Border banners hailed as unique ‘marketing tool’

Local MP Ken Boshcoff described them as “beautiful.”
“Absolutely wonderful,” assessed Geoff Gillon, head of the Rainy River Future Development Corp.
“I think they look great,” added Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk.
As for the dozens of American tourists patiently lining the international bridge here Friday en route to a Canadian getaway, it’s hard to say exactly what they thought of the seven full-colour banners adorning the south side of the “Lap” building, which were officially unveiled that morning.
But, without a doubt, they were taking notice. And that’s the point.
“[The banners] are a great marketing tool,” enthused Gillon, the project manager for the undertaking. “The Americans coming across the border are taking pictures of it. They’re impressed.”
The banners, which were hung in January but not officially unveiled until Friday’s brief ceremony, are the latest in a series of projects aimed to increase the attractiveness of the Fort Frances port-of-entry.
In addition to the Town of Fort Frances, Rainy River District, Kenora, Dryden, the townships of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls and Machin, Naotkamegwanning and Onigaming First Nations, and the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre each ponied up for one of the seven banners, which measure eight feet wide by 24 feet high.
The federal government also pitched in some cash to help make the project a reality. In fact, a second set of banners—featuring clearer images—already is being prepared.
The goal of the banner project, said Gillon, was to highlight the many activities open to the hundreds of thousands of travellers who pour across the border here each year.
“What we’re trying to present at the border is that you can do activities in Northwestern Ontario over and above hunting and fishing,” he remarked.
Gillon added the perceptions many tourists have of Canada are based on images from marketing campaigns for southern Ontario and British Columbia.
“This is our Canadian experience, this is the Canadian experience of Northwestern Ontario,” he said. “We’re just as much a part of Canada as the CN Tower.”
Officially dubbed the “Gateway to Canada” project, community leaders are hoping the banners and reading board, which also was installed earlier this year and will be managed by the Sunset Country Travel Association, not only will boost tourism in the area, but also add life to the industrial area travellers drive through en route to the Canada Customs booths.
“It’s important that [a tourist’s] first impression is good,” noted Mayor Onichuk. “If you’ve got to stare at a brick wall for half-an-hour, it’s a little different than staring at what Northwestern Ontario is made up of.
“It leaves a different impression, that’s for sure.”
“Now they have something that’s kind of like an oasis in the middle of an industrial centre,” added Gillon. “It’s got to be a bright light.”
Down the road, officials also are hoping to build a Discovery Centre to further promote the many places to go and things to see in this region. In addition to the communities already on board, a number of others have pledged their support.
Gillon said the way the numerous communities have worked together has been the “highlight of the project,” calling the co-operation “absolutely essential.”
“Co-operation means the difference between success and failure,” agreed Boshcoff. “We in Northwestern Ontario have to paddle in the same canoe or we’re left on shore.”
Many of those on hand for Friday’s unveiling praised the work of the Fort Frances Re-Inventing Committee—the group which spearheaded the project before passing it off to Gillon and the RRFDC.
“The project was born and bred her locally,” Mayor Onichuk stressed. “It was the brainchild of some very dedicated people.”
Gillon also noted Abitibi-Consolidated has been an important partner in the project, allowing the use of its building to hang both the banners and the reading board.