I am writing in response to the letter submitted last week by Jan Anderson.
I share Ms. Anderson’s concerns about our limited recreational opportunities, public amenities, and related services in Fort Frances – especially those benefitting young families, youth, and working-age people. I part ways with the Mayor’s reply last week in that I am unwilling to pin our shortcomings on the pandemic (nor do I think the community buys that explanation anymore either). We need to start thinking about the services and programs we want in the future – not just ruminating on the challenges of the recent past.
The reality is that Fort Frances is in economic and social transition. In order to ensure that our transition doesn’t become a decline, we need to do more to counteract our aging population and make our community a more desirable home for younger families. This is essential for so many of our goals – from providing a workforce for new industry to physician recruitment.
Unfortunately, too often there has been a tendency at townhall and elsewhere in the community to prioritize the needs of retirees and seniors over working families with young children, and this is short-sighted. Why would someone take a job or open a business in a place where they don’t know anyone if they can’t readily identify basic services, programming, or even care for their children?
Frankly, it isn’t enough for Fort Frances to be “just as good” as other communities of a similar size. That is the low bar – we have to be better, because we are competing for human capital against communities that are more geographically accessible, more developed, more diverse, and more proximate to transit, institutions, and other amenities. As a report in last week’s newspaper stated, no one is moving here just for the sunsets.
That means we have to come to terms with the myth that our community offers an outdoor or wilderness paradise to newcomers. This is a sales pitch we hear a lot, but for those without access to watercraft, snowmobiles or family cottages, the accessible recreation and public amenities are limited. Even our lake and waterfront – which is germane to the municipality’s brand identity – is, for the most part, not publicly accessible or developed (aside from the LaVerendrye Parkway). We have done little to integrate these features into the civic experience of those who live in Fort Frances, and the services we offer to them. We must strive to be more than a bedroom community for cottage-owners.
At the other end of the spectrum, too many of programs and public services that are offered within Fort Frances are often viewed as “nice to haves” instead of the necessities they are to building a vibrant social fabric. The municipality has a growing part to play in facilitating these services, simply because so many church programs, service clubs, youth groups, sporting opportunities, and extracurriculars have come and gone. Even at Council, when the fate of the summer recreation programs was discussed, the knee-jerk inclination of some was to look for volunteers to do the work. We all appreciate volunteerism, but these approaches are unsustainable, they discount the constraints on today’s working families, and they do nothing to build the necessary community capacity to grow and expand the experiences and opportunities that we can offer to families and young people.
As we move forward, it is incumbent on Council to ensure that service quality, public amenities, and recreation are a key plank – and not an after-thought – in the town’s strategic direction.
Nominations for the next term of Council will be a year from now, and I would welcome outreach from anyone who shares these concerns and is interested in standing for election.
Douglas W. Judson
Town of Fort Frances