Former northern Ontario tree nursery now grows pot for the province
Marijuana production plant outside Kirkland Lake employs 35 people
There are a lot of doors at the 48 North cannabis plant.
Each one opens to a blinding light, a pungent smell and a room full of marijuana plants in various stages of the process.
"It's definitely agriculture, because we are growing plants, but you also look at it as 'Wow, I'm growing something that's worth a lot of money,'" says quality assurance manager Robert Williams.
About 35 people work at this plant run under the name Delshen Therapeutics, but owned by parent company 48 North Cannabis.
You find it down a quiet bush road in Sesekinika, not too far from Kirkland Lake.
"Most people just call it the pot plant," says Williams, noting that only one person has ever come to the gate hoping to buy some pot.
Over 100 people used to work here when it was a government tree nursery, growing saplings for Ontario's forest industry.
Peter Petrie was one of them and then he ran the nursery privately for a few years, even dabbled in growing blueberries commercially, before selling the property to the cannabis company.
He now works for them as general manager.
"No, never thought I'd be growing cannabis in here," says Petrie.
"I'm open to new things and things coming down the pipe and it looks like a very viable industry."
He hopes that in the long-run cannabis could be a very important sector for the north and help diversify the economy of towns like Kirkland Lake, that are still dependent on one industry.
"I'm very very proud of the fact of keeping this kind of facility going," says Petrie.
Jeannette Vander Marel, the co-CEO of 48 North, says "one of the best reasons" to grow cannabis in the north is that the cooler climate makes it easier to regulate the temperature inside.
48 North has a contract with Ontario Cannabis Stores, the government agency supplying the private retail outlets, to sell accessories and is working out a deal to sell them cannabis as well.
In the meantime, Vander Marel says, the company has a contract to supply marijuana to stores in Quebec and because some of the Ontario suppliers can't fill all the orders, some of the cannabis from the Kirkland Lake plant is being sold to rival cannabis growers and ending up on the shelves in the Ontario stores.
She admits it's kind of a strange business situation.
"It kind of is, but you know, for us, the pricing just worked out and it was so beneficial for us to do that right now, while we're all growing and there's a lot of growing pains in the industry," says Vander Marel.
48 North is planning to start producing oils and edibles and that could mean an expanded workforce at its Kirkland Lake facility.
"I certainly hope so," says Vander Marel.
"It's always a challenge finding staff there, but assuming we can find qualified staff, absolutely we'd love to hire more people there."