Municipal District of Bonnyville, Alberta
a gateway to economic development
Putting its residents first with top-tier recreational opportunities and economic projects in the pipeline
There is nothing quite like the charm of small-town living. With outdoor recreational opportunities on the doorstep and a quiet and community-friendly way of life, many prefer to live rural life as opposed to the big city. For residents in Alberta’s Municipal District of Bonnyville there is no reason to choose between the two.
In the neighboring town of Bonnyville, residents can profit from the perks of residing in a smaller community and also relish the modern amenities and commercial connections afforded to those living in larger areas.
Located in the Northeastern part of the Canadian province of Alberta with a population of just under 13,000, the Municipal District of Bonnyville No. 87 (M.D) has a number of significant ongoing projects to help grow the community’s retail, industrial, and tourism industries. Located in the Cold Lake oil sands region, it’s known for being home to many businesses involved in the burgeoning oil and natural gas industries. Employers from that industry with a presence in the M.D. of Bonnyville include Imperial Oil, Shell, Suncor, and more.
The second largest industry is in agriculture, with large and small farmers growing all types of crops over nearly 227,000 acres of cropland.
The M.D. of Bonnyville works closely with neighboring communities, including the CIty of Cold Lake, with a population of approximately 16,000 full-time residents. Cold Lake’s economy is largely tied to military spending and activities at the nearby Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Cold Lake, which is operated as an air force base by the Royal Canadian Air Force
While on the topic of aviation, the M.D. purchased and took over operations and maintenance of the Bonnyville Regional Airport in late 2020. Since that time, the airport has seen a number of upgrades including to the taxiway and lighting systems. A new terminal building will be coming in 2023, and more upgrades are planned.
The M.D. of Bonnyville is a growing leader in providing outdoor recreational activities providing several public boat launches and a variety of campgrounds throughout the region including on the shores of Cold Lake, which is home to the M.D’s largest campground and some of the best fishing in the region.
The communities host numerous events throughout the year from the Cold Lake Fishing Derby to the Snow Fever Winter Festival, which is a collaborative effort between the M.D. with Kinosoo Ridge Resort, CFB Cold Lake, and the City of Cold Lake. Golf courses, parks, trails, museums, and other recreational programs are plentiful in the region.
The M.D. of Bonnyville has several hamlets, including Cherry Grove, Fort Kent, and Ardmore, which typically are home to anywhere between 100-500 residents. The M.D. of Bonnyville is also largely responsible for supporting outdoor and recreational activities throughout the region. In recent years it has expanded its camping sites to more than 500 over 1,100 acres. The M.D. of Bonnyville also cares for more than 2,500 km of roads.
“A big part of what we do is to support the tourism industry and some of the recreational needs of our residents,” says the M.D. of Bonnyville Chief Administrative Officer Al Hoggan.
Another area of focus for the municipal district is supporting workforce development through a variety of organizations and institutions that provide training for a career in the oil and gas industry, and then when needed, transitioning from that industry to others. For that reason, the Bonnyville region is fortunate in its supply of highly skilled employees. Additional training and degree programs are available through Portage College and Lakeland College, which offer nine different school and continuing education options.
“We offer many programs aimed at supporting the oil and gas sector. Many of those same skills in using heavy equipment and supporting infrastructure-type products come in handy when we need to hire professionals for our public works team,” Hoggan says.
COVID undoubtedly was a challenge for the M.D. of Bonnyville, but district leadership made active efforts to expand and initiate projects where possible while also cutting back on unnecessary operational costs. Employees remained working for the M.D. and were focused on an array of projects and supporting resident needs.
One big project is working to build Kinosoo Ridge Resort into a year-round attraction. This includes Alberta’s newest Aerial Adventure Park in the summer and over 40 acres of skiable terrain in the winter. The Aerial Adventure Park in particular was a major project, as it is four stories high and offers a safe and interactive elevated activity experience unique to the region.
Located 14 km east of Cold Lake on the shores of the French Bay Provincial Recreation Area, Kinosoo Ridge Resort is growing as a tourist destination. It is an active skill hill with five lifts – two quad chairs and three magic carpet lifts, including one at its Tube Park. The M.D. of Bonnyville dedicated the funding of a replacement chair lift at a cost of $4.2 million.
The resort is undergoing renovations to make it more adaptable for summertime biking. It has become a restaurant destination with a resident chef and an eclectic menu. It is especially known for its unique burgers and Sunday brunch.
Kinosoo Ridge Resort is located within two hours of where a potential 90,000 visitors live. Currently, it attracts about 18,000 visitors year-round, largely during the cold weather months. That number may go up solely on the opportunities to attract more weddings and other private events.
During COVID, the M.D. also doubled the capacity of the Cold Lake M.D. Campground to 159 stalls, allowing for up to 190 units.
“It was important for us to protect our staff from COVID but to keep working for the community,” says M.D. of Bonnyville Deputy Reeve Ben Fadeyiw.
Other COVID-period efforts include investing in comprehensive fire services in conjunction with the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority, which is home to seven fire halls, including two new halls in Ardmore and Fort Kent. The fire authority includes more than 200 volunteer firefighters and a robust full-time firefighting and operational staff.
The authority is also getting a new fire hall just outside of the Town of Bonnyville for around $3 million, which will house fire equipment, operations, EMS and the 911 call center. Over the next few years, fire authority will see enhanced 911 services,the replacement of five fire trucks, while the new hall should open by spring 2024.
New outdoor covered skating rinks were built to meet the growing demand for ice skating, free skating, and hockey. The rinks in the hamlets of Cherry Grove and Ardmore were designed in 2020 and opened in 2022. Both are regulation size for hockey and ice skating. A third community rink is located in Fort Kent.
“The new rinks will be around for another 40-50 years,” according to M.D. Bonnyville Reeve Barry Kalinski. “These rinks will serve as a wonderful anchor in the community for years to come.”
“The largest recent project for the Bonnyville region has been an $85 million water line that runs from the City of Cold Lake to the Town of Bonnyville, through the M.D,” says Fadeyiw. “That fully served water and sewer project was part of a partnership with the Cold Lake Water Commission which includes water to the hamlets of Ardmore and Fort Kent.”
The Thin Lake River Bridge was reconstructed early in 2022 with a new feature – sidewalks on both sides. This was designed to allow visitors and residents to fish off the sides of the bridge. The road/infrastructure work for this bridge may have been the most well-known, but it is part of a series of projects to upgrade roads and bridges that cover more than 2,500 km around the municipal district.
“We are trying to include a discussion about how we can improve our infrastructure with every tourism effort we’re undertaking,” says Hoggan.
With the publication of the 2022 to 2027 Strategic Plan, the M.D. of Bonnyville’s goals in the coming years are clear.
First, it wants to focus on the diversification of its economic development. While the oil and gas industry is booming now with higher energy costs, the industry can be volatile. Additionally, the trend of environmental sustainability likely will force Canada and much of the world to be less dependent on these fossil fuels in the decades ahead. Hoggan believes the M.D. needs to diversify in other areas.
Second is that the M.D. of Bonnyville will undergo a targeted rebranding campaign designed to maximize its year-round recreational events and make it more of a destination for tourists as an alternative to the more expensive Canadian Rockies.
A third goal is the continuous improvements and upgrades to the district’s infrastructure, namely with water and sewer services. These services need to support not just residents but the Bonnyville Regional Airport and other commercial entities. Such upgrades are needed to handle the expected influx of tourism.
Lastly, the M.D. of Bonnyville looks to have a positive impact on the climate with carbon capture and sustainable efforts where feasible.
“The future is extremely bright for us with many projects underway to support our community growth and emphasis on tourism,” Hoggan concludes.
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AT A GLANCE
Municipal District of Bonnyville
What: Charming town with economic and commercial prospects in development
Where: Alberta, Canada
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