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Development Needs for Northern Communities


Kenneth R. Johnson



In general, the growth of Canada's aboriginal

land development in the north, and the

population is outpacing non-aboriginals by a

shortfall in building capacity given the lack of

staggering margin. Statistics Canada released

skilled trades people.

new information on Canada's aboriginal population in January, 2003 (Reference 10), and in the 2001 census, 976,300 people identified themselves as North American Indians, MĂŠtis or Inuit. This count was 22 per cent higher than the 1996 figure of just under 800,000.

In contrast the total non-aboriginal

population grew only 3.4 per cent between 1996 and 2001. The highest concentration of aboriginals is in the North. The 22,720 aboriginals in Nunavut represent 85 per cent of the territory's total population, which is the highest concentration

The Challenges Associated Continuing “Boom � with the

i n t h e c o u n t r y. A b o r i g i n a l s m a k e u p 5 1 p e r cent of the Northwest Territories' population, and 23 per cent of Yukon's.

Communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are being challenged to keep up with the growth demand for developed land. Land development is an expensive and complex activity in northern communities; it is a process that may normally require a window of 3 to 5 years depending upon the community (Reference 5). In addition, it is only one of a number of competing priorities that communities have to address, with limited funds.

A development

needs assessment completed by the G o v e r n m e n t o f t h e N o r t h w e s t Te r r i t o r i e s (GNWT) in 2003 (Reference 4) identified that approximately 80 percent of the smaller communities may have sufficient inventory of

In March 2003, the Canada Mortgage and

vacant lots to meet their development demands

Housing Corporation hosted a forum on housing

in the next five years.

in the City of Yellowknife (Reference 9).


documentation in most of the communities may

However, the land use

closed event was attended by more than 100

not reflect the changing land use demands that

A recent study suggests that the Northwest Territories' economy could remain the fastest growing in

individuals representing developers, bankers,

these communities must address in the next

Canada for the next decade (Reference 2). The NWT's red-hot economy is expected to be steady

landlords, and representatives from all three

five years. It was recognized that most of the

for the next year, then take off again with the construction of the Snap Lake Diamond mine, 220

levels of government in the Northwest

smaller communities need to review the

kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. However, the booming economy is already taking its toll on

Te r r i t o r i e s . T h e k e y i s s u e s f r o m t h e f o r u m

administration of existing development sites

health, social and infrastructure services in the territory as the government struggles to keep up

identified included the need for more project

because the demand may exceed the inventory

with an aboriginal and non-aboriginal population boom.

capital and easier financing, the high cost of

for particular land uses.

Planning Digest 8

V. .1

Spring 2004

Development Needs for Northern Communities ALBERTA




The Challenges Associated Continuing “Boom � with the

One important issue missed in the GNWT

involves obtaining solicited letters of support

and not developed because of the potential

assessment is the proximity and problems for

from the MĂŠtis Local, the Deh Cho First

impact on a traditional land use area. The City

community waste management.

The Dogrib

Nations and the Dene Nation, as well as

has at least one project in the preliminary

Community Services Board has expressed

stakeholder consultations.

stages, but that development may not start

concerns that odors from landfill sites and

process, the land may be transferred from the

sewage lagoons (Reference 1) are making some

GNWT to the Village of Fort Simpson, who, in

people in their communities sick.


turn, can sign over the land to Nogha

communities are growing, and expanding

Enterprises, the LKFN's economic development

toward municipal waste sites. Relocating waste


management facilities is not a simple matter because of the requirements from the various regulatory and non-regulatory stakeholders, and because of the simple fact that the capital landfill in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories

costs for a new waste facility (landfill or sewage lagoon) are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the access roads to these facilities are approximately $250,000 per kilometre (Reference 5). Building a new subdivision to meet Fort Simpson's housing needs isn't a simple process (Reference 8).

The Liidlii Kue First Nation

(LKFN) has proposed to create 40 to 50 new housing units, but the proposed development area is unsurveyed Commissioner's land. This land falls under the administrative jurisdiction of the Government of the Northwest Territories, View toward downtown Yellowknife

At the end of this

and demands a lengthy process before development can actually begin. The process

until 2006. By the end of 2003, the City of Yellowknife had approximately 1000 more housing units that it did at the beginning of 2002 (Reference 3).

The Capital City of Nunavut, Iqaluit remains

This growth translates into over $45

million in residential related construction

one of the fastest growing communities in

approved by the City in 2003 alone.

Canada, 4 years after the boom associated with

growth is well on the way to beating the


the creation of Nunavut. According to Statistics

estimates of early 2002, which suggested that

Canada, Iqaluit's population grew to 5,236 in

1400 to 1600 housing units would be required

2001 - an increase of almost 1,000 over five

in the City by 2007.

years, and the trend is supposed to continue

c o n s t r u c t i o n i n Ye l l o w k n i f e w a s a w h o p p i n g

for a number of years.

$85 million in 2003.

According to Iqaluit developers it's becoming

Development demands on communities are also

The total value for all

increasingly difficult to find land on which to

emerging from outside the community

build (Reference 7). Contractors have stated


that the lack of sites has driven prices so high

small temporary cities for exploration and

that companies can't afford to develop -

construction, and these camps are often using

unserviced lots may cost as much as $60,000.

the established nearby community

Resource development brings

In the fall of 2003, the City of Iqaluit turned

infrastructure (Reference 6). The use of

down a proposal to develop a subdivision called

infrastructure of nearby communities simplifies

Tundra Valley East area, after politicians and

the regulatory and logistical demands for the

residents demanded that the land be put aside

small scale water, sewer, and waste

Planning Digest 8

V. .1

Spring 2004

Development Needs for Northern Communities ALBERTA




The Challenges Associated Continuing “Boom � with the

The development and sustaining of infrastructure in cold region communities has always been influenced by a variety of management systems associated with camps. H o w e v e r, c a m p s a r e o f t e n u t i l i z i n g t h e s e services without the appropriate compensation to the local governments.

This additional

service demand may push the capacity limits of some community systems, which were never designed to respond to resource based needs.

1. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Expansion a Growing Problem for Dogrib Towns. January 30 2004. 2. Ibid. NWT at Start of Decade-Long Boom.

financial, administrative, operational and

December 8, 2003.

regulatory factors. Over the past 10 years the

3. Ibid. No End in Sight for Yellowknife.

complexity of these factors has increased substantially with changes to the available financial resources, the administrative

July 17, 2003. 4. Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, Government of the Northwest Territories. Land Development Needs Assessment. March, 2003 5. Johnson, Kenneth R.

structures, the operational responsibilities, and

Water and Sewer Infrastructure in Northern Communities

the regulatory environments.

Comprehensive Summary. November, 2003. 6. Northern News Services. Bracing for Impact. December 12, 2003.

Many of these changes have increased the

7. Ibid. Housing Crunch in Iqaluit. November 10, 2003.

overall complexity of infrastructure

8. Ibid. This is Our Land - We Want to Develop It.

development, and sustainability in cold region communities, particularly at the community The town centre of the City of Iqaluit has experienced unprecedented growth since the creation of Nunavut in 1999.



September 5, 2003. 9. Ibid. Search For Housing Answers. March 19, 2003. 10. Ibid. Aboriginal Growth Spurt. January 27, 2003.

Many communities are finding the

demands of these complexities to be well beyond their financial and administrative resources, and as a consequence are placing themselves in very undesirable situations with regard to community funding and regulatory compliance. Many cold region communities are seeking, and

The development in the City of Iqaluit has produced some unique structures; this complex is know as "Legoland".

assistance from senior governments and consultants.

Engineer with Earth Tech Canada in Edmonton. He

receiving the needed technical and capacity Aboriginal Peoples of Canada: A Demographic Profile, 2001 Census (Analysis series, 2001 Census) Graph Population reporting Aboriginal ancestry (origin), Canada, 1901-2001

Kenneth R. Johnson is a Senior Planner and

H o w e v e r, t h e s e r e s o u r c e s a r e

discovering that new and innovative approaches will ultimately be required in the future to meet the challenges associated with development needs for northern communities.

has been working with northern Aboriginal communities since the early 1980's on land use and infrastructure related problems. He is a nationally recognized expert in cold region community infrastructure, and he maintains an award winning website called Cryofront (

Planning Digest 8

V. .1

Spring 2004

Development Needs for Northern Communities - The Challenges Associated with the Continuing Boom  

A recent study suggests that the Northwest Territories economy could remain the fastest growing in Canada for the next decade. However, the...

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