NB the BEST. Brief and to the point, North Battleford, Saskatchewan’s motto is fitting for a small city that thinks big and is committed to realizing its vision of excellence in service to its residents and to the business community.
The North Saskatchewan River Valley opened up to settlement in the late 1800s, but it was the Canadian Northern Railway that founded North Battleford in 1904. The railway selected it as the new town site along its rail line rather than the well-established Battleford, then capital of the Northwest Territories. North Battleford became Saskatchewan’s fifth city in 1913.
Situated on the north side of the valley, North Battleford is the largest city in Northwest Saskatchewan with a population of 17,000 and approximately 4,000 in the town of Battleford to the south. The city and town together are commonly referred to as the Battlefords.
North Battleford is today one of Saskatchewan’s fastest growing and scenic cities operating as a key service, receiving and distribution centre. The city is strategically located at the crossroads of the Yellowhead Highway – a major transportation corridor for both trucking and tourism into western Canada – and four other provincial highways: the 40, 4, 26 and 29. The city’s industrial parks located near these routes offer easy access of goods to markets in both the United States and Canada with direct connections to Edmonton, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
CN Rail links North Battleford’s business and industry with shipping ports in eastern, central and western Canada. The Cameron McIntosh Airport is capable of handling corporate jets and helicopters and the Saskatoon International airport is a little over an hour away. “Our location lends itself well to so many opportunities,” says Mayor Ian Hamilton. “We are very well positioned.”
Forestry has traditionally played a vital role in Saskatchewan – half of the province is boreal forest to the north – so forestry remains a component of North Battleford’s economy. Although not located in the forestry belt, the city is only an hour’s drive south making it an important transportation hub for the transfer of wood products.
Agriculture also plays a vital role in enabling the city to be one of the Prairies most important agricultural communities. “Agriculture is a significant contributor to our economy,” affirms Mayor Hamilton. “We’re the centre of a very large agricultural community, mostly grain farming, but some mixed … we have a huge fertile area and had excellent crops in the last few years.” The grain industry has created diverse opportunities for the city.
He notes that North Battleford has all the major farm implement dealerships. “We service machinery, and certainly, the farm inputs sector is big. With that, we provide sales and service to an area that includes somewhere around 90,000 plus population within our trading area.”
However, it is not only forestry and agriculture that have created a solid economic base. The City’s business plan to diversify its local economy has obtained results and the momentum for diversification has been steady with a number of other sectors garnering interest, investment and job creation including retail, construction, healthcare, tourism and manufacturing.
Not to be excluded is the oil and gas sector which offers enormous potential for the city as evidenced by some key players investing in the area. One example, Grit Industries is a significant supplier to the oil and gas industry and relocated its manufacturing operations from Lloydminster, Alberta (140 km. west) to North Battleford in 2012, as part of its expansion plan.
“There are significant heavy oil reserves near North Battleford. There are five SAGD (steam assisted gravity drainage) extraction plants being constructed within fifty kilometres of us right now, to the north and west,” relates Mayor Hamilton, speaking about the prospects for the oil and gas sector. “Those particular operations are going to bring to the area anywhere between eighty to one hundred opportunities for power engineering positions. Those are highly skilled jobs and will be a significant input to our economy as well.”
With the third largest Aboriginal community in the province and a large population aged between twenty-five and forty-five, North Battleford has a young workforce readily available. “We have a young, capable and growing sector in Aboriginal youth,” shares Mayor Hamilton. “We are the hub of approximately eight First Nations within a sixty kilometre radius. That’s a source of labour that is available and is ready to contribute to our continued growth.”
The population of North Battleford is predicted to grow by thirty-five percent in the next twenty years credited primarily to an excellent quality of life and abundant regional opportunities. This necessitates the construction of new housing and 2014 was a record year for building permits issued valued at over $60 million. The value had quadrupled from 2013’s numbers, although this investment was mostly attributed to commercial investment. “There is significant investment in housing – new condominiums and apartment buildings,” notes Mayor Hamilton. “It’s a combination of a number of different investments, both residential and commercial.”
Some noteworthy recently completed projects include the $60 million Credit Union CUplex, home to the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts, Northland Power Curling Centre, NationsWEST Field House and Battleford Co-Op Aquatic Centre. The CUplex was officially opened in 2013 after years of fundraising and assistance from all government levels.
North Battleford’s Business Improvement District (BID) organization was incorporated in 2013 to revitalize the downtown core by transforming it into a place of welcoming beauty, activity, safety and potential investment – a core of diverse activity.
“We will look at opportunities citywide. If there’s a good idea that is going to inject some life into the downtown core, we will certainly consider any proposals that could come where we might participate,” says the Mayor.
North Battleford Energy Centre, owned by Northland Power and located a few miles southwest of the city, commenced operations in 2013 after construction began in 2010. It is one of two Northland Power projects built in Saskatchewan. The North Battleford Energy Centre operates under a twenty-year power purchase agreement with SaskPower and will provide electricity to power approximately 250,000 homes in the province’s electrical grid. The cost of the project was $750 million.
The city’s $13.9 million Canadian Feed Research Centre (CFRC) facility opened in 2014 in partnership with Cargill Limited’s international animal nutrition business and the University of Saskatchewan (located 140 kilometres southeast). The facility will research, develop and commercialize high-value animal feeds developed from the bio-processing and biofuel industries.
The University of Saskatchewan’s “agricultural research department has invested in this facility and is looking at enhancing feed grain and its benefits,” explains Mayor Hamilton. The facility is one of only two facilities in North America engaged in this technology, “so we are welcoming people from around the world to come to North Battleford, through the University of Saskatchewan, to take advantage of these technologies.”
Construction is expected to begin in 2015 for the new 189 bed Saskatchewan Hospital – North Battleford at a cost of $175 to $200 million. The current hospital, which has never been renovated, is more than 100 years old and does not meet modern standards.
The new hospital is to be built near the older building and will prove to be invaluable to the community of North Battleford and the province for people requiring mental health services. The included correctional facility hopes to reduce victimization and secure public safety. The hospital is expected to be completed in 2018.
“There’s only one like it in Saskatchewan,” notes Mayor Hamilton, indicating that the Prairie North Health Region also provides health services to over 81,000 residents in Saskatchewan’s northwest region. “We are the center of health services in our area,” he adds.
North Battleford’s Parsons Industrial Park offers over 600 acres of serviced, competitively-priced land adjacent to the Yellowhead Highway. The industrial park is ideal for heavy industry as well as businesses of any size and the nearby CN Rail system allows fast and efficient distribution channels for manufacturers.
North Battleford has had much success with the park, so much so that a recent twenty-three acre expansion in the southeast quadrant was necessary to accommodate growing demand from developers. “We’ve created an environment which lends itself well to additional investment for commercial purposes,” explains Mayor Hamilton.
“We’re very competitive,” he adds. “That’s one of the appeals of North Battleford at this time. We do have significant tracts of lands available for industrial development and we are talking to a number of potential investors now that are expressing a lot of interest in North Battleford.”
To complement this surge in interest, the city’s Planning and Development department works diligently to assist all interested businesses to gain footing and establish roots. The goal is that North Battleford may be seen as a city of unrelenting diversification of services and opportunities – a great place to do business.
Cities in boom mode, such as North Battleford, know all too well that along with the blessings come unique challenges associated with growth. Mayor Hamilton does not deny a crime problem in his city, while noting North Battleford is taking a proactive, four-pronged approach to tackle the issue of crime. “This is a community based, holistic strategy based upon principles of creating opportunities, coordination of existing programs and seeking new programs, helping individuals and families, and crime prevention / crime suppression initiatives.”
“Being the centre of a large region, a lot of the activity that results in these crime statistics come to us from outside our borders,” explains Mayor Hamilton. “I don’t avoid the issue. We’re dealing with it head on. I know we’re making significant improvements.”
North Battleford offers activities year round so there’s never an excuse for boredom in this city rich in culture, history and, of course, amazing vistas. “We have the fourth highest ranked municipal golf course in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” shares Mayor Hamilton.
Just fifteen minutes away, Table Mountain Regional Park offers skiing and snowboarding and has, “the best downhill skiing in the prairies,” according to Mayor Hamilton. The park attracts over 100,000 visitors each season. Battlefords Provincial Park, forty minutes away, is a destination for camping enthusiasts, hikers and golfers. Other outdoor activities to be enjoyed include recreational fishing, cross country skiing and big game hunting. The region sees thousands of hunters every season including many Americans.
The Fort Battleford National Historic Site, the Western Development Museum, Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and the Gold Eagle Casino are just some must-sees in the Battlefords.
A native of North Battleford, Mayor Ian Hamilton has an affinity for this place called home. There is no place he’d rather live. “When I talk about our city, I talk about the quality of life that we experience. It’s just an amazing place to call home.”