The signs at the town limits read “Population 9,000” but there haven’t been 9,000 people in Fort Frances since at least 1988.
The latest enumeration numbers from the Ontario Property Assessment Corporation suggest the population here is on steady decline—especially among young people.
In 1991, the total population of Fort Frances was 8,682 but it has since dropped under 8,000 to 7,986—a decrease of 696, or eight percent.
Over the past three years, the town’s population has dropped by 326 people, or just under four percent, from 8,312 to 7,986.
“There’s probably two reasons,” said Mayor Glenn Witherspoon. “One reason is a lot of people have moved outside of town [to the surrounding area] and the second reason is we still haven’t captured the idea of keeping young people in the [local] industry.
“We have to start appealing to young people,” he stressed.
Most of the population decline is among those 19 years old and under, which has dropped by 287, or 16 percent, since 1997. The under-19 population has dropped by a 686—or 31 percent—since 1988.
There also is a drop in people in their 20s here. For example, the population of those aged 26-30 has fallen from 697 in 1991 to 512 in 2000 which may, in turn, affect the number of babies born in town.
The number of one-year-olds fell from 108 in 1991 to just 16 in 2000.
“Families are smaller and our youth are leaving for other opportunities,” noted CAO Bill Naturkach, who added he grew up in a family with seven children and now he has a family of two children who live elsewhere—a trend which is common as students leave Fort Frances to pursue post-secondary education.
“The employment field in those areas are substantially elsewhere,” Naturkach said.
But while the number of young people has declined, those over the age of 65 have relatively the same over the last nine years—from 1,456 in 1988 to 1,532 in 2000 (a 5.2 percent increase).
The plan to hire an economic development officer to attract industry and consumers to town is being considered, in part, to put the brakes on this trend.
“We need somebody here working full-time for the town now,” Coun. Dave Bourgeault said last week. “It has an impact, especially when you go through the demographics.
“Young people have been leaving since the ’80s,” he said.