Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Visit to Saskatchewan

Last week, I made a brief visit to Saskatchewan to meet with folks from SaskPower, which is the power company of the province of Saskatchewan, and from the communities comprising the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, who have inhabited the region "since time immemorial". Northern Saskatchewan has some similarities to Interior Alaska. Like Interior Alaska, it is a sparsely populated region (3% of the Canada population live in Saskatchewan, and 3% of the Saskatchewan population live in the North). Both are flanked and judged by larger population centers (Alaska by Anchorage, and Saskatchewan by the Prairies region in the South). Like Alaska, Saskatchewan has a scattered population of mostly indigenous peoples dispersed throughout the North, who live a combination of traditional subsistence and modern ways. However, unlike Alaska, most of their rural communities are accessible by road, and connected to the provincial grid. Their power consumers pay the same flat rate as the people in the cities. Even their few electrically islanded communities whose powerhouses are diesel generator sets pay that same "postage stamp" rate, which is $0.12624/kWhr CAD ($0.10/kWhr USD). In Alaska, our per kWhr rate is about $0.22 on the grid, and $0.50 to over a dollar in diesel communities! Alaskan rural consumers are subsidized by the Power Cost Equalization program, but it's nowhere near $0.10/kWhr.

Other similarities are sprawling boreal forest dotted with lakes too numerous to count, moose, bears, mosquitoes, blueberries, deep cold, rolling woodlands, snow, fish, cold, and more cold. Other differences are that they catch and eat comparatively humble lake fish (they are very impressed when they catch a fish that is 8-10 inches long!) year-round, while in Alaska, ice fishing is less popular, and more people stock up on giant and plentiful river salmon in the summer, and fill a freezer. When I asked them about that ("So you don't get a year's worth of fish all at once?"), they were a little surprised. "Why would we do that? We can get fish whenever we want to!" I wasn't sure how to respond. I felt guilty and greedy. "So you guys don't use fish wheels?" I asked. The response: "What's a fish wheel?" The chief spoke up: "I saw a fish wheel once... in a reality TV show in Alaska!" :)

They also catch comparatively smaller amounts to sell commercially (fish gets shipped out twice a week), mostly to the gourmet restaurant market based out of Seattle, and grow long-grain wild rice in their lakes. And when they say "long grain", they do not mess around:

photo credit:!wild-rice/c139r

Here is an interesting article about it. I had one of those air boats pointed out to me. "Chinese rice thresher!"

photo credit:

Some of the descriptions are quite poetic. For example:
As in parts of Manitoba and Ontario, the harvest on White Earth is an important Anishinaabe tradition. Wild rice is the food that grows on the waters – the prophesied destination of a long migration westward to the ricing areas around the Great Lakes region. Traditionally, the grain is hand harvested in canoes, dried, parched over a fire, hulled by foot with special moccasins, and winnowed by hand using birch bark trays.

Here are some photos from the fish processing facility. Inside this humble building, people cut, clean, and fillet the fish by hand, and apparently process 600,000 kg of fish annually!
(all photos in the communities provided by my colleague, Greg Poelzer, of the University of Saskatchewan.)

Look at the humble little lake fishies!

The guy on the left here is the current elected Chief of the PBCN communities, Peter Beatty:

This is the community of Deschambault Lake, from the window of our Beaver floatplane:

Rural Canadian communities also share similar problems as rural Alaskan ones: unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, etc. But wow... in the Canadian lake communities, every house sure has a million-dollar view!

The Deschambault high school is heated by a water-source heat pump that uses the large lake as a source. We are examining feasibility to heat homes using the lake as well.

The PBCN lands also have plenty of woody biomass resources:

Here we are approaching the community of Pelican Narrows, which is on Pelican Lake:

The Pelican Narrows school buildings are not very well insulated, but they are cheerfully maintained, with bright colors:

School boiler:

I guess that's all I have for my report. :)


bt said...

Such a great and informative (and colorful) post! Thanks. (Also, the idea of the prairie region being the high population density area is a bit daunting after our drive.)

Arvay said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my commentary! :)