Mayor Caul looks back at 2020 and extends Christmas greeting

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

At the tail end of a very tumultuous year, Fort Frances Mayor June Caul cast a look back at the ups and downs in town before council adjourned for the last time in 2020.

In her address to council and the public during Monday night’s town council meeting, Caul acknowledged the many difficulties the town and members of the public have faced during the year, but also highlighted some of the positives that have continued to happen throughout.

“As I look back on 2020 I try to remember the first two months and how simple life was in general,” she said.

“In January we attended the ROMA conference and met with the provincial ministers relating to our concerns and looking for support. In February, police service board members attended a consultation session in Kenora about the composition of OPP boards and we were successful in our requests.”

March turned out to be a major turning point in a way no one was expecting. In the middle of dealing with a difficult budget process that brought into scope just how much of an impact losing the mill would have on the town’s finances, the COVID-19 outbreak became a worldwide pandemic that shuttered businesses, organizations, and our very way of life.

“We formed a municipal emergency control group that declared it an emergency for our municipality as we tried to blindly figure out how to deal with this crisis,” Caul said.

“Decisions to shut down facilities, lay off staff and not being allowed to hire students for the busy summer months put us in the middle of making some tough decisions. Though we endured a lot of frustration and backlash from residents on some decisions made, we did the best we could during an unprecedented time when decisions had to be made quickly and to the best of our ability.”

The control group continues to meet as needed, Caul said, and she extended her thanks to the individuals and community partners who have been a part of the group, particularly as everyone learned how to hold regular meetings in a virtual space.

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, Caul continued on with monthly meetings that kept Fort Frances and other municipalities in the region fully apprised of the government’s plans, working with Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford. The town has also continued working with neighbouring First Nations in partnership and deciding how to move forward on the Point Park. Additionally, Caul said, the town and several organizations banded together to tackle the issue of homelessness in the area, though there is still plenty of work to be done.

“This summer the town endeavoured to work with the homelessness committee and DSSAB to provide shelter and assistance to the homeless in our community,” she recalled.
“This proved to be a difficult situation to solve with all the complexities that developed with the homeless. I would like to thank the residents impacted by this situation and who voiced their opinions and ideas for solutions. I want to thank DSSAB, the homelessness committee, town administration and staff, the Family Centre, all health care providers, the OPP and residents who have stepped up to assist in any way. We must continue to advocate for the most vulnerable citizens who call Fort Frances their home.”

August and the fall season brought more good news for the town, with a new bus line beginning its operations in the district, a new state-of-the-art OPP detachment building opening and funding announcements from the Provincial government on mental health, anti-human trafficking and housing. And while COVID threw a wrench into many plans over the year, Caul noted she was optimistic about the economic benefits that the Shevlin Wood Yard and Gateway to Fort Frances projects, as well as the new Erin Crescent subdivision would bring to the community.

Of course, one of the biggest stories in town this year is the ongoing demolition of the mill buildings, though Caul said she continued to be hopeful that new business and investment opportunities will come from the site.

“Council fought long and hard to bring a new company here so that the mill property could be home to a new fibre based business,” she said.

“Now we will support the new possibilities being investigated by Riversedge numbered company and the partnership they have was Rainy River First Nations. I wish the Aazhogan Renewal Group much success as they develop the mill property with their future plans of revitalization.”

As the Christmas season has arrived, Caul extended her thanks to all of the charitable efforts that have taken place over the past few months and for all of the people in town who have volunteered or donated to help others, but cautioned that the COVID-19 pandemic must still be taken seriously, even as people in town gather in small groups for the holidays.

“We are very blessed to live in such a caring Community,” she said.

“Thank you to everyone for your continued support throughout this very difficult year. Please take precautions during the Christmas season by continuing to stay within your small bubble of family and friends. Continue to safe distance by two metres, wear a mask when closer to people and be respectful to protect others, especially our seniors and those with underlying health issues. If students come home for the holiday, please ensure that they self-quarantine away from others to ensure that you have a safe time before, during and after the holiday.”

Caul reminded the public that our hospital system could be very easily overwhelmed by a COVID outbreak and encouraged everyone to not travel during the holidays, a message that has since been reiterated by the Northwestern Health Unit.

“Let’s keep our district as safe as it has been so far,” Caul concluded.

“On behalf of council, administration and staff, I want to wish everyone a safe healthy and happy Christmas and all the very best in 2021.”