Town to hear feedback from ‘Bloom’ judges by month’s end

Two judges from the “Communities in Bloom” organization were in Fort Frances last Thursday through Saturday to take a look at what the town and its residents have done to beautify the community over the past year.
Now the local “Communities in Bloom” committee is waiting with bated breath to find out what the town scored on a scale of one-five “blooms,” and what areas the judges feel could be improved.
“We should hear by the end of August. We’re definitely looking forward to knowing what they have to say,” said local committee chairwoman Helen Crook.
“I do know they were impressed with the cemeteries and the flower arrangements around town,” she added. “The waterfront impressed them, as did the general condition of gardens around town.”
While Crook would love to see the town get a high “bloom rating,” she also said the feedback on what areas need to be improved will be crucial for the local committee, which only has been around for little over a year.
“There are some areas the community is judged on that we’re not sure what direction to go in, such as urban forestry,” Crook remarked.
Gail Reed of Barrie, Ont. and Marg Legris of Bala, Ont. arrived Thursday afternoon, first visiting the Fort Frances Horticultural Society’s annual flower and vegetable show at the old CN station.
They then attended a barbecue at the Lions Millennium Park, courtesy of Canada Safeway, where Mayor Dan Onichuk formally introduced them to the public.
“Things are looking great so far,” remarked Reed, adding the Lions Millennium Park was a “wonderful facility.”
Reed noted Fort Frances’ decision to participate in the “Communities in Bloom” program would be “good for tourism—and good for civic pride.”
“I think it’s wonderful to be here,” echoed Legris, who noted she was in Fort Frances during the 1980s to conduct figure-skating clinics.
“It looks like it’s changed a lot, which is great,” Legris added, noting her first impression of the town upon arriving Thursday was “it was very tidy.”
“And I’m glad to see they’ve saved the train station,” she remarked.
Legris also said it’s clear there’s been participation by both the town, service clubs, and residents in general in helping beautify Fort Frances. “And that means a lot when you’re participating in the ‘Communities in Bloom’ program,” she noted.
Legris said the input that towns such as Fort Frances get back after judges visit is very helpful.
Bala, a small town of only about 500 people in the Muskokas which swells to 15,000 in the summer, started off its beautification efforts with a $1,000 budget which was used on flower baskets.
After judges visited there and offered the town advice on how to improve, within a few years it had become a “five-bloom” community with 70 active “Communities in Bloom” volunteers.
“The difference it’s made to our town is phenomenal,” said Legris.
The two judges, who were in Red Lake before coming here, boarded a horse-drawn buggy on Thursday evening after the barbecue and toured sites such as the “Garden of Life” in front of the hospital and the La Verendrye Parkway.
On Friday, they took a tour with Fort Frances Museum curator Pam Hawley to check out the town’s historical sites and murals, then visited the two cemeteries, checked out the town’s schools, parks, and industrial sites, and met representatives from groups such as the local Chamber of Commerce.
At various times during their visit, the pair were escorted by “Communities in Bloom” committee members, including Mayor Onichuk and Marie Anderson.
They left Saturday morning.
“Communities in Bloom” is a national contest “committed to fostering civic pride, environmental responsibility, and beautification through community participation and the challenge of a friendly competition,” according to its mission statement.
There are eight criteria the judges consider when grading municipalities: floral displays, turf and groundcover areas, landscaping, heritage preservation, tidiness effort, environmental awareness, urban forestry, and community involvement.
This is the first year Fort Frances officially is competing in “Communities in Bloom.”
Last August, two judges—Lee Rozon and Angela Vieth—spent two days visiting various sites around the community on a preliminary basis and ended up giving the town “a very good evaluation,” said Crook.
In the year since, the local “Communities in Bloom” committee has:
•held a yard makeover contest (which was won by Carrie Holden of 412 Third St. W.);
•been involved in a project with the Robert Moore School Builders’ Club and local teachers to build a garden in front of the Rainy River District School Board office;
•held a garden contest; and
•been promoting beautification among residents and the business community.
As far as the year ahead goes, Crook noted the local “Communities in Bloom” committee has a list of projects it would love to get done, including having a “screen of trees” planted at the back of the cemetery to block out the view of the mills.
But these projects all depend on the committee securing funding.