Embracing the Boom… Again

Kirkland Lake, Ontario

With a current population of 10,000, Kirkland Lake once had a population of 25,000 in the 1930s when gold exploration created a boom for the area that lasted until the 1960s. At one time there were seven gold producing mines along Kirkland Lake’s main street – the Mile of Gold – so named because it was inadvertently paved with gold-bearing rock. However, like most booms, things began to wind down due to depletion of new gold finds, stagnant gold prices and rising production costs. One by one, the mines shut down. The last was the Macassa mine in 1999. The boom was perceived as over. But not for Foxpoint Resources.

A Sense of Non-Finality

Foxpoint Resources, now operating as Kirkland Lake Gold, suspected that Kirkland Lake wasn’t mined out, that the old mines remained gold producers. The mining company began exploration of old mining sites in 2001, discovering enough gold to begin production again. A huge gold find was discovered in 2005 and by 2007 another gold rush was on in Kirkland Lake.

Other mining operations followed – Northgate Minerals, Armistice Resources, St. Andrews Gold and Queenstown Minerals, to name a few. “It’s an ongoing boom,” says Bill Enouy, Kirkland Lake Mayor. “It’s going to get bigger and better.” Kirkland Lake is once again a picture of its former self – a bustling, booming gold mining town, with some new present day challenges.

Open for Business

“We’ve tried to diversify over the years,” says Bill. He acknowledges that it was the opening of the Veterans Affairs office in town in 1991 that helped make government work one of the main industries in the lean years. “Veterans Affairs helped get us through the hard times,” he says.

From Kirkland Lake Gold’s re-exploration in 2001 to development in 2005, the Mayor notes that Kirkland Lake had a four year warning of an impending boom. “We knew something was going to happen, but the people in town didn’t see it. The problem in a town that’s gone downhill for 35 years is that a lot of the populace had a negative outlook. You have to try to fight that.”

Kirkland Lake has some incentives in place for further developing its commercial and retail sector as its business and community needs increase, such as the Kirkland and District Community Development Corporation, (KDCDC). The Corporation offers small business loans, up to $150,000, for both new and existing businesses for start-up or expansion costs to ensure permanent, diversified employment in Kirkland Lake. “It’s all about attitude when it comes to business. You have to have a positive attitude if you’re going to invest,” says Bill. “Work and people making money makes everyone’s attitude change.”

The Temiskaming Development Fund Corporation (Temfund), also promotes economic growth within the Temiskaming District, of which Kirkland Lake is a part. When Dofasco announced that the Sherman and Adams iron mines near Kirkland Lake would close permanently in 1990, it left a fund for people to borrow money for small business development. To date, Temfund has distributed over $11 million in project loans to Temiskaming District.

Additionally, FedNor provides business development incentives for northern Ontario communities like Kirkland Lake. FedNor is the Federal Government’s regional development organization working in conjunction with partners such as the KDCDC to create and maintain an atmosphere of growth and innovation for businesses and entrepreneurs in northern communities.

In July 2012, Fednor’s investment of close to $1 million enabled the KDCDC to provide small and medium-sized businesses access to capital, business counselling and community economic development for a three year period. This FedNor support will help diversify Kirkland Lake’s economy and, says Bill, “There’s a lot of interest… We try to help [businesses] all the way, but at a certain point in time they have to do it by themselves.”

A Place to Call Home

During the 1930s there weren’t many families living in Kirkland Lake. It was the time of the Great Depression so the area saw mainly transient workers that had headed north to find work; there wasn’t any infrastructure to service families. “Actually, the town is larger in size now than when we had more people,” relates Bill, mainly attributed to the change in the way people live, the building of suburbs and ongoing development. “We’ve expanded the town proper,” he says, adding that, “Miners go where the work is. People in Kirkland Lake work in Fort McMurray, Timmins and Red Lake. It’s not a healthy situation but I’m not complaining. The mines have to find workers somewhere.”

Indeed, some miners only live in Kirkland Lake for a week at a time. There is a substantial need for greater housing development and its accompanying infrastructure, and there is some investment in the remodelling of old buildings and new construction currently underway. “We’re not sitting here stagnant,” says Bill. “We’ve developed lots for sale. We have the infrastructure in place for that. The doors are open for people that want to build houses.”

It’s estimated that Kirkland Lake will need 600 homes built in the next six years to keep pace with the growing demand. “We try our best. You just have to work within certain circumstances. If you’ve been here long enough, you understand that.”

New Projects on the Horizon

Kirkland Lake’s new wastewater treatment facility, expected to be completed in spring 2014, will not only protect the environment and improve the quality of life for residents, it will also create jobs and contribute to the town’s growth and sustainability. The federal government and the province of Ontario are each contributing upwards of $16 million for the project, with Kirkland Lake contributing the balance of the estimated $35 million cost. “It’s a momentary opportunity for people to work until we get it built,” says Bill. “It’s a two year window with a lot of activity, but it’s not something that’s permanent. But it is an asset.”

With an investment of $7 to $8 million, investors approached Kirkland Lake with plans to build a new Microtel Inn and Suites, part of the Wyndham chain of hotels, adjacent to the Hockey Heritage North property. It would be an ideal situation for Microtel Inn with Hockey Heritage North’s adjoining conference facility that seats 400. There are plans to use local contractors, presenting more opportunities for those in the construction industry. The project is welcome news for Bill who says that currently, “We have two large hotels booked with tourists and workers.”

A Model for Everyone

Kirkland Lake’s Hockey Heritage North, opened in 2006, is a museum depicting ice hockey paraphernalia and histories of some renowned NHL players who came from Northern Ontario towns such as Kirkland Lake, once referred to as a “hockey hotbed.” On display at Hockey Heritage North is the world’s largest free-standing puck, made of steel and weighing two tonnes and a tribute to 325 NHL players who hailed from northeastern Ontario. “The centre is a huge tourist destination,” says Bill.

Kirkland Lake’s Museum of Northern History is a look into the town’s past situated in the former home of the father of the Kirkland Lake gold rush, Sir Henry Oaks, a man who went from rags to riches during the early days of the town’s gold rush. The museum tells the history of the early pioneers who etched out a homestead in the region’s sometimes unforgiving landscape.

Kirkland Lake maintains a vibrant tourism industry year round with its summers attracting campers, hunters and sport fishermen to its numerous lakes and streams. Its festivals, such as the annual Homecoming Week in July, attract many former residents to the celebrations that provide world class entertainment.

The town’s three week Winter Carnival beginning in mid-February is one of Canada’s longest carnivals, and always well attended. “We have the greatest festival committee in Ontario,” says Bill. “We’re a model for everyone… We have wonderful volunteer groups in the community… It’s a great place to be part of. We take a lot of pride in our people.”

Kirkland Lake also boasts a thriving snowmobile industry with miles of well maintained snowmobile trails that attract snowmobile enthusiasts from not only southern Ontario but from the northern United States. “If you live here you make a choice. You can either participate or stay in for the winter. It’s a pretty attractive place if people want to participate. That’s a personal choice,” says Bill.

With a remaining two year tenure as Mayor before retiring, Bill reflects that, “It’s all about your environment, how you adjust… The people here are survivors. We’ve been through the rocky down times here and most of the citizens stayed here and hung on. Now they’re going to see the benefits of the boom.”

August 24, 2017, 12:57 AM EDT

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