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.

NRT Training Program Far Exceeds Provincial Standards

Saskatchewan’s new minimum training requirements for Class 1a drivers has had the media and transportation industry buzzing.

As of March 15, 2019, drivers are required to complete a minimum 121.5 hours of training before taking their road test. This mandatory entry-level training (MELT) consists of at least 47 hours classroom instruction, 17.5 hours yard instruction, and 57 hours behind the wheel. During their training course, students must pass 11 separate modules before they are able to take the practical examination.

These are welcome changes to the province’s woefully inadequate past requirements, although some say they still leave a lot to be desired.

Northern Resource Trucking is one company that won’t hire a driver who just has their MELT requirements. The company demands much stricter training for its own employees, as it has done for over thirty years. Safety is the backbone of NRT’s relationship with northern communities. Its trucks share the road with northerners and the mining companies that it services. As such, NRT requires drivers to have a minimum of two years or 150,000 km of safe driving experience before they apply. A safe driving record means they must not have more than two driving infractions in one year, and no more than three in three years, including in their personal vehicles, and have no criminal record. This goes for drivers that NRT’s owner-operators put behind the wheel, too.

In 2006, when NRT celebrated its 20th anniversary, the company achieved another major milestone. NRT launched its own SGI-accredited driver training program in order to address the need they saw for access to adequate driver training in the north. While the NRT Training Centre provides basic driver training for a Class 5 endorsement, what truly sets it apart from other training programs in the province is its Class 1a certification. Drivers who graduate from NRT’s program have over 450 hours of experience in the classroom, yard, and behind the wheel! While students spend much of their time in the classroom, the focus of the training program is hands-on experience. Students practice on both loaded and empty 5-axel and 8-axel trailers, they get experience with load securement, roadside truck and trailer maintenance, and they drive on both paved and gravel roads. Where other training programs offer one, two, and three week courses, NRT’s training program is twelve weeks long! This depth and breadth of training is unique not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada.

“We take about six students per group and do four sessions a year,” Randy Mihilewicz, Manager of NRT’s Training Division, says. This ensures students get a lot of one-on-one time with their instructors. Mihiliwicz started working for the company as a driver instructor when the school first opened before being promoted to Manager in 2008.

“We’ve had hundreds of successful students, and have a hire-rate of over 85% for graduates,” he boasts. “Frankly, that number could be a lot higher if drivers were willing to move farther from their home communities.”

Graduates have gone on to do local work for their bands or at the mines, delivery work in Prince Albert and Saskatoon, oil field work in Alberta, and even highway work across country or through the States into Mexico. What started as a way for NRT to train its own drivers has become a successful business attracting applicants from all over the country.

NRT’s focus on safety has paid off. In the transportation industry, the standard for comparison of company safety records are calculated as the number of incidents per 1,000,000 miles. The general target is to achieve less than 2 per million miles. NRT’s frequency last year was 0.55; often it is even lower.

Helen Burgess Retires after 22 years with First Nations Insurance Services

While Helen Burgess is looking forward to spending more time with all her grandchildren, she will sorely miss her clients and the staff at First Nations Insurance Services (FNIS). Burgess recently retired after spending 22 years as the manager of FNIS.

“I was an emotional wreck for the first week (after retiring) because of the parties held on my behalf,” Burgess said. “I have felt this brokerage deep in my heart for the past 22 years.”

Burgess began her career with FNIS after working at Saskatchewan Legal Aid for 19 years. Burgess said she really didn’t know much about the insurance industry, but it was a chance to work in her community. “To begin with it would take me to a place that I always wanted to be, and that was to work with my First Nations people,” she said.

Burgess said historically First Nations people hadn’t brought a lot of insurance coverage into their lives, never mind the retirement portion of it, and this was a way to bring a great product into their lives.
Back then FNIS was a small enterprise. In fact, the year before she started the business had a net income of $252. But over time Burgess and her staff helped grow the business. She said three employees in particular, Cindy Johnson and Beatrice Arcand, who are still with FNIS, and Stuart McLellan who left a few years ago, were important to growing the business.

“They were absolutely key to my learning and to the success of the brokerage, and continue to be to this day,” Burgess said. “They were really my saviours, my anchors. They just shared the knowledge they had because they had been there for a couple of years already.”

FNIS started out exclusively offering services to Indian bands and their institutions, said Burgess, who is a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation. And it differed from anything else on the market because their plans enhanced and protected Treaty health rights, she said. As the years passed FNIS opened their services to more First Nations people in the province and expanded over the border into the North West Territories and northern Alberta, specifically Fort Chipewyan. “We brought the services to the Mikisew Cree Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation,” she said. “And we still have those clients to this day.”

Burgess remembers her first flight into Fort Chipewyan in a small, eight-seat airplane from Fort McMurray.
“I do battle claustrophobia somewhat, but I turned it over to some of my traditional beliefs and I just knew the Creator put me where I needed to be at the time and it was all in the Creator’s hands. “However, I will not say I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “It was quite the experience.”

Burgess was a hands-on administrator who travelled to meet her clients wherever they lived in Saskatchewan.
“There isn’t a community I have not been to,” she said. In the past year Burgess stepped aside as manager to work as a licensed agent and to help the new manager, Tammy McKay, get established. She said the best part of the job was building relationships with the staff and clients.

“I didn’t think of them as clients first, but more as friends and family,” she said. “And knowing you were bringing such a positive life change to them.” She said it was so rewarding to explain the importance of having benefits in place and having a plan for retirement. And then to help someone who had a death in the family or who had been stricken with a disability.

Burgess has spent her life helping other people, including her own ever-growing family. She and her husband Larry have three sons, a daughter, 12 grand children and one great grandchild. She had thought about retirement, but when a young friend developed a terminal illness it brought home the fact that life is too short. “Not everyone has the privilege of retiring and it is something we really need to embrace and give a lot of thought to,” she said.
Besides seeing more of their grandkids, Helen and Larry plan on exploring the Yukon and to continue to spend more time near the water at Sandy Lake, not too far from their farm north of Prince Albert. But she won’t forget what an honour it was to manage FNIS.

“Kitsaki gave her the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “I’ve absolutely loved what I’ve done. That is what I’m really going to miss. The relationships with our client base and the people I worked with at the community and Kitsaki management level.”

McKenzie, a Key Figure with LLRIB and Kitsaki

Tom McKenzie has had a long and storied career with Kitsaki Management that dates back to its beginning in 1981. McKenzie, Kitsaki’s lands claims co-ordinator, has been a key figure with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) in Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) and its Loss of Use claim that is nearing completion.

McKenzie was one of the first band members to graduate from the LLRIB teacher training program and then get his Bachelor of Education degree in 1981. “It was quite an adventure and worthwhile,” he said.

McKenzie, who is from Stanley Mission. began the teacher training program and was in the first graduating class of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada) in 1981.
“Many of my classmates went on to get their degrees and teach in the band schools,” he said.

1981 was a momentous year for McKenzie. After graduating he spent the summer of 1981 fighting fires and then was elected to council for the first time. At that time council was not a full-time job. During the 1970s the LLRIB had taken local control of their schools so he worked as a curriculum developer working with Cree language and culture development.

Kitsaki Development Corporation was incorporated that year and McKenzie began his association by being on the board of directors. At that time Kitsaki began to start developing an economy for the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.
Constitutional talks were ongoing in the early 1980s and McKenzie attended a number of conferences in Ottawa dealing with self government and constitutional rights. During that time former LLRIB chief Myles Venne and council and Senator Angus Mirasty worked hard to get treaty and Aboriginal rights enshrined in the constitution.

In 1983 McKenzie was elected chief and held that position until 1985. He continued to attend constitutional conferences, but he said, “progress was very slow.” McKenzie was chief in 1985 when a study was begun on LLRIB’s TLE. From that time on McKenzie has continued working on TLE.

In 1986 a lands claim committee was established, and McKenzie was appointed to sit on it.

He also became Kitsaki’s operations manager in 1987. It was around this time that two of Kitsaki entities began, Northern Resource Trucking and First Nations Insurance Services, which brought in operational funds.
McKenzie went back to teaching and also was heavily involved investigating self government.

In the mid 1980s the federal government had a self government proposal that McKenzie was asked to investigate. He recommended not going into it because it did not meet the recommendations of the 1983 report on self government. “But It was a learning experience and it provided us with a deeper understanding of self government,” he said.

He was part of the team that went to trial in 1997-98 for Treaty Land Entitlement, Ammunition and Twine, and Candle Lake and La Ronge school lands. They spent 47 days in court and LLRIB won an Ammunition and Twine settlement.

They also won a TLE settlement that unfortunately was overturned on appeal. But the appeal court did say there might be a claim for loss of use. The Saskatchewan court of appeal determined that since the band didn’t receive all their land until 1968, they were entitled to loss of use compensation. McKenzie has spent many years working on the claim.

The ammunition and twine settlement resulted in a mix of land and cash. The land was the new reserve for the whole band membership called Kiskinwuhumatowin in downtown La Ronge.

“The loss of use claim took a while to be negotiated and to be accepted,” he said. “In the end we did come to an agreement in principal. The agreement still has to be ratified by the band membership. “I’ve had lots of support and teamwork throughout,” he said. McKenzie said the land claim required continuity through several councils and Kitsaki was instrumental in that continuity.

He said these types of agreements, having to do with treaty rights, take a lot of time and patience to be done properly. “It is for future generations that you work on Treaty rights,” he said because the treaties are to last as long as the sun shines, the river flows, and the grass grows.

McKenzie has also kept upgrading his education in many ways. He took courses at the University of British Columbia for principal training and at Banff School of Advanced Management where he learned about finance, law, organizations, micro and macro economics. Other seminars included environmental conflict resolution, negotiation and self government.

“It is necessary to keep up to date and improve your skills and knowledge,” he said, adding, “It prepared me for my work at Kitsaki and with LLRIB.”

McKenzie was an early proponent of self government and he has worked in a number of capacities on the self government file. He has represented the LLRIB in negotiations on self government. In 2003 there was a tri-partite agreement in principle regarding a self government agreement, but it has never been ratified to this day. “Eventually self government has to come about,” he said. “It is moving in that direction across Canada. We are moving toward self government even though it is slow.”

Besides his work, McKenzie has a keen knowledge of petroglyphs and red ochre, Cree syllabics, and burbot fishing. He said you can learn a lot from the rock painting and the stories our ancestors tell.

He and his wife Betsy have been blessed with six children, four boys and two girls and 10 grandchildren. Their support has been a true blessing.

McKenzie still does a lot of fishing and some hunting at the north end of Lac La Ronge toward the Churchill River where he grew up.

They also spend time at Deception Lake — his wife’s trap line for a summer retreat. “We’ve spent many summers and some winters out there fishing and hunting,” he said.
He has also been an avid badminton player for decades, both coaching and playing.

He helped start a club in Stanley Mission and coached badminton at the Saskatchewan Games three times. He has also competed at a number of North American Indigenous Games winning a number of medals over the years, including a silver in doubles competition with his son John.

“That was the best medal I ever got,” he said.

Tree Trimming Training for LLRIB Members

Considered one of Saskatchewan’s leading Vegetation Management companies, KVSLP supplies aerial tree trimming, right-of-way, brush clearing, danger tree removal, hand slashing, herbicide application, and consenting services to the utility industry. But our growth has been hampered by a shortage of Utility Tree Trimmers (UTT’s) in Saskatchewan. So Kitsaki Vegetation is training band members to fulfil that need.

Three Lac La Ronge Indian Band members with Kitsaki Vegetation have completed the academic portion of the UTT program at Olds College in Alberta.

Dexter Halkett, Jeff Ratt and Alex Mckenzie spent two weeks at the college earlier this spring and are now out putting in the hours trimming trees around power lines across the province.

Alex Mckenzie, who has been with Kitsaki for about three years now, said the first week was spent learning about working safely around power lines, trimming trees while in a bucket, climbing the trees, and about all the equipment needed to do the job. They also were taught how to recognize the different trees and pruning methods.

“Like how to cut a tree so it won’t die,” Mckenzie said. The second week was all about climbing trees. “We learned how to climb the tree, and how to rescue a guy if they get stuck,” he said.

To even get in to the course you have to put in 1,200 hours on the job. And now they need to complete 1,200 more hours on the job to become fully certified.

“This utility tree trimmer designation is like a journeyman’s ticket,” said Kitsaki Vegetation Service’s general manager Terry Helary. “It is a very specialized trade. It is one of the most dangerous trades in the world and safety is No. 1.”
It’s about a two-year process to become certified.

Dexter Halkett, who is from La Ronge, said they now know how to trim the trees properly while staying safe.

“(For example) you notch and then back cut, but then there are a couple of extra cuts you have to make up there to make sure the tree doesn’t peel and rip you down off the tree with the top you are taking off.”

For the past 10 years Halkett was cutting and clearing around power lines, but he wasn’t climbing up the poles. “It took me a while to get used to that,” he said. “I was kind of shaky getting used to heights.”
“I never wanted to climb trees,” he laughed. “But I like the climbing now.” Mckenzie said it also took him a little while to get used to climbing.

“The first time is pretty scary. You get a lot of shaking in your bones.”
So far he hasn’t had to climb too many trees because most of the time they are doing the trimming from a bucket. One of the things he likes about the job is the people. “I like working with the guys,” said Mckenzie, who is from Stanley Mission. “They are all good guys to work with.”

Jeff Ratt, who is from Sucker River, had a leg up on the others because he already had experience climbing power poles with Kitsaki. And he had taken a climbing course at Northlands College before taking this course.

“Switching over to this side was kind of the same deal,” Ratt said. “We are still working around the power lines.” They usually work in two- or three-man crews.

Ratt said on his three-man crew there is a couple on the ground hauling the brush to the chipper.
“Then we have the bucket guy who is trimming.” Ratt said he enjoys the work and the travel that takes him all over the province. “We are pretty much in a new community every week.”

Besides doing regular maintenance they are also called out to emergencies. “Especially storm damage and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

All three are comfortable working in remote locations. In fact, Mckenzie grew up on a trap line “My first memory was probably in a dog sled with my dad.” “It is really peaceful out there,” Mckenzie said, adding he was spending his week off in July back on the trap line. Ratt said they take safety very seriously. “If you are not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask.”

Helary said that safety is a priority and one of the company’s core values. “Our guys are always working beside a power line and they always have to be aware of their surroundings and any other employees that are working with them as well.”

One other band member took the course last year and Helary said the goal is to put two members through the course each year.

“We are all about providing long-term employment opportunities for our Lac La Ronge band members.”

NRT Expands to New Markets

The slowdown of the uranium market over the past couple of years has become the new normal for Dave McIlmoyl at Northern Resource Trucking (NRT).

With a continuing depression in the Uranium Industry, McIlmoyl and his team have been searching for new ways to generate revenue for NRT.

“Our revenue is down 25 per cent year over year. That tells you something,” says McIlmoyl, matter-of-factly.

Just like last year, NRT has been beating the bushes to find new work. However, this year, they have expanded their sights into Manitoba and northern Ontario to offer their trucking services. “We’re making headway into new markets. We’re getting a fair bit of work out there right now.”

For instance, NRT has landed contracts with Federated Co-op to supply their propane to sites in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Getting that contract is substantial as FCL has their fingers in many markets across Western Canada.  “We are also bidding on contract work for them as far east as Dryden, Ont., and as far west as Maple Creek in Saskatchewan,” says McIlmoyl.

He is hoping to leverage some new business through First Nations partners in the western provinces. Building relationships is something McIlmoyl believes in.

Another area targeted by NRT are the ice roads in northern Manitoba during the winter months.

“We want to get more involved there,” he says. “We’re pretty good at loading at any industrial site in Canada.”

One ace in the hole NRT has is the good name NRT has built for itself over the years in the trucking industry.

While McIlmoyl keeps trying to find new business, he keeps an eye on the uranium market, which has been the lifeblood for NRT through its partnerships with Cameco. “We keep watching Cameco. Uranium prices are getting higher slowly.”

When Cameco decided to mothball some of its mines in the last couple of years while it awaits a uranium market resurgence, McIlmoyl knew there was no alternative to getting out there to find new work. But he is confident the uranium market will rebound sooner or later.

“We decided we wouldn’t be solely dependent on uranium mining.”

However, McIlmoyl has seen the spot price for uranium slowly climb and with the large number of reactors coming on line around the globe, it’s just a matter of time before Cameco’s fortunes will change.

“There are encouraging signs, for sure,” he says. “We are ready to gear up again when the time comes.”

But until that day arrives, McIlmoyl will be focussed on keeping NRT’s bottom line in check and keeping employment available for First Nations workers in Saskatchewan.