Watson Lake wants to woo scheduled air service back to the community.
The Watson Lake Economic Revitalization Commission has identified this as a top priority. After working with residents for nearly a year, the commission released its report this week.
“It’s recognized as a key piece of any sort of success we have,” said Mayor Richard Durocher of the need for regularly scheduled flights into the airport.
The airport remains in use for emergency medical services and refuelling jets on their way to Alaska or local mines. Jets once flew into the airport regularly, when there were two large mines and a number of sawmills operating in the area.
But for companies flying out of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland or Alberta, finding an airline carrier that will stop in Watson Lake can be a “logistical challenge,” said Durocher.
Having Air North fly into the community a few times a week would be helpful, said Durocher. When North American Tungsten was running in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it had a chartered bus service for workers. Something like that could return, he said.
Scheduled air service would make the town more attractive to people who are used to living closer to an airport, he said. And government workers and outfitters could use the airport more, he said.
But getting people to stay in Watson Lake long-term presents challenges. It does have a bad reputation, said Durocher. The report mentions the community’s problems with drug and alcohol abuse. But Durocher doesn’t believe this is unique among northern small towns.
“I don’t think we’re any more toxic than any other community anywhere. As a matter of fact, I think it’s one of the safest communities in Canada to live. If you ask any long-term resident, they feel comfortable.”
When people get involved in Watson Lake, they tend to stay, said Durocher.
The community desperately
needs teachers and health-care professionals to stay, he said. Most teachers who do come don’t stay very long, he said. And a new hospital is scheduled to open this spring.
Marketing Watson Lake will be one of the town’s top priorities over the next year, said Durocher. The town has many good recreational services, including a ski hill and golf course, he said. And the cost of living is lower than in Whitehorse.
This report is just a first step to making Watson Lake a model community to live in, he said.
Creating a housing strategy is another short-term goal. During the winter, council will decide which areas to develop next. “We have to. We’re up against a wall,” said Durocher.
Watson Lake has a housing crisis, with only one vacant country-residential lot left, he said. But there’s room to grow. Areas around the lake could be developed, and having a private developer in town will help the economy, he said.
And some houses are just waiting to be filled. If the completed Hyland Avenue subdivision opens, it could provide 20 units, said Durocher. The municipality just needs to finish the roads and figure out the proper sewage system for the area, he said. It could be open by this summer, he said.
Council also needs to work on its relationships with the Kaska, said Durocher. “We’ve fallen short on that,” he said. During the last council’s term, there were no council-to-council meetings, he said. “That was one of the most disappointing things,” said Durocher.
He wants those meetings to return, perhaps monthly, he said.
Most of the Liard First Nation’s members live within Watson Lake, he said. They need to be part of any investment that happens, he said. The First Nation had a representative on the commission.
The economic and revitalization commission also identified improving the town’s trails as a short-term goal. As well, the commission is looking for new, clean energy sources for the community.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at