Imagine a small community of 1,504 residents, built around a nuclear research facility. This same community plans to become the first one in the world to be powered by a Small Modular Reactor (SMR). If the Federal Government awards them $5 million as part of the Smart Cities Challenge, you won’t have to stretch your imagination too far. Instead, you can visit Pinawa, Manitoba.
The Local Government District of Pinawa aims to demonstrate to other remote and rural communities - and prototype for them - the capacity to have safe, reliable, clean, and affordable electricity; electricity that would enable them to grow their own fresh food and improve educational and technological opportunities through improved connectivity.
In early May we connected with Blair Skinner, former nuclear scientist and current Mayor of Pinawa. He painted for us a picture of the municipality from the past: a population that was recruited from all over the world to work in the town’s nuclear facilities. That’s a lot of smart people living side by side!
Skinner highlighted that Pinawa is now facing the challenge of revitalizing the community. After the decommissioning of the Whiteshell Laboratories in 1998, many international residents left; diversity decreased, and bringing jobs and young families back to the area has become a strategic priority.
How to bring jobs and young families back to the area? With minimal economic opportunities and employment prospects, this is no easy task.
Enter the Whiteshell Laboratories Community Regeneration Partnership. This Partnership brings a variety of stakeholders together, including other municipalities, First Nations, economic development organizations, research labs and universities. Their goal? To develop a socio-economic plan and capitalize on the community’s nuclear tradition.
Community Engagement and Inclusion
In the development of Pinawa’s Challenge application, the municipality relied primarily on traditional engagement approaches. This included sending out announcements to newspapers, online posts, presentations, attending workshops, and engaging with stakeholders through regional municipal forums.
The municipality has been intentional about reaching out to First Nations communities (Sagkeeng, Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Manitoba Metis Federation, Black River First Nation, Wabaseemoong Independent Nations) while crafting the application. According to Skinner, they have been receptive since creating education, training and job opportunities are in their interests too. They are official stakeholders in the Challenge application.
Skinner acknowledged there is still a lot to be learned about how to respectfully engage with First Nations communities. The City is committed to building a lasting bond and respect their rights to the land. Small acts can make a different. It is now common practice to start every City meeting with a Land Acknowledgement.
Reflecting further on inclusion and community engagement, Skinner noted that “attitude-wise, we are inclusive already.” For him, the focus is now on job creation.
Skinner leads this small community, and is a one-man force driving the application forward. He has faith in his resilient community which he wants to restore its former glory by innovating and diversifying its economy to build a stronger community.