It was a night of big dreams and big ideas, and the start of what could be some big plans for Fort Frances.
About 50 residents gathered last night at La Place Rendez-Vous hotel for a public “visioning session,” with HTFC - a consulting company hired by Fort Frances to launch the town through a reinvention of the Shevlin Wood Yard and the old nurse's station. The properties were purchased for a nominal fee from Resolute in 2018.
To make the most of the properties, Fort Frances secured a $65,000 grant from the provincial government to hire consultants and formulate a plan of action.
That process got underway last night, led by HTFC Priciples Maureen Krauss and Glen Manning.
“This is an opportunity to shape the future well-being and future prosperity of your community," said Krauss, who advised the workshop participants to "think of the larger community. Think of the larger impact. Many of you come with your own ideas, but think of what will do the most amount of good for the biggest number of people.”
The evening was structured into full group brainstorming sessions, and small group discussions, where facilitators guided each group through a series of questions, designed to shape the town's values and priorities.
“We'd like to encourage you to dream a little bit," said Manning. "Think about the future you'd love to see. As soon as you cross that bridge, what do you want to see?”
The Shevlin Wood Yard is 22 acres of land between Scott Street and the marina, formerly used to store wood for the mill. The nurse's station is located on Mowatt Ave. Because it's one of the first buildings visitors see as they cross the bridge into Canada, it's being branded as the “Gateway to Rainy Lake Square.”
Brainstorming opened up with the nurse's station. Although it's a small building on a regular residential sized lot, Manning sees big potential for the site.
“It's in such a critical location, it could be a kernel to build a larger experience,” he said.
Many participants felt the entry to town could use sprucing up, with signs, maps and a more accessible Visitor's Information Centre. More attractions, better parking and an electric scooter rental shop were also put forward, along with greenery, a larger pedestrian presence and year-round events.
“That's so important," agreed Krauss. "There are so many months of the winter, we need to be thinking year round.”
The Wood Lot debate brought out many ideas. Some, such as housing, were common among the room. Several groups agreed on a need for a mix of smaller scale housing, whether it was to cater to downsizing seniors, young professionals, new home buyers or those in need of assisted living. More novel ideas were put forward as well, such as a floating spa, a miniature housing community, or mini cabin rentals. A splash pad, dog park, historical replica of Fort Frances' original fort, go-cart and mini-put facilities, and a permanent event pavilion, similar to Kenora's, were also put forward.
The site has already undergone an environmental assessment. Remediation will be needed on the north end of the Wood Yard, where a gas pumping station once sat. The Town has been accumulating fill to remediate the site prior to development.
The yard's proximity to the water was taken into account.
“That's just a fantastic amenity,” said Manning.
Several groups mused about turning the site into a pedestrian park, by blocking vehicle traffic on Front Street, or taking Front Street out entirely. Doug Brown, Chief Administrative Officer for the town, noted that's an idea that's been considered in the past. He noted that the town can access grants to help with road reconstruction and rerouting, particularly of Scott Street, which is slated for work anyway. “If we're going to do something like this, now's the time,” he said.
Mayor June Caul was in attendance at the meeting, but only as an observer.
“I'm so excited. Everyone is so engaged. This is a great starting point," said Caul, who noted that the workshop was just the beginning of the process for council, too. "People may think we've already made up our minds, but we haven't. It's so important that we take ideas from the public first.”
Manning agreed that the evening was a successful first step.
“People were super enthusiastic, and we got a good cross-section of people," he said. "We had a lot of agreement of fundamentals, like affordable housing. And we had a few ideas that came out of left field. Everyone was very open minded.”
Going forward, the consultants will open the process up to the general public through an online platform. Over the next few weeks, anyone who is interested can weigh in through a similar process that the participants were guided through.
The data gathered from these sessions will be compiled, and put through a feasibility test, according to Manning. A short-list of ideas will be brought back to the town for a second round of public meetings in April. Reaction gathered from citizens will then guide a final recommendation, to be unveiled around June.
The online portal will be launched and advertised to the public over the coming days.