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Long Awaited Fort Chipewyan Grocery Store to Offer Affordable and Healthy Food Options

(1 Vote)

Call it a welcome addition years in the making. This summer Fort Chipewyan became home to the K’ai Tailé Market, a highly anticipated new grocery store offering healthy, accessible and affordable food options.

Dene for “Land of the Willow,” K’ai Tailé Market, an $8M project was opened in August by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN). Approved unanimously by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Council last March, the store is approximately 4000 square feet, and will operate in partnership with Loblaw.

Located 222 kilometres from Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan is one of the most northern communities in Alberta. It is home to an estimated 1261 people. ACFN is led by Chief Allan Adam, and has 1249 members. The hamlet can only be accessed via planes or boats until the winter months, when an ice road connects it to the municipality.

Hence, sticker shock was a reality awaiting anyone who entered The Northern Store, the only grocery store in Fort Chipewyan. Michelle Voyageur, ACFN Councillor, who co-oversees the health and social economic development portfolio explains.

“One of the things we heard during our campaign was the need for healthy, affordable and accessible food options. Council then adopted a mandate to open a store owned by the nation. Partnering with Loblaw means we can have a versatile inventory with lower price points featuring well-known brands like No Name, Blue Menu, and more.”

Located by the museum in order to be close to the community, the store features 21 freezers. It has a bakery with fresh bread at only $2, which is a hit with the Elders, who are used to paying over four dollars for it. All products are displayed with signs in Dene, Cree and English, an homage to local groups.

Chief Allan Adam notes the effects of having a new store started taking place even before doors were opened.

“We became competition, and the Northern Store started lowering prices, and bringing in fresher products.”

“If you are going to create stability in a community, you need a grocery store. We had to do something about the high prices, and the K’ai Tailé Market is it,” comments Chief Adam, who estimates The Northern Store has been in Fort Chipewyan since 1899, or 1900. It used to be Hudson Bay before the North West Company, owners of the Northern Store, came into town.

Phil Meagher, Councillor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, appreciated the market.

“This is great news for Fort Chipewyan, I believe we all want what is best for all our citizens, and affordable healthy food is one of them! This will certainly give the residents of Fort Chipewyan healthy choices in their grocery shopping. This type of expectation goes back to the 1995 amalgamation agreement, where all communities were expected to have ‘basic services,’ healthy food choices would be one of those,” Councillor Meagher says.

Patrick Helley is the new store manager, who moved from Edmonton to run the store. A butcher by trade, the plan is to have him apprentice interested youth. Thanks to him, a full meat service is offered. The facility has a cold meat cutting room, conduit to creating healthier food options as opposed to the packaged products normally available.

“We want to customize to our community. This is why we ensured our manager became familiarized with the area prior to our doors opening. We used to have chicken and pork only. Now we have beef, and we are able to meet requests for organ meats like beef tongue, kidneys, and liver. This is what our Elders consumed when they were young and lived off the land,” Voyageur continues.

A mezzanine in the store is designated for cooking demos, and talks about healthy eating. The idea is to bring about education, and awareness in the community. Rotisserie and fried chicken, as well as roast beef are also available for purchase in addition to hot lunches like soups, and sandwiches.

“The food issue has always been here. We were paying $46 for a 20 kilogram bag of Red Robin flour, normally available for $10, or $9.99 in Edmonton. We pay $25 for a pack of 12 pops right now. When we advocate for things like affordable food, we ask everyone to come up and see, or you can’t fathom it.”

For ACFN, the idea is not to make money off of the market, but to serve the community.

“Just breaking even will be good enough. We have created 10 to 15 jobs, which means the employees can afford healthy food. But, we also need to create awareness, and lots of education around healthy eating. Cooking demos will help with our mandate of creating healthy options,” notes Voyageur.

Speaking of creating healthy options, Don Scott, Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is pleased by the store’s opening.

“Healthy food supports healthy communities and the K’ai Taile Market provides Fort Chipewyan residents with a new opportunity to buy more affordable food in the community. The market will provide convenience, improved access to quality food and also create local jobs.”

Indeed, even before the store opened its doors, it was already supporting the community by donating to Treaty Days, thanks to Loblaw. Voyageur says future plans include supporting the Athabasca Delta Community School’s breakfast club; home to Kindergarten to grade nine students.

“Vision Quest did a great job building the store for us. We plan to add catering, and grow the food services with home delivery to assist seniors, and home-bound individuals.”

“We were lucky to be added to the Nutrition North Program, a federal initiative, which subsidizes freight charges for isolated northern communities when it comes to perishable foods like fruits and vegetables. This will help us save cost,” Voyageur comments.

In addition, a climate change provincial grant meant the store is equipped with energy efficient refrigerator, low flow toilets, and LED lights.

K’ai Tailé Market has created future business opportunities like garbage removal, and waste removal services, which the Council is working on. Other plans include carrying gluten-free, and vegetarian options in light of the many visitors who come to town.

Here’s to a healthier future for the residents of Fort Chipewyan – a long time coming, but here now.


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.