A Northern Community with a Can-Do Attitude
Town of Kirkland Lake, ON
Kirkland Lake, Ontario is a municipality of eight thousand people approximately six hundred kilometres north of Toronto and 241 kilometres to the northeast of North Bay in the Timiskaming District. It was incorporated as a town in 1972 and began with a gold mining history that reaches back to the early 1900s.
Community investment matters. Securing growth, creating opportunities for business ventures, instilling a sense of community pride, and being a great place to live are definitely influential motivators for securing investments. Motivated communities come in many forms, most being identity-driven with the shared goal of considering what is best for the community. Such is the case for the thriving town of Kirkland Lake, Ontario.
It was at the turn of the 20th century that early mines were established in this gold-rich region; by the end of the century, they had all closed. Like most gold mining communities, Kirkland Lake certainly experienced its cycles of ups and downs. Some communities never recover from the lows, but this was not the case for Kirkland Lake. Foxpoint Resources, today known as Kirkland Lake Gold, came to town in the early 21st century and re-opened one of the major old mines, the Macassa. As the company settled in with mining operations, it found additional sources of gold, and other gold mining companies soon followed. Today, Kirkland Lake Gold (KLG) employs approximately 1,000 people, and mines some of the richest gold ore in Canada.
“That’s where today’s prosperity comes from,” says Wilfred Hass, the town’s manager of economic development. “Since 1911, there’s been about thirty-four million ounces of very high-grade gold pulled out of the ground here.”
Kirkland Lake has been diligent in its efforts of diversification, which have been especially geared toward companies that want to take advantage of the town’s location alongside the Trans-Canada Highway that traverses the country from coast to coast. “The town’s successful diversification efforts include, for example, the forestry industry. In 2009, the Town partnered with a local entrepreneur to establish a sawmill producing specialty cuts. That partnership has weathered the ups and downs of the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute to emerge as one of the most successful small mills in Ontario, with a full ‘stump to market’ capacity.”
Tourism and hospitality are another sector that Kirkland Lake is bolstering. The town “pursued and secured a new hotel largely on the strength of the weekday demand generated by the mining industry and the weekend demand generated by a robust events-based tourism strategy that has seen the town play host to popular acts including the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Gordon Lightfoot, and more.”
Kirkland Lake’s location also makes it a prime site for logistics operations. FedEx recently decided to locate to Kirkland Lake in September 2018, with a planned 29,000-square-foot distribution centre. According to FedEx officials, the town was selected because “of the ease of access to the major highways, the proximity to customer distribution centres, and a strong local community workforce.”
California based Artisan Vehicle Systems, a manufacturer of battery-powered underground mining vehicles, recently selected Kirkland Lake as its Canadian headquarters earlier this year with the long-term intentions of building a sixty-thousand-square-foot facility to include a service centre, product research facility, and a vehicle assembly shop. All this is to accommodate the company’s biggest customer, Kirkland Lake Gold, which was instrumental in initiating Artisan’s interest in the town.
Wilfred says that with respect to diversification, “You never turn your back on your main industry.” To this end, Kirkland Lake Gold is undergoing a major expansion. In 2009, the mine identified a major new high grade break that increasingly has been the focus of its operations. In 2017, KLG announced it would spend $325 million to sink a new shaft, upgrade and expand its mill and build other required facilities, including a new dry. This expansion will extend the life of the mine by an additional 15 to 25 years, and result in an additional 450 new direct jobs. It is also significant to note that Artisan’s battery vehicles are responsible for more than eighty percent of Macassa’s gold production according to an article from Northern Ontario Business (November 2017).
Wilfred explains further that Kirkland Lake Gold’s mining operations involve mines that are very deep with extremely hard rock. The company was looking for new technologies that could better deliver positive results of such operations, and Artisan was the ideal choice to supply electrical underground equipment.
Artisan’s newest technology, the Z-40, is a cutting-edge electrical scoop capable of working underground at great depths. The Z-40 is, “causing a bit of a revolution in the mining industry because, with the cost of power and difficulty at working at great depths, you have to constantly exchange the air that’s down there, resulting in tremendous hydro costs.”
Artisan’s presence is, “extending the life of the mine. It’s making the mine safer, and it’s opened the doors to other new technologies coming – services and support – and, hopefully, for Kirkland Lake, it will result in both a larger assembly and service shop set up in our industrial park,” says Wilfred. He says that the lifespan of the mine will be approximately twenty to twenty-five years, and by joining three existing mining operations, this will, “create a 450 person increase in the workforce.”
With all of the renewed activity taking place in Kirkland Lake, there will be a domino effect for the smaller surrounding communities. “We have a catchment area within a forty-five-minute drive from the downtown that has roughly thirteen thousand people,” says Wilfred. “They’re already anticipating that you’re going to have increased land sales; you’re going to have some of the smaller businesses expanding out into those areas, and you’re going to have probably a greater investment in your health and education infrastructure to support more people coming here.”
“With all of this activity, we’re seeing a very positive increase in our tax base – primarily all the tax sectors,” Mayor Tony Antoniazzi adds. “Certainly, with this expansion with Kirkland Lake Gold, we’re going to see a greater tax base in the industrial side.”
He explains the need to address residential housing to serve the numbers of new residents coming to the community. “We’re seeing some expansion in the multi-residential … On the political side, as a council, that’s one of our main duties – trying to increase that tax base.”
Kirkland Lake Gold’s operations, “has a carry on effect with the other gold mining companies in the area,” Wilfred says. He states, as examples, that Agnico Eagle Mines Limited is spending $5.4 million in exploration with one of its holdings in Upper Beaver, approximately ten minutes from Kirkland Lake. Agnico Eagle is, “the largest landowner here, and if that goes through, you will have another mine for fifteen to twenty years.”
Additionally, Alamos Gold Incorporated’s Young-Davidson Mine in Matachewan is ninety-six kilometers from town with about a four-hundred-plus workforce. “It’s going great guns too,” says Wilfred. “We’ve actually developed a bit of a cluster there, and they feed back and forth off of each other.”
Securing strong partnerships builds relationships that result in an aligned vision for the future. The Town of Kirkland Lake has formed a number of partnerships over the years, especially with the Kirkland and District Community Development Corporation (KDCDC), its leading government lending organization. KDCDC is, “extremely important for the small-and-medium-sized businesses in the area,” explains Wilfred.
Federal partnerships focus on managing and directing growth such as those found with the federal economic development initiative for northern regions (FedNor) and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund (NOHFC) which are, “dedicated to helping communities like ours in economic development in northern Ontario,” continues Wilfred.
As an indication of the value of these partnerships, he explains that when FedEx needed to extend its services to its new facility, Kirkland Lake was able to, “apply and receive ninety percent funding. That’s something that’s extremely important.” To extend mining services would have cost the town approximately $2 million, which it did not have. So the town went to the federal government for assistance. “Every dollar [the government] put in, I would say is probably creating three to four dollars in spin-off economic benefit and creating jobs. Those are our main partners.”
Other partners include the chamber of commerce which represents the existing small businesses and assists them with productivity and succession planning. Temiskaming Development Fund Corporation (TemFund) which works in conjunction with KDCDC, also functions as a lender to those new and current organizations in the manufacturing and tourism sectors within the District. Additionally, the non-profit North Eastern Ontario Communications Network Incorporation (NEOnet) serves the town well and has shifted from being a telecommunications agency to, “being more of a productivity enhancement agency,” says Wilfred.
For any business considering Kirkland Lake, it is important to research and attain as much information as possible about the community, what makes it unique, and where a business might fit in.
“It would really depend on what your industry is,” Mayor Antoniazzi notes. “We’re not shy to tell you that, perhaps, you would be wasting your time,” clarifying that Kirkland Lake does have some difficulty with retail businesses as many small towns do. “We have the bricks and mortar stores that provide our daily needs. We also have a population that’s an hour away from a major shopping centre in any direction. So they’re going there.”
On-line ordering is another option for many. “So if you’re thinking of coming to Kirkland Lake, we would be taking you through the town, helping you to do whatever market research you need to do to find out if you would actually make it here … Give it a full year of research because the winter months have a different demand than the summer months … We’re very careful with that. We don’t want to see failures.”
If considerations are based on larger commercial or industrial aspects, “We usually will go to our funding partners and do market surveys,” continues Mayor Antoniazzi. “We know we can’t do your job for you. Our job is to give you as much real information as we can to help you make that decision.”
Kirkland Lake is currently undertaking a community improvement plan (CIP) and land inventory specifically for commercial and industrial growth. “We’ve expanded very quickly with the businesses,” says Wilfred. “We’re running out of service-ready industrial and commercial land. That project will be identifying new areas for growth.”
This may be a small community, but it is certainly not boring. There is plenty to see and do with such sights as the Museum of Northern History, Miners’ Memorial, Hockey Heritage North, and numerous summer and winter activities to engage any interests. The annual homecoming week in July is ranked in the top one hundred festivals by Festivals and Events Ontario. “We bring in top-of-the-line acts … We’re a community of eight thousand people. We have cities nearby of sixty thousand, and even then, they can’t pull off [these events],” says Wilfred, adding that the town has, “probably the best-groomed snowmobile trails in northeastern Ontario with the longest riding season … We have quite the outdoor lifestyle. We’ve invested very heavily in our community assets.”
“If we don’t invest in our own community, how can we expect our large partners to invest in it?” asks the mayor.
Kirkland Lake will be celebrating its centennial anniversary next year and is looking forward to many attendees and a lot of reminiscing, but more importantly, “We’re hoping to get a sense of renewed energy for the next one hundred years,” says Mayor Antoniazzi. “We’ve built a community that we’re all certainly proud of.”