Sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees, but – when it comes to the forest industry in northwest Saskatchewan – if there’s anything hiding in plain sight, it’s opportunity.
Indeed, the Meadow Lake community has long taken full advantage of the benefits that accompany the presence of a thriving industry right here in its own backyard. For generations, logging has been a way of life for many in this area, but since the development of what was then referred to as the Meadow Lake Sawmill in the early 1970s, the company now known as NorSask Forest Products has become a boon to the local job market and, in turn, has been a major contributor to Meadow Lake’s economic prosperity for more than four decades.
Meanwhile, with the arrival of Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp in the early 1990s and the establishment of Mistik Management Ltd. more than a quarter-century ago, such opportunity has blossomed even further to the point where there’s no denying, locally, forestry continues to have a tremendous impact on so many lives and at so many levels.
According to the provincial government, more than half of Saskatchewan is forested, representing 34 million hectares. The Commercial Forest Zone makes up 11.7 million hectares, of which 5.3 million hectares are classified as productive forest land available for commercial timber harvesting.
In the North, forestry is the second largest industry and, in normal market conditions, the industry generates more than $1 billion in forest product sales, up to $800 million in exports and 6,000 direct jobs.
In addition to creating employment opportunities, forestry in this part of the province has increased the local tax base (which in turn has resulted in the ability of both the city and the RM to take on key projects and to tackle other important initiatives), while Meadow Lake’s overall growth – both from a residential and commercial standpoint – has led not only to an increase in population, but a stronger business community and, simply put, more things for people to do.
In fact, if it weren’t for forestry, it’s probably safe to assume Meadow Lake would never have broken the 5,000-plus population threshold it did a few years ago to officially achieve city status. To this day there are many people who refuse to recognize the community as such, but, on paper, this is indeed the case and, as a city, Meadow Lake is able to tap into certain opportunities not available to smaller municipalities. The city has even given back to the industry in recent months by providing areas along the newly paved west service road for trucks hauling logs, pulp and other resources to pull over in order to access local restaurants and other businesses. Before, no such spots were available and drivers risked a fine when simply stopping for a quick bite to eat.
Yes, the forest industry has come a long way over the years and, with its continued success, is sure to take Meadow Lake to places it’s never been before. It’s definitely something that should never be taken for granted.