About 100 residents showed up at the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” open house last Wednesday night at La Place Rendez-Vous, with several voicing either support for—or constructive criticism of—the proposed project.
Tony Kadikoff, past provincial president of the Elks Club, said he knows a thing or two about what a community can offer in his travels across the country, which usually amount to 40,000 km a year.
“It’s good to see what the committee is thinking. Improvements are needed in our community to make us look inviting to travellers,” he noted.
“I do a lot of travelling across Canada and towns that look neat are the drawing power for a person to stop, stay a while, and spend a dollar,” he remarked.
Among his many suggestions, Kadikoff cited demolishing the old high school on First Street East and creating a park there with entertainment every day of the week in the summer.
Others included beautification of the west entrance to town, a shopping mall or strip malls, fewer traffic lights, wiser spending of tax dollars by council (e.g., less trips such as the one to Tennessee earlier this year), a better and cheaper border crossing, and controlled gas prices.
But Kadikoff also was skeptical of the end result of the roughly $110,000 feasibility study now being conducted by Winnipeg-based consultants Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram—and intends on keeping a close eye on what happens.
“The town of Nipigon, which by the way has many beautiful murals, just went through this exercise,” Kadikoff said. “The consultant came back with a $4-million promotional package for review.
“Whose tax dollar can absorb such a cost? And their tourism revenue this year dropped to practically zero dollars,” he added. “They have a couple of attractive fish derbies, etc. but. . . .”
Kadikoff submitted his extensive list of suggestions to the “Re-Inventing” committee, and noted he has photos of attractions he’s visited in locations such as Yellowknife available for reference.
“My interest is whether they go ahead with the truck bypass,” said Denis Barnard, operator of Barny’s Fishing, Guiding, and Cabin Security, referring to the re-routing of pulp truck traffic down Portage Avenue with the relocation of the Shevlin wood yard to McIrvine Road.
“I can’t figure out how they’re going to do it. There’s a lot of things they’ll have to change,” he noted.
“And they want more traffic to flow through the downtown area, but with the new Customs, it’s a mess. I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” he remarked.
“Another thing with the Customs is right now, people come across the border and they become confused. They come here and the first thing they think is ‘I gotta get out of here!’
“We need to make the town more approachable, but I don’t know if they can do it,” added Barnard.
“I’ve learned a few things,” said Linda Blanc as she filled out her suggestion form before leaving the open house. “A lot of people like myself are just learning about this now.
“The truck bypass is a major concern,” she added. “It’s something that’s been talked about for 40 years. Maybe they can do something about it now.
“How to attract more tourists is also important,” Blanc stressed. “The fishermen are fine, but they’re looking at having people stop here once they come across the border.
“We have a beautiful town. People should come and see it.”
“I think there are some good ideas here, like the truck bypass through town,” said Bears Pass resident Jerry Korman.
“But as for helping our area, I think they shouldn’t focus on something that accounts for five percent of our economy [tourism],” he noted. “I think what we really need is broadband—without it, you’re not going to get any new businesses.”
Greg Mercure of Canada Customs said that while he has worked with consultant Jeff Frank of Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram (HTFC), providing border crossing stats, this was the first time he got a good look at what else “Re-Inventing” was all about.
“It’s all very interesting,” he said. “But as a resident, I think one of the treasures of Northern Ontario is our lakes. Any developments along the waterfront are good investment to me.”
Like some others interviewed at last week’s open house, local resident Trevor Fitzgerald admitted he knew little about the surveys and research the “Re-Inventing” group and its consultants had been doing before he came.
“It’s really opened my eyes. It was worthwhile to come down here,” he remarked.
Organizers were thrilled with the turnout.
“We’ve estimated there was about 100 people who came through,” said committee chair Susan Bodnarchuk. “We had a steady flow all night long.
“We thought it would be over by 8 p.m., but it ended up being 8:30.”
People spent this time enjoying some refreshments, chatting amongst themselves, and talking with “Re-Inventing” committee members and Frank.
“There was lots of discussion,” noted Bodnarchuk. “Lot of compliments, and some people who thought we should be doing things differently, which we also want to hear.
“The overall outcome was very positive.”
“There’s a good age range here,” committee member Tammi Shoemaker noted Wednesday night.
“There’s been good comments. There’s a lot of people here thinking about [‘Re-Inventing’] and that’s what this open house is about,” echoed Jean Marc Blanc, who also sits on the committee.
A second open house will be held sometime in January, prior to the completion of the HTFC’s feasibility study draft report at the end of that month.
HTFC began the study back in August.