DAKOTA DUNES, Sask. — It’s a project that’s taken many years to come to fruition, but the four-plus-star, 155-room Dakota Dunes Resort & Casino has opened, 20 minutes south of Saskatoon on Whitecap Dakota First Nation land. The hotel was inaugurated during a ceremonial socially distanced, ribbon cutting event on Oct. 8.
After a blessing by elder Vivian Anderson, and an honour song performed by the Wahpeton Drum Group, a number of dignitaries addressed the small gathering. They included: Whitecap Dakota First Nation chief Darcy Bear; Rob Harvey, regional director general of Saskatchewan Region, Indigenous Services Canada; Philippe Gadbois, sr. vice-president of operations, Atlific Hotels; regional chief Bobby Cameron, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations; Zane Hansen, president & CEO, Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority; and Brad Tokarchuk, director corporate finance, Bank of Montreal. The ribbon was cut by honoured veteran Willis Royal while the Wahpeton Drum Group ushered the attendees into the newly minted hotel with a victory song.
“It’s a great, full-service hotel with excellent food,” said Gadbois. “I think it will do very well. The band started economic activity 15 years ago with a championship golf course, later adding Saskatoon’s only casino. The next piece was the hotel. In about two years, a world class spa is still to come.”
Dakota Dunes Resort & Casino, Saskatoon’s first ever full-service resort experience, is owned and developed by Whitecap First Nation and managed by Atlific. The highly anticipated property is supported by Indigenous Services Canada, and is located on traditional Whitecap Dakota unceded territory. Set amongst an expanse of natural rolling sand dunes, the welcoming resort is nestled within the idyllic setting of the South Saskatchewan River valley basin with beautifully designed guest rooms, on‐site farm‐to‐table dining, an award‐winning golf course, and is connected to the Dakota Dunes Casino.
The hotel has 10,000 square feet of meeting space, a bar, a restaurant and the latest technology.
The 155‐room resort stands as a tribute to its indigenous heritage with angular window trims and exterior wood panels echoing the traditional tipi. This thoughtful nod to the Whitecap Dakota Nation culture carries through to the resort’s guest rooms by way of art and design with soothing neutral tones, rich wood furnishings and an artistic representation of traditional Whitecap Dakota culture in every room. Moreover, each guest room has spectacular floor‐to‐ceiling views of the surrounding landscape as well as ultra-comfortable beds and deluxe amenities.
“This hotel is another step forward in our resort masterplan and an important regional employer,” said chief Darcy Bear, Whitecap Dakota First Nation. “Our vision was to build an important destination landmark that will serve as an entertainment, business and leisure hub, and at the same time celebrate our proud Whitecap Dakota history and culture. We want our guests to feel welcome to enjoy the many amenities and entertainment options at the resort, and to connect with this very special region when they stay with us.”
“The Dakota Dunes Hotel is the result of a long‐term partnership that brought together Indigenous leadership, and industry representatives, to create a world‐class tourist destination that will attract visitors from all over the world,” said Marc Miller, Minister for Indigenous Services. “The residents of Whitecap Dakota First Nation and surrounding area will benefit and prosper from the Dakota Dunes Hotel project for years to come.”
During COVID, Atlific Hotels & Resorts has fared no differently from most hotel companies, and a bit better than some, said Gadbois, in an interview with CLN. “We have some exposure due to property ownership, and our management fee structures based on a percentage of revenue. We had some layoffs, but we have recalled most people in various waves,” he said.
The summer was okay, Gadbois added. Now that the leisure season is past, it’s going to be a bit of a struggle. The next few months will be tough, but in the new year, it should bounce back again.
Gadbois said that while he is a big supporter of the U.S./Canada border being closed, he is not a fan of Canadian borders being closed to other Canadians. Saskatchewan has been able to control COVID quite well, and they have kept their border open to other Canadians. “I don’t suggest for a second that I am a better judge of what should happen medically, but after seven months of this, we have found that those provinces that have closed to each other haven’t done as well [economically] as those who have kept their borders open.” That’s a roundabout way of saying that Saskatchewan has that advantage over some other provinces.
“Those of us with big, downtown, city hotels are doing absolutely awful, while smaller, suburban and [regional hub] hotels, with a better mix of business, are doing better.” Gadbois notes that Atlific has a hotel in Sudbury with occupancy over 80 per cent, and two Days Inns in Thunder Bay that are fully occupied. “These are regional hubs,” he said. “If you live in Northern Ontario and need to restock, you go to Thunder Bay and Sudbury. Thunder Bay is also the jumping-off point for people going west or coming east.
“There’s still quite a decent amount of blue collar travel,” Gadbois added. “Construction crews still have to move, and roads are still being built. It’s the true business travel that’s suffering — people like you and I who get on a plane to attend conferences,” he told CLN.