Closing the book

Not many people are likely to shed a tear when we close the book on 2009 at midnight tomorrow.
On top of a deep recession that was ravaging the country, the local economy took an extra hit back in the spring with word AbitibiBowater was filing for bankruptcy protection—leaving many contractors and businesses stuck with unpaid bills and mill workers/retirees worried about their pensions.
But the ripple effect was felt by all—and the uncertainty of the local mill’s future continues to cast a pall over the district heading into 2010.
The story that certainly dominated headlines during the first half of the year was the ongoing saga over the new Fort Frances Public Library and Technology Centre. Supporters packed the Civic Centre in April, but soon streamed out in shock, disappointment, and anger when town council voted against proceeding with the project in its current form—throwing into limbo years of effort, millions in grants, and some $850,000 pledged by local residents, organizations, and businesses to the cause.
In a final twist, however, stimulus funds from Ottawa and Queen’s Park—aimed at jump-starting the economy out of recession—came to the rescue in June, which allowed council to give its blessing and construction to begin at the site adjacent to the Memorial Sports Centre.
Among the more controversial stories of the year was the “incident” in early June at the Ge-Da-Gi Binez Youth Centre, the 12-bed secure custody facility for aboriginal youths on Eighth Street hailed as the first of its kind in Canada when it opened with much fanfare less than three months earlier. But following a melee in which two staff members were injured, the six detainees at the time had to be transferred to Thunder Bay and the facility closed for several weeks while Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services worked with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to prevent such an incident from happening again.
Fuelling the controversy—and rumours—was the fact it took five days for the incident to be reported to the public.
Perhaps the most vexing story of the year was the growing number of deer in town limits. At first it was mainly a nuisance to those whose flowers, vegetables, and shrubs were being eaten by the animals. But they also became a hazard to motorists, which prompted council to ban the feeding of deer by residents back in January in an effort to curb the problem.
The story took on an added dimension, however, when Lynwood and Marie Anderson became embroiled in a fight with the Civic Centre over the fence they had erected to protect their property from the deer. And an incident on Kaitlyn Drive earlier this month has since reinforced fears that wolves have followed the deer into town—posing a potential danger to residents.
Still another topic of hot debate was the future of Pither’s Point Park, which saw an interim agreement reached but no final resolution in the offing. In related news, the Hallett and lookout tower were re-located from Seven Oaks to the La Verendrye Parkway near the Sorting Gap Marina as part of Phase II of the Heritage Tourism Project.
The inaugural Fort Frances Folk Festival in July, spearheaded by a pair of local teens, was one of the “good news” stories of the year. Attendance wasn’t huge, but more than two dozen acts performed and the festival seems well on its way to becoming a major summer event to attract visitors here.
And on the business front, the big news was the long-awaited opening of Boston Pizza here this fall, not so much because it offers another choice for consumers but the fact two former residents returned to pursue their entrepreneurial dream—and perhaps will spur others to do the same.
Of course, a myriad of other major stories occurred over the year, including the contaminated soil problems on Couchiching, work on the so-called “biomass roads” project, the long-await completion of the underpass repairs, construction beginning on the new Robert Moore School here and on the abattoir in Emo, the town’s purchase of Sunny Cove Camp from the Fort Frances Kiwanis Club, the first installations of “smart” meters at town residences, and the push to get district residents vaccinated against the H1N1 ’flu virus.
Indeed, 2009 was a year of challenges and successes, triumphs and setbacks. Through it all, though, residents here and across the district continue to persevere.
And as a new year (and decade) dawns Jan. 1 so, too, springs our hope for better times ahead.