Band sets fees for toll booth

Duane Hicks
Peggy Revell

To open Friday at noon
Couchiching First Nation’s plan to erect a toll booth on Highway #11 just west of the Noden Causeway is still a go for this Friday at noon.
For now, the band was to begin a traffic slowdown today (Wednesday), where information will be handed out to passing vehicles outlining Couchiching’s reasoning for setting up the toll booth, which includes what it sees as a failure to be properly compensated for the land Highway #11 is built upon and failure to remedy the soil contamination from the former J.A. Mathieu sawmill where six residences now sit.
Since first announcing in late April its intentions to set up the toll booth, the province’s only “offer” to the community was from the province to put up some street signs, street lights, and possibly a bike path along Highway #11, noted Couchiching Chief Chuck McPherson.
“Those were maybes—those weren’t definite offers,” echoed Coun. Eugene McPherson.
“Just today [Tuesday], we got a call from the deputy minister’s office asking if we’d like to have some serious discussions—that begs the question, what were the discussions before, if they weren’t serious?” wondered Chief McPherson.
Meanwhile, there has been little to no response from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the pair noted.
“The only response or communication received from the federal minister’s office was that [local MP] John Rafferty [who] had sent two letters, along with Diane Kelly, the chief of Grand Council Treaty #3, asking Minister Strahl to convene a meeting with my council and myself—and they acknowledged that they received those letters,” Chief McPherson said.
“Other than that acknowledgement, nothing.”
Meanwhile, the fee structure for the toll booth was approved at a band council meeting last night.
Councillors opted to set the toll at $1 per passenger vehicle and  $10 for commercial vehicles, with tolls to be collected for those travelling in both directions.
Monthly passes also will be available for $25 for passenger vehicles and $100 for commercial ones.
All emergency vehicles, such as police, fire, and ambulance, will be exempt from the toll, as will be school buses.
First Nations’ members with a status card also will be exempt, which includes status First Nations from elsewhere such as the United States (the status card must belong to a passenger who is in the vehicle).
Couchiching band members also may apply to get an exemption for vehicles owned by immediate family members who are non-status.
An exemption application will be available online and at the Couchiching band office.
The fee for launching a boat at the Five-Mile Dock has not been decided yet.
While band council has approved these tolls last night, these amounts will be up for final approval at a Couchiching community meeting slated for this evening.
“We’ll try to achieve consensus,” Chief McPherson said about what that meeting will entail, noting if a large number of community members disagree with the chosen amounts, council will revisit its decision.
Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis said he’s concerned about the various ways the toll booth will impact Fort Frances and the surrounding area.
“I think it will really affect the commercial sector in our municipality and throughout the whole district,” he warned.
“I strongly believe it will become quite contentious, in that it will put family against family.
“There’s so much inter-marriage in this area,” he added. “I hope it doesn’t get to that.”
Mayor Avis said he has written a letter to provincial Aboriginal Affairs minister Chris Bentley and has met with Chief McPherson regarding the toll booth, and expressed his concerns.
“It is a provincial issue and it is a federal government issue, but as a municipality we are very concerned, and we hope it can get resolved,” he remarked.
Since first announcing plans for the toll booth in late April, there has been “tremendous support” from band members who attended the first community meeting on the matter, said Chief McPherson.
“There were some concerns about how they were going to be received in neighbouring communities, how kids were going to be treated in schools,” he conceded.
“But for the most part, we think that common sense is going to prevail and the people of the Town of Fort Frances and neighbouring communities, for the most part, are sensible, logical people and they’ll see that it’s a cause worth fighting for.”
Meanwhile, the duration of the toll booth will be for as long as it takes for solutions for both of the issues, Chief McPherson vowed.
“Talking to people in the district and that—the sad part is, those people that come to me and say they have mixed emotions about this, those people don’t understand the true story of what’s going on,” Coun. McPherson.
“It’s not a fight between us and them, it’s a fight between those governments.
“All we’re asking for is the truth. Tell us the truth for a change. Simple, simple request,” he stressed.
“We want to stress the point that it’s not a race issue,” echoed Chief McPherson. “It’s non-aggressive, it’s non-confrontational, and the whole initiative is to help Couchiching, and it’s just claiming that which is ours.
“We’re trying to stress a point that the government isn’t living up to their obligations,” he added. “If they’re not going to do it, then we’re going to have to take the responsibility for it, and with that responsibility there’s some fiscal costs, and we don’t have those monies to do it.
“And we have to generate the monies to do that somehow.”
Many people have come forward to talk about the issue, noted band manager Smokey Bruyere, especially the ministers for local churches who want more information and understanding of the issue so they can discuss it with their congregations.
“People who come in to ask, people who phone, we’re very courteous to everybody that calls, explaining what the situation is and asking them to call the MPPs and MPs, the ministers,” stressed Bruyere.
The band also will be posting updates and information at it website at

Note: Great Bearand CC Complex are not selling monthly toll booth passes.