Library hailed as fit for 21st century

Duane Hicks

FORT FRANCES—It may have taken 15 years of planning and fundraising to make it a reality, but now that the new Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre is built and open, it’s all about moving into the future and opening doors of opportunity.
That was theme of Monday’s opening ceremonies for the new facility as each delegate spoke about how fortunate Fort Frances is to have a facility fit for the 21st century.
“With today’s official opening, we mark on one hand the end of a project that took 15 years to complete from start to finish. And on the other hand, we mark the beginning for a new facility that will open the doors to the world for everyone, through books, technology, and a rich, ongoing menu of offerings,” said Mark Kowalchuk, who chaired both the “Building for the Future” fundraising campaign and the grand opening committee.
As chair of the former, Kowalchuk thanked the many people who gave their “unconditional financial, vocal, and emotional support throughout the entire project.”
“While I cannot adequately express what your support has meant to the fundraising, building, and grand opening committees, I think the facility that stands before you more than makes up for my shortcomings,” he remarked, reiterating residents now have a library technology centre that “will provide limitless opportunities today and for decades to come.”
“We are only limited by how far we choose to look into the future,” Kowalchuk said.
“I think, as a municipality, we can be very, very proud of this,” said Mayor Roy Avis, who, on behalf of town council, thanked the library board for years of planning and dedication that brought the project from a dream to reality.
He conceded the project had its share of ups and downs, and that for the last three-and-a-half years council worked with the library board to find a compromise and get the project off the ground.
“It proves than when you work as a team, a common goal can be reached,” the mayor added.
“This project has moved our community into the 21st century in communications, and complements the many lifestyles we have,” he continued.
“Please enjoy this new facility over the next many years. It’s a tremendous asset to our community.”
Mayor Avis noted the project was paid for not by the Town of Fort Frances but by senior levels of government, including the Ministry of Culture ($1.6 million), Northern Ontario Heritage Fund ($439,492), FedNor/Industry Canada ($170,000), Build Canada ($1.96 million), and the Trillium Foundation ($32,000), for a total of $4.2 million.
Another $865,000 was contributed by individuals and businesses as part of the “Building for the Future” campaign.
Mayor Avis also read out a letter from Northern Development, Mines and Forestry minister Michael Gravelle, who is chair of the NOHFC but could not attend Monday’s ceremony.
“The official opening of the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre is great news for the community. This centre will open many doors to many exciting new possibilities for businesses and individuals,” Gravelle wrote, referring to the technology centre part of the facility.
“I am pleased that the Town of Fort Frances, in partnership with the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre and the Rainy River Future Development Corp., was able to make this great project a reality.
“You have established a centre that will provide area businesses and individuals with one-step access to obtain expertise in areas such as market assessment and product development.
“It will also improve access to high-speed Internet services for the residents of the area,” Gravelle added.
Gravelle also said the NOHFC is pleased to invest in a multi-use facility that will help provide skills training for workers and other residents in the Fort Frances area, and believes it will serve the needs of the community well into the future.
Local MPP Howard Hampton tipped his hat to the volunteers who made the new facility a reality, especially library board chair Joyce Cunningham.
Hampton noted Cunningham always got her way in her classroom back when was a teacher—and this project was no different.
“[I got] more than one phone call saying, ‘We need to get this done,’” Hampton recalled.
“Joyce doesn’t give you any options,” he added. “She tells you: ‘We need to get this done. You need to help us get this done.’
“Mark [Kowalchuk] was equally effective,” said Hampton.
“I also want to point out, in particular, two councillors who just so happen to be former teachers—Andy Hallikas and Rick Wiedenhoeft—who were equally determined that this was going to happen.”
Hampton agreed the library project happened at just the right time, when the federal and provincial governments were looking for projects that could go ahead immediately and they could put stimulus funding into.
Consequently, the new facility could be built primarily using government dollars and at a reasonable cost to the municipality.
He admitted there was some controversy over the new library, but asked the public to remember there also was controversy over the Ice For Kids Arena, the new high school, and the La Verendrye Parkway development—and no one complains about them today.
“This is a huge step forward for this community,” Hampton enthused. “Education and technology and learning has always been important, but in the world we live in now, it is more important than ever.
“Fort Frances should be proud that it has taken a leadership role and is really well-positioned for that 21st-century economy.
“Congratulations all around, and Joyce, thank you for being so stubborn.”
Local MP John Rafferty said the grand-opening ceremony for the new facility reminded him of the generosity of the community, both financially and in volunteer hours.
This got him to thinking of the generosity of Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who almost 100 years ago donated the money to build the first library in Fort Frances, as well as 2,500 more around the world.
Rafferty said he suspects the new library “sets a new standard for libraries across this country,” adding that “libraries do a lot more than just have books.”
“Let’s get reading,” he urged.
Senior Fellow Wendy Newman, with the University of Toronto, called the new building “a wonderful gift to everybody who lives here now and to all who follow.”
“Public libraries can be a bit of a puzzlement to a lot of people,” she noted. “I mean, we’re in the digital age. How is it the public library is more popular, more frequently used, more deeply loved than ever before in this digital age?
“Shouldn’t it be dead?” she wondered. “Isn’t it dying?”
Referring to a radio interview she heard, Newman said that in a world that seems sometime to value things and use people, public libraries continue to love people and use things.
“We use this wonderful new building, we use this technology, to give us access to the human record so that we can learn and understand and understand each other better, and to create and to innovate,” Newman said.
“And that learning and creativity don’t just strengthen our enjoyment of what it is to be human, although it does, but that learning and creativity and innovation are the currency of any business that expects to grow, and of any economy we can imagine in the future,” she reasoned.
“And so we have here in your public library the most adaptive and responsive public institution that our society has created, and it’s here for everyone, without barriers.
“It’s ready when you are, where you are.
“It’s ready with this wonderful technology centre, to help you learn whatever is new because we can’t always have a 12 year-old with us to help us,” Newman noted.
“It’s ready with this wonderful videoconferencing and teleconferencing centre for e-learning, which is the fastest-growing part of the whole post-secondary sector. It’s here to bridge the serious distances that any community like this has to contend with and always will.
“It’s ready for your home-based business people. It’s ready for employee training. It’s ready for distance students to get together because isolation can be such a barrier to success in e-learning.
“It’s ready for tourists to come in here and do their e-mail and write on their Facebook, ‘Here I am in Fort Frances, up here fishing. You should see this place.’
“It’s ready for children and their families, as children start school ready to learn to read and ready to become proficient readers. Because we know . . . that a child reading poorly in Grade 1 has a worse than 90 percent chance of reading poorly at the end of Grade 4, and the disadvantage is cumulative for that person and for society.
“But on the plus side, the advantages cumulate, as well . . . look what you’ve done for them,” she concluded.
Cunningham said the library project here has gotten noticed elsewhere for several reasons.
“When I talk, throughout the province, of our journey, people are amazed at the level of support we have received from individuals, organizations, businesses, and all levels of government,” she recounted.
“This goes beyond the financial contributions to include time, advice, and encouragement that have been expended over so many years.
“Personally, I have experienced immense support from the Ontario library community,” Cunningham added. “Their experience, their expertise, their willingness to share, and their joy, their unbelievable joy, in our success, has made this day even sweeter for me.”
Library CEO and chief librarian Margaret Sedgwick said she was “totally overwhelmed,” “totally happy,” and “just so grateful” that so many people showed up for Monday’s ceremony Monday.
She thanked the major financial contributors to the project, such as the Build Canada Fund (Ontario and Canadian governments), Ministry of Culture, FedNor, Trillium Foundation, and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, along with Shaw Communications, Olive and Irvin Eisenhauer, Dino D’Agostini, the RBC Foundation, Kiwanis Club, Friends of the Library, and Joyce and Patricia Cunningham.
Sedgwick also thanked the library board, especially Cunningham and Kowalchuk, the library building committee (which consisted of herself, Cunningham, Kowalchuk, Community Services manager George Bell, and project manager Brian Avis), architect John Knox, Aurora Construction, as well the Town of Fort Frances and, of course, the library staff.
“They’re the greatest staff ever,” she enthused. “They have given their heart and soul, some for 15 years.
“And especially, in the last three years, they’ve just been the best, so thank you.”
Monday’s ceremony also included a rendition of “O Canada” by the Robert Moore festival choir (directed by Natalie Von Niebelshultz), which was followed by a donation of $150 from Robert Moore School for the library to buy a tree from Daryl’s Custom Landscapes.
Elder Bessie Mainville blessed the opening ceremonies while Capt. Angel Sandoval of the Fort Frances Salvation Army recited a prayer.
After all the speakers, the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place.
Those taking part included Ruth Caldwell, Jean Boileau, and Davetta Sheppard of the Friends of the Library, Hampton, Rafferty, Mayor Avis, Kowalchuk, Cunningham, Sedgwick, Nancy Tulloch (of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture), and library patrons Mitchell Riordon and Hubert Medhurst (the latter of whom is the library’s oldest at 102 years old).
After the ribbon-cutting, Cunningham declared the new library and technology centre open, after which members of the Rainy Lake Highlanders piped dignitaries and the public alike into the new facility.
On Monday evening, the Borderland Community Orchestra performed from 7-8 p.m., after which time the library was closed for a reception.
The grand opening week celebration continued Tuesday with a showcase of what the technology centre can do for new and existing businesses (with University of Toronto professor Dr. Kelly Lyons and Newman, along with Judy Sander of the NWO Innovation Centre).
There also was a Chamber of Commerce mix-and-mingle, as well as a family concert featuring Al Simmons.
Local elementary schools toured the facility on Wednesday while Thursday is “Kids’ Day,” when pre-schoolers and parents will be have a chance to participate in stations based on the “Alice in Wonderland” theme.
This will run from 10-11:30 a.m.
Friday will see a “Mad Hatter Tea Party” for seniors, with games and refreshments, from 2-4 p.m.
Then from 6-9 p.m., teens are encouraged to come by, “get carded,” and enjoy pizza and games.
(Fort Frances Times)