It was a celebration years in the making.
The grand opening for the Rainy Lake Square was held Thursday afternoon in downtown Fort Frances, drawing about 120 business owners, dignitaries, and residents.
“It's been a long journey to be where we are today,” Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis said from the stage at the square.
“It began as a dream and a study was completed by the BIA," he noted. ”They were looking into acquiring and developing the property occupied by the old Rainy Lake Hotel.
“The BIA approached the town with an idea for partnering in this development.”
In 2014, the town, with council's unanimous support, began the process of submitting applications for funding to develop the square and was a successful recipient of funding from FedNor ($655,000) and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. ($955,000).
“This made it possible to advance the project and we thank both governments for their financial assistance,” said Mayor Avis.
“In addition, a financial commitment was made by our BIA for monies totally $180,000 over a 10-year period to assist with the start-up, advertising, and visual improvements of the site.”
In September, 2015, demolition began of the old Rainy Lake Hotel. JMX Contracting completed the job quickly and efficiently.
Then in October of that year, the town hired architect firm Scatliff + Miller + Murray to design the new market square.
A month later, council received a request from the town's Economic Development Advisory Committee to establish a Rainy Lake Market Square Advisory Committee to work with Scatliff + Miller + Murray and guide the development of the project.
The advisory committee was comprised of members of EDAC, town council, the Rainy River Future Development Corp., BIA, Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, staff from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, Kim Cornell of the Clover Valley Farmers' Market, and town resource staff.
“Council would like to acknowledge this committee's dedication and hard work,” Mayor Avis said.
“It was crucial in order to advance this project,” he stressed.
In 2017, RML Contracting was hired as the project builders and by late last year, it completed work on the Rainy Lake Square, the mayor added.
He noted Flint House donated a water bottle filling station to be included in the square while the Rainy River District Stewardship Council provided bike racks.
“We look forward to many events that will take place in this space," Mayor Avis continued, noting the square not only is a place for "Market Thursdays" and "Market Saturdays," concerts, movie nights, and children's programming but a space where people can sit down and enjoy their lunch, have a beverage, read a book, and take in "our Scott Street experience.”
“It's been a great project, truly a community project, and it's going to have real lasting effects for this community,” he concluded.
Northwoods Gallery & Gifts owner Doug Cuthbertson said it was a dream of his late wife and past BIA president, Connie, to see the old Rainy Lake Hotel site developed into a market square.
Richard Boileau then kept the momentum going as BIA president, only recently handing the reins to Doug Cuthbertson two weeks ago.
He credited the RRFDC's Geoff Gillon, Tannis Drysdale, and other economic development staff for doing a “ton of work” on the square project, as well as Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Mark Caron.
“A lot of people had a lot of input on this whole project and it turned out very beautiful—maybe not what certain people imagined—but the end result is beautiful,” said Cuthbertson, thanking everyone who contributed to making the Rainy Lake Square a reality.
Local MP Don Rusnak, who was touring the district last week, said “there's a resurgence here in Northwestern Ontario” and success stories like the Rainy Lake Square, as well as major employers like the New Gold mine and OSB mill in Barwick, are a positive sign of the future.
He credited local leadership for working together with businesses to create these successes.
“Let's celebrate this day,” said Rusnak.
International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson also was on hand to help celebrate the square's grand opening.
Dr. Bruce Lidkea of Lidkea Optometry emceed the ceremony while his daughter, Piper, sang “O Canada.”
John McTaggart, who was chair of the Rainy Lake Square committee, said he was “thrilled” with how the project turned out.
“It improves our downtown area," he told the Times. ”It's going to be a place for people to congregate and enjoy events and concerts and markets.
“Hopefully it will enhance our whole downtown.”
“I'm absolutely thrilled that the project came to fruition as good as it is,” said Duane Cridland, owner of Flint House, which is located across Scott Street from the Rainy Lake Square.
The grand opening is just the start but already he is sure the new square will attract people, both to attend events there and to visit downtown businesses.
“It will increase traffic a little bit for us and I think everybody else will gain a little value out of it, as well,” Cridland said.
As noted, Flint House donated an environmentally-friendly amenity to the Rainy Lake Square—a water bottle filling station that has been installed near the main entrance.
“We are going to try and promote the American traffic coming across the border to stop and grab some free, clean Canadian water,” noted Cridland.
Landscape architect David Bodnarchuk of Scatliff + Miller + Murray, who spearheaded the Rainy Lake Square project, also was on hand for Thursday's grand opening.
“One of the things that we definitely always do is what we call a post-occupancy evaluation,” Bodnarchuk told the Times.
“My eyes right now are watching people, and how they're using it and how they're interacting with the space,” he noted.
“And I think it is working.”
Gesturing to various features of the Rainy Lake Square, Bodnarchuk explained the plan was to have a fairly open space that would be organized into “separate rooms” at the same time.
“So you've got these higher observation areas and seating areas, and then this central market and stage area,” he remarked.
“I am happy to see the way the market is set up," he added. ”It's got a good flow and it's got a good look.
“As far as the craftsmanship, it's there. It was really well-built,” Bodnarchuk enthused.
“We are addressing just the last couple little items but they're really inconsequential at this point.”
Last Thursday also marked the first official “Market Thursday” of the season. Markets will run at the Rainy Lake Square each Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. until the end of September.
Pamela Murray of Reiki White Rose Holistic Healing and Lakeside Counselling approved of the new market square as a good location for vendors.
“I think it's really nice," said Murray, who regularly attended "Market Thursdays” last year in front of the Fort Frances Museum.
“There's lots of room for vendors," she added. "The town did a really good job on it.”
Murray said she definitely will be promoting her home-based businesses there each Thursday and Saturday, even offering free 10-minute Reiki sessions (a Japanese form of touch therapy that is beneficial for those suffering from headaches and body pain) to those who stop by her booth.
As previously reported, the Rainy Lake Series also will feature a free concert one Thursday evening a month through to September.
Entyrely Mac (Wayne and Danette McIntyre) kicked off the series last Thursday evening with a performance from 6-8 p.m.
About 150 people braved the rain to listen to the duo—a turnout which pleased event organizers.
“It was an amazing turnout despite the rain,” said Natasha Gaudio, economic development co-ordinator with the RRFDC.
“Everyone was in a great mood and excited to hand out in the new space,” she noted.
To keep up-to-date with what's happening each week, visit rainylakesquare.ca or follow “Rainy Lake Square” on Facebook.