Mother nature played big role in 2001

One of my favourite tasks as editor is to thumb back through the past 51 issues to come up with the top 10 stories of the year. And what never ceases to amaze me, year in and year out, is the sheer volume of news that’s appeared in the pages of the Times.
From the inaugural “Polar Plunge” on Sand Bay on Jan. 1 to word this week the Northwestern Ontario Recycling Association has decided to hike its per capita fee to $17, with a myriad of spot news and long-term issues in between, it’s clear 2001 was no different.
So many to choose from. Debate in January and February over public access to Trout Road, which spawned the Crossroute Forest People’s Alliance and eventually saw the local Ministry of Natural Resources recommend it be opened conditionally starting in 2002.
A second elk herd arrived from Alberta at the holding pen near Cameron Lake, later released into the wild.
Construction of an 18-hole golf course at Couchiching began in early April, only to be met by protest among some band members—and eventually halted by a blockade in mid-August. It’s now back on track again.
Work also began on the long-awaited new Canada Customs and Immigration facility on Church Street, complete with the new Veteran Avenue, as well as at Rainycrest on the new unit for the cognitively-impaired.
A CN train derailed west of Windy Point in August, spilling some 2,500 gallons of diesel into Rainy Lake. A truck driver was killed at Crowrock in mid-May, which also saw tall oil leak into the lake there.
There was the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee seeking $50,000 from town council in October for the local share of a $150,000 feasibility study (council later agreed to fund up to $25,000, while urging the group to land private-sector funding).
Local delegates attended the 10th-annual World Health Organization’s conference on safe communities in Anchorage, Alaska in May to prepare for Fort Frances and district hosting the 11th-annual one next May 7-9.
A local teen was stabbed to death July 31, with one person already sentenced and another still facing charges. Two locals were among those charged in a $2-million drug bust in October that involved a ring operating in Canada, the U.S., and Jamaica.
The second heritage mural, done by artist John Hood on the west wall of the Masonic Lodge, was unveiled Sept. 29. And Fort Frances was chosen as a site for CBC’s annual “Hockey Day in Canada” broadcast slated Jan. 5—although a strike by technicians has since put the town’s participation in limbo.
On the health front, the annual Riverside Foundation for Health Care dinner in March saw the unveiling of a $3.8-million cheque raised by the “Care Close to Home” campaign for renovations at La Verendrye and the Emo Health Centre.
A grand opening of the renovated Emo Health Centre was held in June, with a wing named in honour of the late Dr. John O’Sullivan.
Cancer research saw record fundraising here. The inaugural “Curl for Cancer” in March raised almost $9,000 while the first-ever “Relay for Life” in June at Pither’s Point Park brought in some $75,000. And the annual Terry Fox Run in September topped $13,000—well above the previous record of $9,000-plus.
And the annual community benefit dinner raised $25,000, highlighted by the family of the late Amanda Jerry donating back money to the Lions Club for its Millennium Park on Second Street East, the “Care Close to Home” campaign, and the benefit dinner committee.
In business news, five area bands took over ownership of the Red Dog Inn in January, with Tammy Hayward named manager. La Place Rendez-Vous unveiled its latest $1.1-million expansion in February, featuring 23 new rooms, including four luxury suites.
The new Super 8 Motel in the west end held its grand opening in late September, while Warp 9—Fort Frances’ newest nightclub—opened its doors in the old Royal Theatre on Scott Street this month.
On the quirky front, who could forget the big gas war here for a week in January and the dreaded army worm invasion in May? Or that the much-anticipated grade 10 literacy test (which students needed to pass to graduate) would be postponed in October because someone had put some of it on the Internet.
Local brothers Steve and Kent Ballan won the annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship in July with a 52.92-pound total, edging out the father-and-son duo of Doug and Zack McBride of Devlin for the $25,000 top prize.
Cory Calder and Dave Woodgate teamed up to win the inaugural “Castin’ for Cash” bass derby organized by Lake Despair Lodge in July. The first-place plaque was named in honour of Mark Hopkins, who had drowned on Footprint Lake a few weeks earlier.
There were so many individual accolades to report. April Matheson was crowned Miss Fun in the Sun on July 1, with Cassie Jackson as the mini-queen. Out in Emo, Kelly Nielson was crowned the Fall Fair queen in August.
Cara Coran (vocal), Lindsay Hamilton (drama), Lindsey Hallikas (instrumental), and Claire Whatley (piano) all won Rose Bowls during the annual Rainy River District Festival of the Performing Arts in April.
Paige Reilly, born at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 at La Verendrye to Peggy and Glenn Anderson of Sleeman, was the district’s New Year’s baby, weighing in at 9 lbs., 6 oz. John McTaggart was named Citizen of the Year in November.
Lots of news, yes. But, believe it or not, none of these cracked the top 10 stories of the year. Here are my picks (feel free to agree or disagree):
•#10—Junior hockey returned to Fort Frances after an absence of almost 30 years when the Borderland Thunder under head coach Wayne Strachan took to the ice at the Memorial Sports Centre for the inaugural season of the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
•#9—Several north-end residents had to endure flooded yards in early August when Moncrief Construction struck and broke a pipe near Eighth Street that carried effluent from the Abitibi-Consolidated mill to its secondary treatment facility (lagoon).
An estimated 100,000 litres of effluent was spilled, but lab tests found no signs of health-hazardous contents.
•#8—Town council voted 4-1 in August to approve an $24,250 out-of-court settlement in Borderland Hockey School owner Terry Mihichuk’s $250,000 breach-of-contract lawsuit over ice rental at the Memorial Arena.
The town’s insurance company covered the cost, but local taxpayers were on the hook for the $5,000 deductible.
•#7—Facing rising costs, staggering debt, and a weak economy, the “blue box” program appeared to be dead after the Northwestern Ontario Recycling Association voted to contract its collection service to Recool of Thunder Bay.
NORA later rescinded that deal, saving the current “blue box” system for six months, but then announced last week it was hiking its per capita fee to $17.
•#6—Plans by the local public school board to close Alexander MacKenzie, Sixth Street, and Alberton schools in favour of an expanded J.W. Walker made headlines all year, culminating earlier this month with Alberton parents pleading with trustees to keep their school open.
Stay tuned.
•#5—Members of CUPE Local #65 went on strike against the local Association for Community Living in May to back better wages and a pension plan.
The dispute wasn’t resolved until September when the province finally came through with more money for ACLs.
•#4—Mother Nature brought rain, rain, and more rain, which caused Rainy Lake to rise to its highest level since 1968. By its peak in early June, the government dock at Sand Bay was submerged.
•#3—After years of efforts and fundraising, the hemodialysis unit at La Verendrye hospital began operating Sept. 10. The official grand opening was held Dec. 6, with dialysis patient and activist Metta Visser cutting the ribbon.
It features six machines now treating eight patients per day.
•#2—A 19-hour standoff at the Fort Frances Jail in late June, spearheaded by two inmates and involving some guards being taken hostage, ended peacefully after the Tactical Response Unit was flown into town.
Charges apparently are still pending. Meanwhile, jail guards Larry Tucker and Shane McDonald later received awards for bravery for their roles during the standoff.
•#1—Three fierce storms rip through the district on July 31, causing widespread property damage on farms, marinas, the sawmill at Manitou Rapids, and Kitchen Creek Golf Course.
It also washed out roads, cutting off some communities for several days and even stranding campers at Caliper Lake Provincial Park. Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported.
District municipalities are still putting together claims for disaster relief.
Whew! What a year. And one can only wonder what 2002 will bring.

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