Conference lauded for spotlighting district

Duane Hicks

With the focus on “Local Solutions for a Sustainable Future,” more than 125 delegates from across Northwestern Ontario, Minnesota, and Wisconsin converged on Fort Frances last Wednesday and Thursday for the annual Northern Networks trade conference.
Local organizer Tannis Drysdale said she felt the conference was successful without a doubt.
“I think it was an opportunity for Fort Frances to put her best foot forward,” she remarked.
“All of the feedback I’ve received from the delegates is that it was a very productive conference,” Drysdale added.
“I think everyone who attended the conference had an opportunity to meet just about everyone who attended the conference, and it was structured around that.”
In addition to speakers covering issues ranging from biomass and agriculture to economic development and First Nations, the conference was a chance to showcase Fort Frances and Rainy River District.
Most of event took place at La Place Rendez-Vous, where the chefs made meals with local foods. As well, there was a booth selling local foods and other products on site during the conference.
The delegates also were treated to a dinner at Sunny Cove Camp, where local chef Todd Moxham prepared a 16-piece tasting menu consisting entirely of local foods.
“It was fabulous,” Drysdale enthused. “We were able to really showcase what a wonderful facility we have at the Rendez-Vous and what kinds of opportunities we have for life on the lake at Sunny Cove.
“I was blown away by the quality and quantity and varieties of local foods we had available,” she added, noting the Rendez-Vous staff and chefs, who normally purchase a fair amount of food locally, worked with conference organizers to highlight those foods.
“It was really an opportunity for us to showcase to the region what an exceptional, extraordinary place this is,” Drysdale remarked.
Drysdale thanked everyone involved in making the conference a success, in particular the local food producers (which included, among others, Gerber Farms, Lowey’s Produce, Greenhouse and Market Gardens, Rainy River Elk Company, Cornell Farms, Sunrise Meats, and the Nighswander family of Barwick) for “providing the best examples of local food that I’ve had in my travels,” as well as the staff at the Rendez-Vous and Sunny Cove.
“Half of any conference is where you put your head down at night and what they put in your stomach, and between those two facilities, I betcha if there was 125 from out of town for this conference, there will be 125 of them coming back next summer to visit our community,” she predicted.
The conference, organized by the Town of Fort Frances and Rainy River Future Development Corp., and sponsored by FedNor and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., started Wednesday afternoon with delegates taking a tour of Fort Frances, as well as an agricultural tour of Emo and the west end of the district.
This was followed by a Chamber of Commerce reception and dinner at La Place Rendez-Vous that evening, with guest speaker Graham Rush, consulate general of Canada in Minneapolis.
The program Thursday morning and afternoon included a series of speakers before the conference wrapped up with the local foods dinner at Sunny Cove Camp that evening.
Attendees also gave the conference a thumbs up.
Coun. Andrew Hallikas said the conference was “brilliantly organized,” and lauded Drysdale, Geoff Gillon, and the RRFDC for doing such a good job.
“The quality of the speakers and the whole day was extraordinary,” he noted.
“The other thing that really stuck out at me, and it really had nothing to do with the workshops, was the quality of the food,” Coun. Hallikas added. “It was all local food.
“It was fabulous, and it tied in nicely with Donna Lowey, who later did a speech on Lowey’s farms.
“It was so good to have a representative there from our local farming community,” he remarked.
Coun. Hallikas said the quality of the food spoke for itself, and combined with the beauty of Sunny Cove Camp and Rainy Lake, gave out-of-town guests a good idea as to what our community has to offer, “which is a great deal.”
“It was an extraordinary day,” he enthused. “I have nothing but superlatives to say about it.
“I was really glad I went.”
Bill Gushulak, owner of Fort Frances General Supply and a member of the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, found the conference very informative.
“I found [the presenters] equally good,” he said. “It was a good day to just sit and listen, take in what you could take in, and just get food for thought.”
Gushulak said he particularly enjoyed the three presentations on agriculture on Thursday afternoon, which included Donna Lowey of Lowey’s Greenhouse and Market Garden.
For his part, Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown said he felt organizers did “an excellent job” lining up guest speakers for the conference.
Mayor Brown cited Aime Dimatteo (Fed Nor), Lorne Morrow (Centre for Research Innovation in the Bio-Economy), John Howard (Coronal), Adam Sherman (BERC Vermont), and Chief Clarence Louie among his favourite speakers at the conference.
“I thought it was a great conference, very informative, and as it is with all of these conference, a lot of networking going on,” he remarked.
“It really was worth the time and effort it took to get there.”
Emo Mayor Ed Carlson couldn’t attend the entire conference, but agreed Chief Louie was an excellent speaker.
“What he had to say was certainly pertinent to our entire district, as well,” Mayor Carlson noted.
“His message of co-operation and sharing of ideas with our First Nation neighbours is something we could all work on.”