Statistics Canada released details from the 2016 Census about population and dwellings on Feb. 8, which showed a 5.8 per cent increase in the population of Gull Lake from 2011 to 2016.
The number of residents in the town increased from 989 in 2011 to 1,046 in 2016 and there is a total of 489 private dwellings in the community.
Gull Lake Mayor Blake Campbell is happy to see an increase in the town’s population to more than the thousand mark. The number of residents in the community is now similar to the population figures in 2001, when there were 1,016 people.
“Then all of a sudden, we took a drop below the thousand and since then we’re trying to do our best to market and promote the community and situate ourselves so that we can have some growth and sustainability,” he said. “So to see us get back over that thousand I think is really pleasing to all of us.”
The town’s population decreased to 965 in 2006 before it gradually started to increase again. There are various reasons for the turnaround. The Town of Gull Lake appointed a marketing expert in 2006 to provide some advice on how to grow and sustain the community.
“He helped to identify a number of things that he felt we needed to do and that we’ve been working on for several years now,” Campbell said.
One of the first things they did was to improve the Town of Gull Lake website as a means to share information about the community with people.
“The website I think also helped in a number of ways, not just from the information that it contains, but incorporating the blog to the website had also helped us a great deal,” he said. “We seem to be able to get little bit more attention with the blog, not only news, but what is going on in the community, or with council and the community. We also try and focus on things that are of interest to us, especially things that are going on in the oil and gas industry.”
The Town implemented another proposal by the consultant to beautify the community and Gull Lake enrolled in the provincial Communities in Bloom program.
“He felt that the downtown, back in about 2010 or 2011 when we were using him, was a little tired,” he recalled. “So we formed a community, we enrolled in the Communities in Bloom program, we gave them some money and support, and they’ve done a lot of initiatives over the years that has helped and being part even of that Communities in Bloom initiative or program has given us a lot of good publicity.”
The Town of Gull Lake was the winner of the 501 to 1,000 population category in the 2016 provincial edition of the Communities in Bloom program, and it received special mention for community involvement.
Gull Lake is located 56 kilometres west of Swift Current at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 37. Campbell believes the town’s population growth is related to its location near Swift Current.
“We’re really ideally situated as a bedroom community to the city itself and we have definitely noticed that when the city does well there is also a few spinoffs from that for us, especially with regards to people who prefer to live in a small town,” he said. “We have a lot of people in the town itself that work in the city. Our proximity to the city sometimes could be a challenging thing, especially when it comes to recruiting new businesses and that sort of thing, but there are spinoffs from the fact that it seems when the city does well we also seem to do well.”
That interest in the small-town lifestyle in Gull Lake means there are not many properties for sale at the moment in the community.
“I think if you look at our housing market even today, you’re only going to see scarcely four houses for sale,” he said. “The rental market is doing well.”
Housing in Gull Lake is still more affordable than in the city, but despite its smaller size the town has a lot of amenities for residents, including a community hall and recreation complex, curling rink, bowling alley, swimming pool, ball diamonds, golf course and a movie theatre.
“There are a lot of amenities that we do have that is quite surprising really for a small community of our size, and a very active and family-oriented community as well,” he said.
One of the benefits of the gradual increase in the town's population since 2006 was that it did not place unnecessary strain on the community's infrastructure.
“If for some reason it was significantly higher, clearly there would be things that would need to be addressed,” he said. “We know that for instance our water plant operates in the summer [at] around 85 per cent of capacity. So if we were to grow a lot bigger those kinds of things would have to be looked at.”
The Town of Gull Lake has in any case started a process to create a strategic plan for the community with the help of a strategic planning facilitator.
“We know that growth and sustainability are two things we still need to focus on moving into the future,” he said. “So part of that strategic planning is going to be involved in looking at ways to help us not only promote this community, but we need to look and focus on getting new businesses to town.”
One of the issues that will receive attention is the need for accommodation in the community.
“We don’t have enough accommodation in the community,” he said. “So I know that’s one thing that we’re going to be looking at moving forward, especially maybe having a feasibility study done.”
He is confident the town will continue to grow in a positive way and the Town's goal is to be prepared for future growth.
“I think that sort of small growth of around five per cent was quite manageable and still would be,” he said. “That of course is going to be depending on a lot of other external factors like how well the oil does, how well the agriculture does, but we certainly want to be positioning ourselves right now to be able to take advantage of any growth opportunities that we see, be that something that is going on in our own area or be that just taking advantage of growth in the city that even benefitted us.”