A time to count blessings

When it seems that things aren’t as good as they used to be, we may be thinking 20 years back.
How about doubling the span. Did you know that there was no university, no college, no arts complex, no so-many-other-things in Northwestern Ontario?
Quetico Centre was the first adult education institution in the region when it was born in 1958. Yes, we were 40 years old as of June 8
Atikokan’s then recreation director, Cliff McIntosh, and some of his counterparts in other Northwestern Ontario municipalities, had idealism and the vision that “recreation” included community building.
They organized regional events in bush camps, church basements, and the like. That had obvious limitations.
When the ranger base for Quetico Park had to be moved from the Eva Lake site, Cliff McIntosh and his friend and mentor, Bud Thomas, saw opportunity. The bunch of leftover homes and other shacks could become a regular meeting place!
They brought more people together to explore the idea. Their vision was to provide regular regional learning and planning opportunities in a residential setting:
• Community development, municipal and regional leadership;
• Management learning for business and industry;
• Cultural development of regional and community life; and
• Recreation leadership for adults and youth.
The group raised money and begged material to improve the buildings. They planned and schemed. They ran workshops. They proved the worth of the Quetico Centre idea through activities that produced practical results.
By 1970, a quality facility was built to accommodate more than 80 participants. By 1986, upgrading and expansion ensured the facilities met changing standards.
The centre’s programs covered all the topics envisioned at the start, plus a variety of adult basic literacy and skill training.
Organizational effectiveness work beyond Northwestern Ontario had centre staff travel across Canada, into the north-central U.S.A., and occasionally beyond. At home, centre staff stayed active in regional development, adult and youth leadership, skill re-training, and workshops and conferences addressing a wide range of issues.
Meanwhile, in response to the maturing “baby boom,” the Ontario government greatly expanded the number of universities and created a province-wide college system. The Lakehead Technology & Trades Institute became Lakehead University.
And Confederation College was born.
Those institutions turned some of what Quetico Centre had started into “mainstream” activities. Confederation College became responsible for adult skill training. The college and university set up outreach programs in most Northwestern Ontario towns, giving local access to recreational, craft, and cultural experiences.
Clearly, Quetico Centre’s important work in these areas was done.
A mainstream enterprises took on the work we did at one time, we stopped doing it. By 1990, the end of the Heavy Equipment Operators and Log Haul Truck Driver programs, the centre had trained more than 2,000 people in lucrative employment.
It was a major change. For 22 years, a near-continuous stream of people experienced the centre. Then we went back to intermittent activities, as in the first 10 years. We tightened our belts, as did most enterprises, and re-focused our work.
In late 1992, we started a major project of benefit to Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario–the turnaround of Avenor’s paper mill and woodlands division. This initiative took the company from a loss of $1,000 a week back to profitability.
Included in those results were new production and quality records.
Since Avenor was a major employer, an important tax contributor to the city of Thunder Bay, and a generator of much spin-off business, this was a very important project.
Word-of-mouth brought about more turnaround projects in the forest products and mining industry. Examples are Domtar Ltd. (now Norampac) in Red Rock, and the Winston Lake Division of Inmet Mining.
As external change accelerates, enterprises need to refocus and re-group more swiftly. Quetico Centre is no exception. We celebrate our 40th but there is no time to sit on the laurels of past contributions.
My next column will look forward on our continued commitment to Northwestern Ontario.

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