Rural Sask Heart Beat: Rural Challenges

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Gilles Laberge

Although all might seem serene and peaceful in the countryside, rural Saskatchewan often faces challenges. It’s facing some challenges as we speak that are stripping jobs away from long surviving locales and often forcing inhabitants to head for the opportunities offered in the big cities and, essentially, bleeding out the rural populace. These challenges include small town bank closures, the phasing out of the coal mining industry, the loss of government funding and water problems.

This column will showcase some of those challenges facing small towns in rural Saskatchewan.

Bank & Credit Union Closures

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Innovation Credit Union closed branches in Climax, Coderre, Hazlet, Pennant, Sceptre and Shamrock in 2013.

Braken lost their Credit Union when it closed in 2014.

Conexus Credit Union closed branches in Chaplin and Willow Bunch on October 30th, 2015. Fortunately enough, Bengough Credit Union took over the former Willow Bunch branch in November 2015.

Affinity Credit Union closed their branch in St. Louis at the end of June 2017 (an ATM machine was also stolen from that branch in 2016 - but that’s another story entirely).

CIBC shut its doors in Mankota in the Fall of 2016 and in Coronach on January 20th, 2017. But the bleeding didn’t stop there; CIBC also closed branches in Stoughton (March 2017) and Radville (on July 13th, 2017) as well as Hafford and Turtleford in 2017. CIBC then closed their Central Butte branch in August 2017. Rouleau's CIBC Banking Centre will close effective Thursday, March 7th, 2019 at 3 pm.

Royal Bank closed some branches recently too. One in Wawota in May 2017 and their branch in Invermay, shuttered in the Fall of 2017.

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TD Canada Trust has been affected by closures as well. That makes three of the “too big to close” banks shutting down shops in the province recently. The Kyle branch of Canada Trust closed on August 25th, 2017 and merged with the TD Canada Trust-Swift Current branch. The TD branch in Allan also closed; on August 25th, 2017 and Kipling's branch (529 Main Street) is closing and all accounts will be moved to Regina in September 28th, 2018.

Coal Mining

Coronach & Estevan - both are in the process of phasing out their Coal Mining industry

The federal government wants to get rid of coal and phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030.

 Estevan Coal Mine

Estevan Coal Mine

The Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal Company runs surface mining operations near SaskPower Plants at Coronach and Estevan. Westmoreland Coal Company owns the Estevan Mine and Poplar River Mine.

Estevan Coal Mine opened in 1973. Estevan's Boundary Dam was constructed in 1957. The Boundary Dam Power Station is the world's largest coal fired station owned by SaskPower. SaskPower Boundary Dam & Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project is a coal fired power plant and the world's First CCS Power Plant that opened in October 2014. Coal mining now makes up just over 15% of the economy in the City of Estevan.

Coronach is located more than 200 km SW of Regina and is home to over 700 people. Coronach is home to Westmoreland's Poplar River Coal Mine and The Poplar River Generating Station. The Poplar River Mine is a 7488-hectare strip mine near Coronach. Since 1978, Poplar River Mine has been supplying coal to two generating units at the Poplar River Generating Station. Mine is owned privately owned by Westmoreland Coal Company. The Generating Station is managed by SaskPower. The loss of industry in the area would likely result in residents leaving, the loss of services and most certainly would lead to real estate values plummeting.

Other Industries

Claybank Brick Plant is suffering after the loss of government funding

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Claybank is located 90 km SW of Regina. It’s nationally renowned Claybank Brick Plant holds their Heritage Day every year in June. The roof is deteriorating over the plant, and the Board is trying to figure out how to raise money for a temporary roof. The site is the only national historic site wholly owned by the province of Saskatchewan, and it relies on funding from the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation. That funding was cut 100%.

The Claybank Brick Plant is located 3.4 km SE of the hamlet of Claybank. The bricks produced there were used in heritage buildings all around the province including the Gravelbourg Cathedral, St. Radegonde Church in Lafleche and Saskatoon's historic Bessborough Hotel. The clay used to manufacture the bricks originated from the Massold clay canyons in the Dirt Hills Region. The Saskatchewan Clay Products company opened in June 1913 and closed during the First World War. It reopened as the Dominion Fire Brick & Pottery Company and was later renamed Dominion Fire Brick & Clay Products in 1954. AP Green Refractories purchased the plant in 1971 and ran the facility until 1989, when operations ceased. Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation acquired the plant in 1992.

Find out more about the Claybank Brick Plant on their website: https://www.claybankbrick.ca/.

Water Problems

Manitou Beach

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Manitou Beach is located roughly 90 km SE of Saskatoon. The town is home to the historic Danceland Ballroom. It’s open year round. You can enjoy Buffets from 6 to 7:30 pm before every dance, and Dances run from 8 pm to Midnight.

But now about those water problems. Manitou Beach is fighting to save famed Danceland(Located at 511 Lake Avenue) amid water concerns. It was built in 1930 and is believed to be one of only 2 remaining Canadian dance halls using horse hairs to cushion their dance floors. Wooden support beams beneath the hall have not been replaced in the nearly 90 years of Danceland's existence, and the pilings are starting to crumble and bend.

A series of era-themed fundraisers were organized as part of the "Save Danceland" campaign seeking to raise the money required. Donations can be made in person. Water levels on Little Manitou Lake (Salt Water) continue to rise because of precipitation and lack of drainage. Since 2011, the province has spent roughly $7 Million on flood protection in the town.

Website - www.danceland.ca