Community festivals create economic stimulus

Service clubs have played an important historic role in Fort Frances and Rainy River District.
Through the support of the Kiwanis Club, the drama and musical festivals flourished. It also recognized district 4-H clubs and their members annually.
The local Rotary Club assisted in the development of the Rotary Park here, and the placing of trees and shelters along the riverfront. But perhaps the Rotary Club is best remembered for its annual Santa Claus parade in Fort Frances.
The Kinsmen and Kinettes, meanwhile, were responsible for raising funds and building the indoor swimming pool here. They also supported the Kinsmen Park by purchasing equipment.
As well, the Kinsmen Club also is remembered for its role in beginning the construction of the old Fort St. Pierre.
The Fort Frances Jaycees, established in the late 1930s, began promoting Fort Frances and district at sport shows in the United States. They were instrumental in building the old “Welcome to Canada” sign that extended across Church Street at Central Avenue.
Later they created a great Canada Day celebration in Fort Frances.
The Lions Club, which came later to Fort Frances, has established the Lions Park and scholarships, as well as offered other services to Fort Frances. Members also helped establish the Fort Frances Museum.
And the local Royal Canadian Legion annually was host for the Canada Day parade here in town.
All the service clubs of the community, and many church groups, supported community festivals primarily during the week of July 1.
Community celebrations have economic value. When the town hired its first economic development officer, Jim Toews, the first task he gave to himself was to develop a week-long community festival.
It became known as Fun in the Sun, and the first years saw competitions in flour packing, canoe racing, log-rolling, bathtub races, the Miss Fun in the Sun pageant, and other activities.
Most service clubs participated actively in the week-long activities organized under the umbrella of the Economic Development Commission.
Jim also tried to organize a winter carnival, and is remembered for bringing the fire tower to Fort Frances and his attempt to have the SS Kenora brought to Fort Frances from Selkirk, Man. as a tourism attraction.
Political conditions changed and the role of economic development officer changed in the community.
Today, under the direction of Pam Hawley, the Fort Frances Museum has provided leadership in building and improving tourist and learning attractions in the community.
Bill Boulton, who was hired by the Rendezvous Trail Association of the Rainy River District as its executive director, worked to establish the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship. The board went out on the limb to acquire the events tent that has been used for hosting community events right across the district.
When provincial funding for the Rendezvous Trail Association disappeared, the Rainy River Future Development Corp. took over the maintenance and renting of the tent. A volunteer board and corporation was established to run the FFCBC.
Today, only the two Lions’ Clubs and Kiwanis Club remain in Fort Frances. The other service organizations have disappeared.
Fun in the Sun became a volunteer organization and its celebrations struggled to find volunteers. This year, the former week-long festival became a single day celebrating Canada Day.
The other volunteer organization, the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, also struggles to find volunteers and co-ordinate year-round business activities. Its board of directors has taken steps to reduce the number of volunteers required to organize that week’s activities.
The Emo Fair, Emo Walleye Classic, the Rainy River pumpkin festival, Rainy River Walleye Tournament, the Morson Bass Tournament, and other community events are all volunteer driven. Fun in the Sun and the FFCBC are not unique—similar volunteer issues are found everywhere.
The Fort Frances Curling Club, at one time, attracted 132 teams for its annual men’s bonspiel and 96 teams for the women’s bonspiel. Today, fewer than half those numbers compete in those bonspiels.
Huge tournaments involving slo-pitch, fastball, and liniment league baseball occurred weekly across the district. Curling, fastball, and golf filled hotels/motels, restaurants, and bars.
The establishment of permanent pow-wow grounds at Rainy River First Nation, Nigigoosiminikaaning, and other First Nations across the district add a powerful cultural attraction, attracting dancers, spectators, and friends together which builds the local economy.
The successful development of the Memorial Sports Centre has been a financial economic development success for the Town of Fort Frances. Today through the course of the winter, there is a minor hockey tournament almost every weekend in Fort Frances.
Figure skating attracts area skaters for testing, as does swimming for competition. All these fill hotels and restaurants with families and generate revenue for the community.
Fun in the Sun, and now the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, fill hotel rooms and restaurants in the summer, and generate economic stimulus to the community. An economic impact study estimates the FFCBC contributes up to $2 million in economic stimulus to the community.
Across the district, Emo has generated excitement and business through its Spring Fever Days, EWC, fall fair, and “Holly Daze” celebrations. Rainy River, meanwhile, has its pumpkin festival, “Railroad Daze,” and walleye tournament that attract people to the community.
All of these activities bring visitors into our communities, who spend money and stimulate the economy.
All add to the vibrancy and diversity of the district. All add to the quality of life in the district.
Today, many successful attractions are dependent on paid staff to organize and co-ordinate activities across the district. Should councils across the district play a greater role in supporting and growing the tournaments and festivals that create economic stimulus?

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