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Legacy to carry

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From the brave souls who took the “plunge” into Sand Bay last New Year’s Day to the 320 people who turned out Saturday for the community Christmas dinner at Knox United Church, 2010 marked another year of annual events interspersed with unexpected occurrences of triumph and tragedy, controversy and inspiration here in Rainy River District.

The top story—hands down—was the decision by Couchiching First Nation to erect a “toll booth” on Highway 11, just west of the Noden Causeway, to push demands for compensation for the land the highway sits on as well as action to relocate those families whose homes were built on contaminated soil stemming from the old J.A. Mathieu sawmill.

Going up on the Friday of the May long weekend and remaining in place for 11 days, the toll booth sparked tensions—from the intimidation many motorists felt, especially those who regularly use Highway 11 for work or to commute between their lake homes and Fort Frances, to incidents of blatant racism the band says were directed at those manning it.

Fortunately, tempers did not boil over and the scene remained peaceful, but the rift it created will take much longer to heal. Meanwhile, residents are left wondering whether similar protests will crop up down the road to back other demands, such as the future of Pither’s Point Park.

Doctor recruitment remained a hot topic here in 2010, which prompted a Physician Appreciation Week in early June—complete with a banquet—as a show of support for our health-care providers. We welcomed Dr. Cynthia Saliba in September but said farewell later that month to Dr. Angus Mackintosh, a respected and beloved obstetrics and gynecology physician who retired after 39 years of caring for district residents.

The past year also saw the fruition of several projects many years in the making, including the new Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre, the Rainy River District Regional Abattoir in Emo, and the Emo spray park. As well, the new Robert Moore School opened its doors here this fall, though tinged with sadness over the closure of F.H. Huffman at the end of June.

2010, on the other hand, very nearly marked the end of the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship—our showcase summer event since 1995. Fortunately, Gord Watson stepped forward at the 11th hour to take over as chairman from Tom Fry to ensure a 17th-annual edition next July. But clearly the tournament still faces an uphill battle given not everyone embraced the move from the Sorting Gap Marina to the Memorial Sports Centre to cut costs while poor attendance at the nighttime concerts has left the future of headline acts in limbo.

“tour de Fort” also needed a last-minute reprieve to survive for a 19th season of offering top-notch Canadian entertainment to district residents, though it remains to be seen whether passport sales will be strong enough to warrant a 20th year next fall. Similarly, the Fort Frances Folk Festival was held for a second year at the Little Beaver Cultural Centre. But while it again attracted a solid lineup of artists, better marketing—as well as a different choice of weekend­­—are key to boosting attendance needed to ensure it achieves its potential as a major summer attraction here.

Although AbitibiBowater finally emerged from bankruptcy protection earlier this month, and appears to be in a stronger position to move forward, the forest industry is still on shaky ground. Coupled with the continued malaise in the tourist industry, thanks to everything from the strong loonie and higher gas prices to woes at the border, the district’s economic fortunes remain cloudy.

There is good news, however. Rainy River Resources is bullish about opening a gold mine in Richardson Township by 2015 while the Osisko Hammond Reef gold project near Atikokan is moving forward.

The most inspiring story of 2010 was Nestor Falls’ bid to be crowned the Ultimate Fishing Town in an online contest organized by the World Fishing Network. Though small in terms of population, its awesome community spirit was second-to-none as the battle with Port Alberni, B.C. went right down to the wire. In finishing second, Nestor Falls showed just what can be accomplished when residents band together for a common cause.

That’s the message to heed as we close the books on 2010. No matter what 2011 may bring, pulling together as a community—drawing on the resilient pioneer spirit that first brought people to Rainy River District and allowed them to thrive despite the many challenges—is the legacy to carry forward and pass along to future generations.

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