Oil Wealth Fuels Saskatchewan Growth

<p>Thanks to oil and gas development, the cities in the once-sleepy Canadian province of Saskatchewan are now facing a construction boom.</p>
October 25, 2007, 9am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Suddenly, all the predictions and analyses and demographics are out the window. The young were supposed to leave, supposed to have to leave. The province, it was said, was "emptying out" to a point where it would only be a matter of time before there would be only retired farmers in old-age homes, with Saskatchewan only decades away from becoming the first province in Canada where the aboriginal population formed a majority.

Now all bets are off.

On a cool and overcast fall Tuesday, students walking about the lovely University of Saskatchewan campus say there is no need to leave these days, that "the excitement of the real world" is now - a walk across one of the bridges over the South Saskatchewan River to a city in such a state of boom that finding a hotel room is as impossible as finding a political brochure that isn't overflowing with promises.

There is talk, fortunately, of another 500 rooms being added to the 3,300 now available in town. One project on the boards includes a brand-new $125-million "urban village" that would include a 20-storey condominium tower, retail and office space and a boutique hotel. The main focus is River Landing, a reclamation project that is changing an old industrial wasteland into what may well become the new heart of the city.

As for the old heart, the old Hudson's Bay store is currently being gutting and turned into luxury two-storey lofts that are selling out quickly.

Down at the River Landing project, trucks and workers are everywhere. Ron Morris, a foreman, says one of his main tasks is to keep an eye out for "poachers" - other construction companies coming along and offering a few dollars an hour more to anyone willing to lay down tools there and come with them.

"You can have as much work here as you want," says Chad Schinmann, a 37-year-old computer technician who recently arrived from Calgary. "I moved here for a more laid-back lifestyle," he laughs. "And I walked into another boom!"

Saskatoon is growing so quickly, and real estate prices soaring so high, that surrounding communities are catching the overflow. Rosetown, a once depressed community famous for offering $1 lots, is talking about condominiums going up."

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Published on Wednesday, October 24, 2007 in The Globe & Mail
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