New Regina work camp has a hockey rink and theatre

A huge work camp rising north of Regina will offer squash courts, Wi-Fi, a fitness centre and more.

In an expanse of empty farmland about 100 km north of Regina, ATCO Structures & Logistics is building a town. The turnkey work camp will house the staff of mining company BHP Billiton, which in March awarded Calgary-based ATCO a contract to erect and run a community of housing modules for the 2,586 workers who will construct BHP’s Jansen potash mine. Set to open in 2015, it will be the largest potash mine in the world. For ATCO, which has been building temporary living quarters from prefabricated parts for 60 years, this is the largest contract ever, estimated to be worth $350 million over three years. Once complete, the complex will house labourers, supervisors and skilled tradespeople who will leave homes to work here, potentially for years. The workforce will likely be overwhelmingly male—the average at similar BHP sites is about 80% men.

Amenities matter a great deal at such facilities in order to keep employees occupied and curb substance abuse, a frequent problem at remote work camps where people have money but little to do. “If workers have the shiniest place to live and sleep but they can’t stomach the food and it’s a negative environment, then they won’t stay there,” says Craig Alloway, an ATCO sales director. Almost one out of every five residents on the campus will be an ATCO employee tending to the facility’s operation, including chefs, cleaners, housekeepers, maintenance and security staff . And unlike some oilfield work camps where the closest town may be a six-hour drive away, “there are small communities around here, and it’s not far from the highway,” says Alloway.

BHP plans to leave the camp standing until about 2022, by which time the mine should be completed. After that, the facility will be disassembled, and BHP can move the structures, in pieces, to its next site. Workers who stay to work in the mine will move into a new camp or other housing. Once the structures are gone, the farmland is supposed to be restored to the condition in which ATCO and BHP found it, with the topsoil replaced and roadways removed. In a couple of decades, the land will likely be agricultural again, and no one will know the Jansen camp was ever there.



When a shift is over, workers come back from the mine by bus and are dropped off at the mudrooms (or “boot rooms”) at the end of the wing. There, they can shed their outer clothing and gear before they enter the facilities. Once inside, the above-ground tunnel network called the “Arctic corridors” (named for protection they offer from often cold elements) lead workers to dormitories and common areas.


Downtime used to be all about entertainment and leisure, but worker priorities are changing, and despite the physically demanding nature of many Jansen jobs, staff will want fitness venues. Accordingly, this 20,000-sq.-ft. building features a full-sized gymnasium, two squash courts, weight rooms and an elevated indoor running track with a 360-degree window view.


By day, this building will serve as a lecture hall for staff training and seminars, but in the evenings the space will double as a theatre. With only 200 seats, popular broadcasts such as UFC fight nights or hockey playoffs will likely bring rowdy crowds, so some may opt for such alternate activities as video game tournaments and poker nights (assuming gambling is allowed).


After slogging through eight- to 12-hour shifts of manual labour, the workers need food that’s not just tasty but high in protein and fat. (One former camp dweller described it as food not suitable for “desk jockeys.”) The main building on campus will house a kitchen and a 1,200-person dining room. ATCO will also operate a coffee bar and tuck shop there.


What would a Canadian community be without a place to practise the national pastime? Ergo, a full-size outdoor hockey rink. The campus will employ recreation co-ordinators to run fitness programs and co-ordinate the shinny hockey league, hockey drafts and post-season barbecues.


Shared rooms and group washrooms used to be standard at work camps, but more and more companies now respect the idea of personal space. This ATCO site packs 500 single bedrooms of 160 sq. ft. each into each sleeping wing. The unit includes a bathroom with a shower stall, sink and toilet. There’s also a flat-screen TV, phone and Wi-Fi Internet, as well as a lounger and a mini fridge.

Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi