Lac La Biche County, Alberta
‘Welcoming by Nature’
Investing in its residents, infrastructure, and natural resources, Lac La Biche is an area to be envied
With the tagline, ‘Welcoming by Nature’ Lac La Biche County, in Northeast Alberta truly is a community that is deeply connected to its people, while embracing the beauty of its natural surroundings. Established in 2007 when the town of Lac La Biche and Lakeland County were amalgamated, the community celebrates a history that goes back 1000’s years, as home to indigenous peoples, and later bringing together cultures and people from across the globe.
As one of the largest municipal districts in Alberta, Lac La Biche offers abundant resources, including over 150 lakes, many rivers, and richly populated forests, while combining a unique blend of rural and urban areas.
Mayor Paul Reutov describes, “We are a very diverse community, from business and industry to the people. We’ve got everything from forestry to oilfields, gas, beef, and grain agriculture. Diversity wise we’ve got seven Indigenous communities around us all bordering our municipality. Along with that, there is a strong Lebanese community here, there’s a French community, a Filipino community, and so forth. So, it is a diverse cultural area here.”
Tourism is big business in Lac La Biche, mainly due to the lakes and forests, the campgrounds, and other industry that surrounds them. Reutov notes, “Most of what we boast as the tourism side is the lakes, the fishing, the trails, anything to do with outdoor activity, we’ve got it all.” Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park is a large recreational area and a popular destination not only for those in the county but also those from further south, who flock to the area to enjoy the camping facilities and many recreational opportunities. “It’s one of the most unique campgrounds in Alberta,” boasts Reutov. This is one of the many outdoor parks and campgrounds throughout the community, many of which offer four-season access for a variety of experiences.
Lac La Biche County also hosts events and festivals, such as the annual Winter Festival of Speed which takes place every February. The promotion of the county is done through partnerships with organizations such as Go East of Edmonton, Travel Alberta, and Travel Lakeland. An in-house communications team is also vital, and the county promotes itself through @LLB Tourism on social media.
It is a team effort, as Heather Stromquist, Manager of Economic Development and Tourism shares, “We collaborate a lot. We collaborate internally in our community and with the Chamber of Commerce, who operate our Visitor Information Center, as well as a lot of our tourism operators and our Indigenous communities as well.”
Indigenous tourism is a growing industry, and Lac La Biche County works with entities such as Metis Crossing, and Portage College to promote these unique offerings throughout the region. “Beaver Lake Cree Nation and Heart Lake First Nations host a number of powwows. We have comfort camping out at Churchill where you can camp in tipis. We have hideaway adventure grounds, which is a Metis Cultural experience and camping opportunity, and Indigenous Spirit Creations, a store of indigenous crafts available at our Friendship center,” she conveys.
Supporting and attracting local businesses is another priority of Lac La Biche County, and a recent grant from PrairiesCan will help in this initiative.
“With this grant we collaborated with Tourism Cafe and Seekers Media, to provide training to the tourism sector businesses and providers,” Stromquist elaborates. “Recently we were at Metis Crossing for several days providing that training to them, and talking about ways to collaborate to create a visitor corridor in our area with surrounding communities that would direct tourists to our communities, as a way to work together to draw that market.”
The mayor adds that the council is pro-development, noting, “As far as attracting other businesses, if there’s interest that comes in, Heather and her team work very closely with them, identifying lands or utilities and permits, whatever it might be to accommodate the business. We’ve got the infrastructure in place, it’s just a matter of assisting businesses in locating and transitioning.”
On the infrastructure side, the county has taken a proactive approach, investing heavily in upgrades from fiber to utilities, putting everything in place for future growth. Reutov maintains, “Right now, it is a matter of reaching out, and we’re actively reaching out to existing industry, and new industry as well. We are not just sitting back and waiting for people to come to us, we’re going out there, hoping to attract and actively engage.”
A four-block main street revitalization project is also underway, with the first section completed in 2021, and the others over the next three years. This will include the replacement of 70-year-old water and sewer infrastructure, and the beautification of the streetscape, adding to the attractiveness for potential businesses and those who come to the area to shop. Sustainability is another priority in Lac La Biche, which has one of the most modern sewage plants in the province.
Chief Administrative Officer, Dan Small, relays that the municipality is also looking to install EV charging stations, and a new aquatic center will recycle heat from two county arenas. “These are things that are sustainable, but they’re also good business, they save money,” he asserts. “We have to start somewhere. 10 years from now, these will all be things that we’ve been doing for years and taking for granted.”
As for residential, the county is looking at developing some of the areas around the Bold Center, a community recreation facility, creating an ideal housing option for busy families. Stromquist recounts, “We could have high-density housing opportunities for families, where maybe they wouldn’t need to have two cars in the driveway, and it’s more affordable for them. They’d be able to go to the recreational facilities, they can get to various businesses and restaurants and different things like that.”
Although Lac La Biche is considered an affordable place to live, she admits, “We don’t have a lot of high-density residential in our community or affordable housing options. It is affordable to live here, to buy a house, but some people can’t afford an approximately $400,000 home, so townhomes and other high-density homes would be a good idea around facilities like our Bold Center.”
As a hub of the community, Bold Center is a multiplex, with facilities for sports, including two ice rinks, a soon-to-be-added aquatic center, as well as an attached library and school. Opened in 2010, the center was to be a central zone for the community, and a way for families to spend more time together. The addition of high-density housing nearby will further support this vision while filling a housing need.
Home to three school boards, Northern Lights Public, Lakeland Catholic Separate, and Central East Francophone, Lac La Biche County has plenty of quality education options. The county also supports postsecondary workforce and education opportunities, with a registered apprenticeship program (RAP) within the school boards, and a Youth Achievement Program that offers job shadow experience to middle school students. Although the program was paused during covid, Stromquist says it was extraordinarily successful, sharing the example of Lac La Biche transport.
“We had students that were job shadowing there, and they went off to school, and now they’re working there, the same place they did their job shadow. So, it hooked them for future employment. It had a lot of successes in our community, engaging young people at the age when they’re starting to think about their future and moving into their future career plans.”
A rig training program was also on offer through Northern Lights Public Schools, and although it was stopped during COVID, it provided an opportunity for older students to learn to operate oil rigs and other heavy machinery, a valuable skill in the region. Portage College is another significant resource for the county, supporting skilled workforce requirements, and offering a variety of degree and trade programs.
Moving forward, Lac La Biche is ready to embrace growth, through planned careful investment in infrastructure, sustainability, and people. This, along with an ideal position close to two major highways, a railway, and an airport, along with an abundance of available land, and a high quality of life for residents, are a recipe for success.
With this in mind, Mayor Reutov concludes, “We have the college, we’ve got a very robust health care facility for seniors, we’ve got very good childcare programs, we’ve got very good schooling, we cover off the entire range from childcare to senior care. We’ve invested the money into the infrastructure and we’re open for business.”
AT A GLANCE
Lac La Biche County
What: An urban/rural municipality with growth on the horizon
Where: Northern Alberta, Canada