Saskatoon in the spring/summer of 2016 included the discovery of a number of artifacts from the S.S. City of Medicine Hat, detailed below. The tale of the wreck of the S.S. City of Medicine Hat belongs to Saskatchewan mythology. The S.S. City of Medicine Hat was a luxury steam-powered sternwheeler, which is a craft powered by a single rear paddle. Built by Scottish-born entrepreneur Captain Hamilton Horatio Ross from 1906 to 1907, the vessel measured 130 feet and was a true luxury craft. In the summer of 1908, Ross invited friends and family on a pleasure cruise on the sternwheeler that would follow the South Saskatchewan River from Medicine Hat, Alberta, to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The trip was a success until the party reached Saskatoon, which was experiencing particularly high runoff caused possibly by large quantities of meltwater from the Rocky Mountains. While most of the party was spending time in the city, Ross and one assistant tried to navigate the craft beneath the Traffic Bridge, and although Captain Ross had removed the steam pipes in an effort to clear the bridge, the vessel’s rudder actually became entangled on some cables invisible beneath the water. Captain Ross could not control the entangled vessel, and it hit the pier of the bridge and wrecked the craft. It should be noted that Captain Ross enjoyed entertaining and that the crew of the S.S. City of Medicine Hat were drinking heavily the night before.

Senior CanNorth archaeologists suggest that the “effects of alcohol, i.e., being hung-over or potentially still impaired, may have contributed to this serious error in judgement made by Captain Ross and the Crew of the of the S.S. City of Medicine Hat”. While there were no causalities in the event, the ship was abandoned. The wreck was still visible above the water mark in 1913 and then in an ever-growing sand bar long after that. Ultimately, the City of Saskatoon decided to cover the area with fill in 1960, creating Rotary Park. The Traffic Bridge closed in 2010 for reconstruction, and archaeological work was required during the summer of 2016 as a legislative requirement.

Some of the more notable artifacts recovered from the craft during CanNorth’s work in 2016 included a pistol and rifle cartridges, shotgun shells, and a diamond tipped glass cutter. Parts from an old outboard motor were also recovered still lubricated, which suggests that the outboard motor was intact prior to being damaged during the reconstruction of the Traffic Bridge. A small key was also recovered that CanNorth archaeologists theorize might belong to an upright music box that was salvaged immediately from the wreckage and which can be found in the Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat. Perhaps one of the most interesting artifacts recovered was a ceramic plate bearing a maker’s mark. By researching the history and origin of the mark, CanNorth archaeologists determined that the ceramic plate belonged to the only ceramics collection in existence to bear that mark, which shows that the wares were commissioned specifically for Captain Ross’ navigational fleet—of which the S.S. City of Medicine Hat was a part. The ceramic fragment represented the smoking gun, as it were, proving that it originated from and belonged to the wrecked ship.

Through these interesting projects and many others, CanNorth archaeologists are ensuring that Saskatchewan’s rich and diverse archaeological resources are preserved for generations to come.

Athabasca Catering and First Nations Insurance move into new office space

Athabasca Catering Limited Partnership (ACLP) has moved into renovated facilities on reserve at 103 Packham Avenue.

ACLP managing director Alan Cole says the new, 7,000 square foot office space is “absolutely phenomenal.”

“We’ve spent a significant amount of capital investment in renovating it,” Cole said. “We completely gutted it and redesigned it. We put in modular walls, built a 16-seat boardroom. We have the latest smart technology – like an 80-inch screen you can write on or send emails at the touch of a screen.”
They also made sure to address the needs of their workforce such a breakout area for customers, guests and staff to have their lunch along with a separate kitchen.

Five First Nations with Kitsaki as the managing partner own ACLP. The company provides food service, housekeeping, janitorial, mobilization and camp management services. Cole said they now have the ability and capacity to recruit, hire and retain employees that best serve the company’s strategic goals in diversifying into different business sectors.

Cole said the old space ACLP had occupied for the past nine years just didn’t fit with the company’s future. “It didn’t project the right image of where we need to be in terms of customers, suppliers and vendors and anybody else.” Cole said the new space gives a better representation of the work ACLP does.

“We do a superb job in what we do, but what we couldn’t do was showcase our standards and the image we wanted to project in the old office versus what we can do now. “It’s a fundamental shift for our company,” he said. Credit to the entire ACLP team, led by our Finance Director, Robert Cremers in making this huge move possible.

And with ACLP moving out of their old space last November, First Nations Insurance Services (FNIS) saw an opportunity to also make a move.

FNIS were looking for extra office space in anticipation of expanding its business over the next few years.

Greg Hanson, manager of business development with FNIS, said ACLP’s old space fit the bill and they moved in last December after doing major renovations. “It fits in with our three- to five-year strategy to grow. We need office space for new people to come on board as new hires.” FNIS now has five offices as opposed to two and also has a brand new boardroom.

Hanson said the space is needed because it is essential to add more people to the Saskatoon team. “We have clients closer to Saskatoon than Prince Albert (which also has an office) and we are looking to obtain clients that are in the southern part of the province.” Hanson said.

FNIS provides employee benefits for First Nations organizations and non First Nations organizations. FNIS currently has a total of 14 staff with three in the Saskatoon office. Hanson said he hopes to add another employee in Saskatoon in the near future. The new office is also conducive to walk in traffic. “We have street access and it is easier for our employer’s clients to come in and deal with their claim or ask us questions.”

FNIS has been in business since 1987 and Hanson said they want to make sure the company continues to grow in a sustainable way. And with the new office space they now have room to accommodate that growth. “We don’t want to miss the right opportunity when it comes along.”

NRT Diversifies into Manitoba

The slow down of the uranium mining industry in northern Saskatchewan has been difficult for the businesses that depend upon mining companies as major clients. Northern Resource Trucking is one of many companies that were forced to give their revenue streams a good hard look when Cameco closed their Rabbit Lake, Key Lake, and McArthur River operations. While a full recovery is expected, the timeline remains fuzzy. In the meantime, NRT needed to diversify in order to protect itself from the ebbs and flows of a single industry.

Around the same time as Cameco’s closures, the New Gold mine near Emo, Ontario was under construction. NRT formed a limited partnership with the Big Grassy River First Nation from Morson, Ontario called Big Grassy Logistics Limited Partnership. BGL landed a contract hauling lime from Faulkner, Manitoba to the New Gold mine. Later, they added van loads, other chemicals, explosive emulsions, and propane to that list.

“It became evident that there was business in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario,” NRT President Dave McIlmoyl says. “And that it was going to be difficult to service that business from Saskatoon. We approached Trimac and rented office and yard space at one of their Winnipeg terminals in order to expand our operation in the east.”

NRT was also approached by a company called First Nations Mining Economic Development Corporation, which is owned by nine First Nations in northern Manitoba, about another partnership. Piwapisk Hauling Limited Partnership was formed by NRT and FNMEDC. Now all three companies share the Winnipeg terminal and Operations Manager, Dave Gravatt.

Through these new partnerships, NRT has expanded its operations and found business hauling chemicals from various producers in Winnipeg to a number of destinations in western Canada. The New Gold mine business has grown and NRT has been successful in getting work using the Winnipeg location. Currently, there are six NRT trucks and ten trailers stationed at the Manitoba terminal.

“Glen Ertell (VP of Operations) and I make regular trips to Winnipeg to find more work,” McIlmoyl says. “Our goal is to have ten trucks stationed in Winnipeg by the end of 2020.”

When the uranium industry picks back up and Cameco puts all its mines back online, NRT will be more than ready to take on their previous workload. However, now that the company has branched outside of the province, they have no plans to go back to being just a Saskatchewan operation.

“When you do really specialized work in a particular industry it’s easy to pigeon hole yourself,” McIlmoyl says. “We have learned that our specialized skills are easily adaptable to other provinces and other industries. We hope to continue to branch out and grow these skills as opportunities arise.”

North and South: CanNorth participates in Community-Building Program in Columbia


CanNorth’s Community Programs Division Manager, Ryan Froess, specializes in community-based environmental monitoring programs as well as in cultivating working relationships between industry, government, First Nations, and communities. At the end of November 2019, Ryan received an opportunity to put his skills into action when he, representing CanNorth, was invited by Agriteam Canada (Agriteam) to share his experiences and knowledge of community-based environmental monitoring programs in Canada and to participate in a multi-faceted project in Colombia called the Building Extractive Sector Governance in Colombia (BESG) program.

The BESG program is a five-year project (2015-2020) funded by Global Affairs Canada with the goal of supporting local communities and sustainable socio-economic development related to the extractive sector industry in Colombia. The project seeks to “build capacity of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MinMinas), mining agencies, and mining authorities within departments and municipalities to develop and implement strengthened policy and regulatory frameworks, improve extractive sector planning and implementation, and increase public sector engagement with communities impacted by natural resource extraction” ( The project works to build trust between local community members and the extractive industries by engaging members in the various processes related to water quality monitoring in their regions.

Agriteam is a Canadian-based international development firm with over 450 completed projects worldwide and a global presence with field offices in Honduras, Peru, Colombia, Mongolia, Ukraine, Vietnam, South Sudan, Tanzania, Mali, and Ethiopia. Agriteam’s mission is to be “catalysts of change and opportunity, to be leaders and partners in international development, providing our best people and expertise to contribute to sustainable economic, social and environmental development” (

During his five-day visit to Columbia, Ryan presented a talk to a federal-regional water symposium and then participated in a workshop, offering his experience related to mining and community-based water monitoring in Canadian communities. Ryan shared his experiences of working with three different types of community-based water quality monitoring programs in Saskatchewan, including the Ya Thi Nene community based environmental monitoring program (CMEMP); the Eastern Athabasca Regional Monitoring Program (EARMP); and the Athabasca Working Group (AWG) Environmental Monitoring Program. The presentation offered a Canadian perspective and highlighted the success of community-based water quality monitoring programs in the mining industry in Saskatchewan. Key topics included best practices, methods of connecting with and hiring community members, as well as other topics related to environmental monitoring at a community level.

Ryan also visited several communities in the Putumayo region where he participated in community workshops and delivered further presentations about his experiences in northern Saskatchewan on how communities become involved in water monitoring, either with industrial partners, with governments, or on their own. Ryan also appreciated absorbing valuable and informative talks by Agriteam members and guests concerning training efforts related to environmental monitoring in local communities, gender roles in environmental stewardship, and the development of e-learning modules for participatory water quality monitoring. The audience members came from throughout the Putumayo region, some from as far as eight hours away, and included leaders from several rural communities, including indigenous communities.

For Ryan, this transnational, open exchange of information as well as his interactions with community members at the workshop were the most rewarding aspects of the trip: “Sharing our Canadian experiences with the people at the workshops was a very valuable learning experience. I was also able to learn new engagement approaches related to the extractive industry and how they operate within Colombia. They are doing some really great work related to maintaining and protecting the environment. I would love to take some of those grassroots initiatives and apply them here.”

The BESG program and Ryan’s sojourn to Colombia demonstrate that knowledge sharing breaks down boundaries between countries and nations and brings communities together through participation, contribution, and immersion.

CanNorth was grateful for the opportunity to work with Agriteam on their exciting and impactful project in Columbia and was honored to be invited to take part in the federal–regional workshop and in the community workshop on water quality monitoring. Ryan is eager to apply the many lessons from his experiences in Colombia and to continue to build capacity with communities and grow the community-based monitoring programs here in Saskatchewan and across Canada.