Having vision takes courage

The “Re-inventing Fort Frances” committee is generating quite a buzz among residents here these days, at least as far as the weekly poll on the Times’ Web site was concerned.
In what was sure to be a record in terms of number of responses (at least, until the Web site went down Tuesday), some 296 people had voted by Monday night on this past week’s question: Should the town contribute $50,000 to the “Re-inventing Fort Frances” group?
The results had been fluctuating all week long but by Monday night, the tide decidedly had shifted in favour of the “yes” side, with some 65.9 percent of respondents feeling town council should come through with the money.
The other 34.1 percent, of course, did not.
The Times’ weekly poll doesn’t pretend to be a scientific one. After all, there’s nothing stopping the same 10 people, perhaps members of the “Re-inventing” committee itself, from voting “yes” umpteen times to skewer the vote it their favour.
On the other hand, it typically has provided an accurate snapshot of opinion on how district residents, as well as those weighing in from wherever thanks to the Internet, feel about this or that. In this case, the sheer number of votes indicates an issue that’s tops on the minds of people these days.
Town council is expected to give an answer at its next meeting this coming Monday. Whether the poll results have an impact on that decision remains to be seen, but given comments by the mayor and some councillors at their last meeting Nov. 26, Las Vegas bookies likely wouldn’t give very good odds on it being “no.”
Adding to council’s problem, of course, is that an answer is needed immediately—not, say, in the 2003 budget—because the provincial and federal dollars required to cover the rest of the feasibility study are available now, and perhaps not in the months ahead.
“Re-inventing Fort Frances,” with its “Gateway to Canada in 10 steps” plan, which includes, among others, acquiring real estate, closing a portion of Central Avenue, developing new traffic flow patterns, de-cluttering Mowat Avenue, installing attractions (like a Mountie, voyageur canoe, fur trader, etc.) in a display area, and refurbishing historical buildings like the Rainy Lake Hotel and old high school, certainly is an ambitious project—too ambitious for some or maybe laughed off as “pie-in-the-sky” nonsense by others.
Still others may be balking at so much taxpayers’ money ($150,000 worth) being needed simply to fund a study to see if the whole thing is even feasible—and worthy of more public funding to implement.
No matter how this all plays out, though, what’s really important here is that a group of citizens (including someone from Ranier, Mn. to boot) cares enough about Fort Frances to put the time and energy into developing a plan to improve the gateway into Northwestern Ontario here—and put our town on the map as a tourist destination.
It may not be the perfect plan. It may be wishful thinking in some respects. But the day people stop trying to improve our economic lot here is the day Fort Frances may as well throw in the towel.
Progress can only thrive with vision and ideas, not looking back at the status quo. It also takes wisdom—and courage—to invest in our future.