From new pool to road work, Thompson booming with multimillion-dollar development, upgrades

Anyone who has been to northern Manitoba’s largest city lately knows it’s been bustling with activity.

From one-lane traffic for a bridge upgrade project just north of the city to ground being dug up by the Thompson Regional Community Centre for a new pool to the reopening of restaurants, there are plenty of signs of upgrades and development projects underway.

“I’ve been here 53 years, since the ’70s and ’80s, and I don’t remember as much construction or things going on as what we have now,” Mayor Colleen Smook told CBC.

The city’s 2024 financial plan includes nearly $41 million budgeted for capital projects. 

The long list of multimillion-dollar projects underway or planned in the city includes an upgrade to the local airport, a water treatment plant, an upgrade to the Miles Hart Bridge, a six-phase project to update the provincial building (which includes Thompson’s courthouse), an addition to R.D. Parker Collegiate, and a new pool project, along with tens of millions of dollars for roads, sewer and water work over the next five years.

The northern hub, about 650 kilometres as the crow flies from Winnipeg, has a population of about 13,000 residents, but the millions of dollars in projects will benefit all the people in the north, the mayor said.

A gray building that says Thompson Provincial building.
The Thompson Provincial Building is among those set to get upgrades. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

“We wouldn’t have gotten a new $42-million pool for 13,000 people — that wouldn’t even make sense,” Smook said.

“But we’re partners with 60 to 65,000 people. That’s who the new pool is for — that’s when we push for the bridge, for highways. It’s safety for all of the north.”

The city approved the $42-million project — which got a $15-million funding promise from the federal, provincial and municipal governments in 2022 — at a meeting this past April.

‘A booming market’

The bustling in the city is not going unnoticed by Thompson residents and business owners.

“One year ago, we don’t see a lot of people in Thompson,” said Harsh Soni, 24, whose family owns the Chili Chat restaurant.

“We thought this is a lesser-populated place, but now it’s increasing — it’s booming.”

Two brothers stand smiling outside of their parents restaurant Chili Chat.
Harsh Soni and his brother Himanshu Soni both work at the family-owned Chili Chat restaurant in Thompson. The restaurant was closed for a few months due to leasing issues, but the decision to reopen was an easy one, says Harsh. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

The Chili Chat recently reopened after a 10-month hiatus in the city. It had been open for about three years in Thompson, before leasing issues led to the closure. That left the Soni family discussing whether or not to stay in Thompson.

But the decision was easy, Harsh said.

“The love from the community … they were so happy that we existed in town, and that just kept us motivated to be in Thompson.”

The family originally immigrated from India to Thompson in 2018, after hearing about job opportunities in the city. Harsh and his brother Himanshu Soni, 22, are both in post-secondary school outside Thompson, but said they come back in the summers and plan to return when they finish school.

“We just love being here,” said Harsh. “Thompson is a booming market, and whoever thinks that Thompson might not be a good fit or anything like that should just visit here one time, check it out. Then I’m sure their opinion will change.”

‘Getting back on the map’

All the development is a positive for the community, says Andre Proulx, chair of the Thompson Community Development Corporation, which works to diversify and expand the economy of the region. 

“It’s definitely booming, for sure,” he told CBC.

While all the projects are bringing in a lot of contractors, it would be “nice to staff locally,” said Proulx, noting he knows the city has challenges trying to attract and retain staff in the north.

As Thompson continues to develop and grow, Proulx said he would like to see more mom and pop shops around the city, and programs introduced to attract and retain workers.

Most of the developments and upgrades happening in Thompson are multi-year projects, with a mix of funding — mostly provincial, along with municipal and federal funding, and business money coming from companies like Vale and Alamos, the mayor said.

“I really just think that we’re getting back … money that we’ve put into the province,” Smook said, noting the years the province has collected tax from mining, forestry and hydroelectric dam projects.

A woman sits in an office.
Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook says development in the city benefits tens of thousands of people in the northern region. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

“We don’t mind helping the other parts of the province, but now it’s time for us to look out for ourselves.”

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Lisa Naylor said Thompson has “an enthusiastic and positive group of municipal leaders, who are pretty proactive in fundraising and making really good decisions for their community,” adding the NDP government aims to ensure municipalities can count on predictable funding increases from the province.

As a resident for more than 50 years, Mayor Smook said she’s excited to see all the development happening, and she’s looking forward to what’s to come.

“I’d like to see the future of Thompson — getting back on the map.”