Nfld. & Labrador

Nain production centre aims to save lives on the ice and create employment in remote Labrador

A new production centre in Nain is putting together a product aimed at saving people's lives when they venture out on to ice, while also providing employment for youth in Nunatsiavut.

The smart buoy plant built six of SmartBUOYs this year but has orders for many more

Hard at work in the SmartBuoy production centre in Nain. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

A new production centre in Nain is putting together a product aimed at saving people's lives when they venture out on to ice, while also providing employment for youth in Nunatsiavut.

"We're the only people doing this stuff and to be made by Inuit people, being pioneers," said Rex Holwell, the Nunatsiavut operations lead for the SmartICE program. 

SmartBuoys are inserted into ice to measure its thickness, and provide real-time information to people who rely on it as a transportation route.

Rex Holwell, Nunatsiavut operations lead for SmartICE program, shows off the different components that go into a SmartBuoy. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We have to adapt to the climate change, and building SmartBuoys is the way we're doing it," he said.

"We use the SmartBuoys with traditional Inuit knowledge so at the end of it is we keep people safe from falling into the ice," he said.

Holwell said the business is expanding, and right now it's only communities that have heard of it by word of mouth that are ordering the SmartBuoys, but he expects more orders over time. 

A SmartICE monitoring station on the ice near Nain. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"Unfortunately with climate change, hopefully, this is going to expand a lot more."

Work experience

The plant was built with nearly $1 million in funding from the federal, provincial and Nunatsiavut governments. The profit from selling the buoys will be funnelled back into the program. 

"The good thing about it is these SmartBuoys are being built here in Nain by Inuit youth," Holwell said. 

"When they ship them out, the youth will have the pride in knowing, you know, they're sending out the SmartBuoys to across Canada and they're saving lives." 

Ama Harris, 22, enjoys the work he does on the SmartBuoys. He says he'd like to do more work like it. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

One of the youths helping to build them is 22-year-old Ama Harris. He thought assembling SmartBuoys might be a difficult task at first, but after spending a couple of months at it, it got easier.

He's often out on the ice in his daily life, and understands the importance of the program.

"Sometimes it's scary, the ice gets like slushy and it's not safe, I guess, when we [are] hauling a load of wood," Harris said.

Renee Semigak, 21, says building SmartBuoys gives her a sense of pride. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Renee Semigak, 21, is also helping to put the buoys together. She said doing the work gives her a sense of pride.

"Because we're the ones who built it," she said.

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About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.