Northwestern Ontario businesses benefit from dropping dollar

The low Canadian dollar is a boon to some businesses in northwestern Ontario that cater to the American market.

Sinking loonie means rising sales for some retailers, mines and outfitters

Jon Wynn, owner of Gear Up for Outdoors in Thunder Bay, Ont., sorts through some online orders that make up about a quarter of his business. Many of them are sent to American customers. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

The low Canadian dollar is a boon to some retail, tourism and mining companies in northwestern Ontario, that cater to the American market.

In January, the Canadian dollar slipped below 80 cents US for the first time in almost six years.

For a retail store such as Gear Up for Outdoors in Thunder Bay, the sinking dollar means rising sales. Owner Jon Wynn said his store does about a quarter of its business online, mostly to U.S. customers.

As Canadians, "we're going from Thunder Bay down to Duluth or Minneapolis and saying 'oh my goodness the exchange rate is so expensive'", Wyn said. "But you think of the other hand the Americans are going 'wow this is a great deal if I can get stuff in Canada.​"

The tourism industry in northwestern Ontario also relies heavily on Americans, who make up the largest nearby pool of potential customers.

'It makes me feel really good'

After years of struggling through an economic downturn, things are finally looking up for tourism outfitters, said Alan Cheeseman, who owns a group of hunting and fishing lodges near Armstrong, Ontario.

"It makes me feel really good," Cheeseman said. "We're encouraged that we're starting to grow again, rather than stagnant and even declining for a couple of years there."

Cheeseman said he expects summer bookings to increase this year, in part because of the exchange rate.

The low Canadian dollar also has benefits in the resource sector, where costs are in Canadian funds, but the product is sold in American dollars.

"For every one cent decrease in the Canadian dollar, we gain about a $2 million increase in revenue," said Phil Du Toit, the president of North American Palladium, which runs the Lac Des Iles mine northwest of Thunder Bay.

"So from that perspective a lower Canadian dollar, for us, is very good."

Du Toit said the low dollar also means better security for employees because it could make it more viable to mine more areas and extend the life of the mine.


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