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Thursday , 15 April 2021
Image credit: Steve Ricketts. Taken on the bridge that crosses the North Saskatchewan River just south of Waskatenau. White Earth subwatershed.

St. Paul supports Smoky Lake with Heritage River designation

Push for North Saskatchewan River to get heritage status on national scale. 

The County of St. Paul will be writing a letter of support for Smoky Lake County following a presentation to county council on Dec. 8.

Kyle Schole and Jordan Ruegg both work in Planning and Development for Smoky Lake County. They are spearheading an initiative to have the North Saskatchewan River designated as a Canadian Heritage River System.

Canadian Heritage River System is a national program recognizing rivers which have been important to the development of Canada. According to Ruegg, the program encourages “long term management that will conserve these rivers natural cultural, and recreational values for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians both now and in the future.”

The program, which involves all levels of government has been in place since 1984. The headwaters of the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers received the designation in 1989. As of 2016, more than 42 rivers totalling nearly 12,000 kilometres were designated as heritage rivers.

Ruegg stressed that the designation is purely commemorative.

“I want to stress that this type of designation does not impact or increase the development restrictions along the river. It imposes no new rules pertaining to development or economic developments. Nor does it obligate any municipality, which the river runs through to put any new restrictions in place, nor commits any money to advance the goals of this program,” said Ruegg.

According to Schole, the reason Smoky Lake County is pursuing the designation is for economic development.

“In the last a year and a half we’ve been working very diligently on an economic development strategy centered around our Victoria District which was designated a National Historic Site in the early 2000s,” said Schole.

He said that like the heritage river designation, the historic site designation doesn’t bring in any new development restrictions, but it is a point of pride for the area.

“It’s a scenic area, there’s a lot of culture there. And increasingly, even in a post-COVID and especially in a post-COVID environment, the visitor economy is moving towards moreso experiences and cultural pieces rather than material products.”

Div. 1 Coun. Darrell Younghans wanted to know what portion of the river they wanted to designate. Schole said they don’t have a clear answer at this point, but they are seeking support from Thorhild County, Lamont County, and County of Two Hills as well, and will likely determine the answer based on how much support they receive from other municipalities along the river.

“Presently, my concept might be that it would make sense to go from where the Sturgeon River joins the North Saskatchewan River in Sturgeon County, and flows, perhaps, you know, a portion either all the way to the Saskatchewan border depending or to perhaps the Vermilion River where it meets the North Saskatchewan,” said Schole.

Div. 6 Coun. Laurent Amyotte wondered if the designation has anything to do with the Métis Crossing project. According to Schole, there is an indirect link and the Métis Nation of Alberta did provide a letter of support very early on in the process.

He noted Métis Crossing does have an experience called Paddling to the Past which takes place on the river, but said there is no ongoing involvement.

“A part of this process over the next year if it were to move forward is ongoing participation from number one the public and then number two indigenous peoples as well. So for example, Saddle Lake Cree Nation as well,” said Schole.

Div. 2 Coun. Kevin Wirsta asked if improving the river access would help or hinder the designation.

Schole said the program is not about freezing the river in time, it’s about educating the public.

“People care about what they can see and use. If people aren’t on the river, they don’t care about it. And so the program supports getting people on the river and making use of it. Fishing, for example. There’s a lot of material in the program that talks about promoting sustainable fishing,” he said.

Ruegg emphasized that Smoky Lake County is willing to take on the facilitation of any conversations that need to take place going forward, so there is no commitment from the County of St. Paul as far as staff time. He noted it would be helpful to know about any access point improvements since people don’t necessarily stop at the county line when they use the river.

A motion by Wirsta to write a letter of support for Smoky Lake County’s application to designate the North Saskatchewan River as a Canadian Heritage River System carried with unanimous support.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.