Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mihychuk big on Snow Lake's potential

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FLIN FLON -- MaryAnn Mihychuk is a big fish in a small pond. Or rather a lake. Snow Lake.

Not that the former provincial mines minister and one-time Winnipeg mayoral candidate, now economic development officer for the Town of Snow Lake, agrees with that description.

"I bring experience in politics, but quite frankly being an entrepreneur and a business owner is really where my mind is right now," says Mihychuk.

Through her consulting business, Mihychuk became the economic development officer for Snow Lake (pop. 800 to 900) last year.

She is also vice-president of BacTech Manitoba Corp., the company behind Snow Lake's as-yet-unbuilt bioleach plant, which will detoxify and extract metals from mine waste.

Mihychuk still lives in Winnipeg but spends one or two weeks a month in Snow Lake, where she has a lovely home and good friends.

It's only fitting that she lay down roots. She is, after all, front and centre in Snow Lake's efforts to capitalize on a mineral-fueled boom led by Hudbay's Lalor mine.

To that end, work is ongoing to lure a community pharmacy, expand retail and open a planned research centre on mine closure and remediation.

Mihychuk admits Snow Lake has not seen the massive growth some hoped for, but it's still early.

"As we wait for the economy to pick up, things are slower than anticipated," she says. "On the other side, there are new families moving in and companies are coming in, so that's positive."

For Snow Lake to live up to its potential, Mihychuk says her former colleagues in the Manitoba government must do more to attract mining investment to the province.

She highlights the need to better engage First Nations, shift to online mineral staking and hatch more incentives to sustain small exploration companies.

"Exploration doesn't give you cash in your pocket right now," Mihychuk says. "But it does mean that we could have a new discovery, so it's very important that we have a healthy exploration sector and that's not what I see in Manitoba right now."

When it comes to the mining, Mihychuk's words carry weight. Not only is she a trained geologist, she served as provincial mines minister from 1999 to 2003.

That experience works to her advantage in her current capacity.

"I still have many, many friends in government and that's a help," Mihychuk says. "So I can always call on friends and they can provide information. I know how the system works, which is also useful."

As for folks who might see her transition from the legislature to the northern wilderness as a major come-down, Mihychuk has no regrets.

"I've got freedom to create my own future, so I enjoy the independence," she says.

"It's just a different place for me, that's all."

And it's a place Mihychuk happens to love. The northern bug first bit her in 1977 when she helped map an area from Churchill to Seal River for the province's Geological Survey.

"It was the most magnificent country," she recalls "I thought I was the luckiest person in the world to be able to do something with so much fun and also collect a paycheque."

Mihychuk returned to the North often from 2007 to 2009, when she worked in community relations for Hudbay, whose chief operations are in Flin Flon and Snow Lake.

Now in her dual role in Snow Lake, she is putting her prospecting, business and people skills to full use.

Mihychuk has a vibrancy and sense of humour that belie her 58 years. And never mind grandchildren to keep her busy, she's still a single mom to a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old at home in Winnipeg.

Once her nest is empty, she is committed to spending more time in Snow Lake, but exactly how much more is not yet clear.

"Will I move there?" Mihychuk asks rhetorically. "I'm a geologist. I'm a rover."

Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 A15

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