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Tourism industry here not dead yet

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FORT FRANCES—Despite the pessimism displayed by district tourist camp owners about the overall decline in Ontario tourism, the Victoria Day long weekend and walleye-opener didn’t see much of a dent in numbers at the border here compared to last year.

Kevin Begin, supervisor at the Canada Customs Border Services Agency in Fort Frances, said U.S. visitors were very normal compared to last year as of Saturday afternoon.

“We were swamped yesterday [Friday],” Begin said. “I think we had 2,369 American entries.

“Those are decent numbers for any summer day,” he added.

He explained that on the first Friday, all of the travellers from Minnesota who have the luxury of being close, and who can do same-day travel, were arriving. He expected Iowans and people from the other states that are further south would be arriving later on in the weekend.

“This year has been the same so far as the last couple of years go, and also considering the weather that we usually get around this time every year,” echoed Greg Gustafson, owner of The Great Bear gas bar and convenience store on Highway 11 east of town.

“I can’t say [that this year will be the same] with a 100 percent scope of certainty until the end of the year when I actually look at numbers and compare, but it’s looking about the same,” he added.

“I think it’s going to be a good summer.”

When asked about his concern about the dollar, as well as gas prices, Gustafson replied, “With the dollar and the gas prices being what they are, you have to remember that [coming to Canada to go fishing] is still a cheaper vacation than others when all is considered. . . .

“[Plus] we have a lot to offer here in the area that other destinations do not.”

Gustafson reported seeing many Canadians, and quite a few large groups of Americans, in his store, but said we won’t start seeing the Americans in full force until their Memorial Day holiday this coming weekend.

Jay Schroeder, visiting here for the walleye-opener from Willmar, Mn., said he has always made the trip to Canada once a year, every year, for the last five years. He also noted his brother has been doing it for 15 years.

They travel through Fort Frances on their way up to Lac Seul, near Sioux Lookout.

When asked about the skyrocketing gas prices and the low American dollar, Schroeder said monetary issues were not enough to discourage them yet.

“This is an annual, once-a-year thing and we budget for it,” he explained. “Unless it keeps on going up and up higher, we will keep on coming.”

But he conceded he and his buddies definitely have talked about the gas prices and while it is not much of a deterrent for now, it may possibly become more of an issue in the years to come.

But Schroeder enthused that, for the time being, the camaraderie, the abundant and consistent fishing, as well as the unique, calm atmosphere, will keep him coming here despite the higher cost to his bank account.

(Fort Frances Times)

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