Put The Fort Back in Fort Frances
There is a major problem with Fort Frances; it has no industry. For years, the border-town has operated on the premise that the paper mill would provide jobs, and always continue to do so. No effort was ever made to create incentives to bring in other industries. The town council, in their narrow-minded stagnancy, simply refused to acknowledge the need for additional industries, and have slowly allowed the town to erode. Time and time again, companies have approached the town, asking for incentives such as tax breaks, or free utility hook-up, only to be refused. In the last decade, businesses on what is deemed “The Great Canadian Main Street”, AKA “Scott Street” have one by one, shuttered their store fronts forever. When the mill decided to close its doors in the spring of 2014, hundreds of residents lost their jobs, and were forced to seek employment elsewhere, with the resulting aftermath of other supportive companies also forced to close their doors.
So, what's the future of Fort Frances? It doesn't look good, and while there is ample opportunity for growth, those in charge seem reluctant to find a solution. When you factor in such concerns as the closing of the tourist office, the controversy over the ownership of Pither's Point, and the decaying infrastructure of many buildings in the town, it becomes apparent that town council is merely content to simply maintain the minimalistic status quo. There are many things that could be done to change the downward spiral of Fort Frances; develop infrastructure that promotes tourism, incite industry to establish headquarters in the town, or even find grants to fix the crumbling facilities currently in existence. Unfortunately, the town is seeking grants to tear down historical landmarks, such as the Rainy Lake Hotel, and is turning a blind eye to the degradation of the tourist industry. The future looks bleak for Fort Frances, and the Rainy River district as a whole. While many other places in Canada are booming, the border town between Minnesota and Ontario, provides no interest for those who call it home, and for good reason, as there is nothing in the town in the way of programs to help the youth. In short, there's no reason for any of the children growing up in the Rainy River District to remain here, which is why so many are being forced to relocate to other parts of Canada.
It could easily be said, that the main reason much of this is occurring due to political interference. The closing of the tourism office, was a political move; the sheer fallacy of shuttering the office in Fort Frances, has crippled the industry. Big box stores located on the edge of town, have pulled business away from the small, independent stores that once lined the main street, and many claim this too is due to shortsightedness of municipal government. On a Provincial and Federal scale, the debilitating legislation of Ontario fails to address the growing needs of Canadians.
So, what to do? Unfortunately, many of the laws drafted for the Province have little or no bearing on the plights suffered by those living in North-Western Ontario; what works for the rest of the province, simply isn't efficient for those West of Lake Superior. The infrastructure is vast, isolated, and uncompromising; sprawling forests, barren rock, and clay sediment comprise the majority of the landscape. All this flies in the face of common logic, where politicians foolishly compare half the Province to Ontario's Greenbelt in the South.
The truth is, North-Western Ontario has some of the best opportunities for tourism in Canada. Clean, clear, pristine lakes are a prime destination for fishing and boating, the boreal forests boast some of the best hunting grounds, and our rich heritage is a matter of immense pride. Fort Frances is a cross-road between the United States of America and Canada, and is frequented by people from all over North America. The fact remains, there is little to no effort made to promote what we have in abundance; prime tourist destinations.
At one time, Fort Frances was a hub of tourism, where people would flock to enjoy the beach at Pither's Point Park. In recent years it has become an embarrassing quagmire of political oversight; the contention of the ownership between Coochaching and the town have degraded the infrastructure. While some still use the beach and camping facilities, there is no promotional opportunities. The town of Fort Frances has moved the historic landmarks to the river front in 2009, namely, the “Hallet”, and the “Watch Tower”, in an effort to safeguard both from falling into controversy. Now they charge an exorbitant amount for tourists to enjoy the rebuilt facilities, and they remain largely unused due to this fact. No longer do they have significance; the lookout tower which was originally built in Atikokan, was moved to Pither's Point in 1972, and later moved to the “Sorting Gap”, while the Hallet sits mounted on the Rainy River waterfront, a location that has no bearing on its original destination, and is locked to general public use. The original wooden fort at Pither's comprising two gates, walls, and structures such as a few storage rooms, complete with museum replicas of historical appropriate displays, was burned down, and never rebuilt. It was sparse, and underfunded, but, it was once a place where people would meet, and learn about the history of Coochaching and Fort Frances, as well as, the artifacts, flora, and fauna found only in the Rainy River District.
The district is dying, and old borders lay in quandary. I know how to fix that.
The wonderful thing about the Rainy River district is the potential for tourism, and industry expansion. Local talent boast of artisans in all fields of study, as well as, unique novelty items found no where else in Canada. The opportunistic crossroads to the United States of America, is a veritable pipe line for eager tourists, given a chance.
My conception is to reconcile the issue of ownership of Pither's Point Park, and develop infrastructure reminiscent of the era, and then hire summer students, as well as, recruit volunteers to role play indigenous people of the region. Build a gathering place for both the Coochaching and Fort Frances neighbours, and depict the age of yore, bringing in thousands of tourist dollars, and a place in Canadian history.
If a mutual reconciliation is met, it would become an opportunity for everyone living in the Rainy River District to utilize. Spectators from all over North America would gather to witness our local artisans being showcased in planned and advertised events. Daily concessions would include not only local farmers, and craftsman, but also tourist attractions such as fresh bread or bannock baked in traditional methods applicable to the locale. The entire concept could be viewed as an art piece unto itself that represents what life was so long ago, complete with interaction, and trading of local goods from vendors.
The entire project would need to be overseen by a committee responsible for constant promotion. Much like large attractions such as Canada's Wonderland”, the eccentrics of the enterprise would need to be exploited and cater to the further development of other attractions. In time, it would redesign the entire town, and surrounding district. Development of further infrastructure between Fort Frances, and its Treaty 3 neighbours, would be a natural aftereffect. Effectively, the “Great Canadian Main Street”, would extend its trading borders with Coochaching's downtown core with proper signage, and promotional incentives for companies and industries to take root along the lengthened trade route. Eventually, paved pedestrian traffic routes would provide clean, safe, access for tens of Kilometres as hikers, joggers, bicyclists, skating, walking traffic utilize the well-marked, uniquely informative history that is the Rainy Lake. The committee would continue to work together and be responsible for overseeing not only the Point Park care and development, but also, exploiting and promoting opportunities that benefit both parties involved.
It's a win-win situation.
To break things down, what I propose is building a wooden structure that would consist of working facilities consistent with the era. In the same manner, a Treaty 3 settlement particular to the era would be constructed on the other half of the installation. Actors/ Actresses consisting of subsidized summer students role play for tourists, and perform scheduled demonstrations. Volunteers are encouraged to utilize the facilities, and demonstrate local talent.
Use as many government grants as possible to minimize costs. After all, we're building history.
Sell the bread, or bead work being crafted by the actors / volunteers. Offer authentic ware in a traditional manner.
Allow a “vendor's row”, where local artists can showcase their ware.
Maintenance and ground crew wear traditional garb.
Work with the coordinators of local museums for displays, and educational exhibits.
Be loud, proud, and self-promoting
Can you imagine Canada Day celebrations at such a facility, where the early settlers enact boisterous presentations with Treaty 3 hosting a massive dance? Opening day at the beach, with endless activities for the children? Back to school tours? Birthday parties? Monthly events? Concerts?
Put THE FORT back in Fort Frances. That's my proposed name. Ambiguous, yet catchy. Artistically educational, “The Fort” implies a place of gathering and trade, comfort, and safety. A community to tell stories, and celebrate. It instills a sense of shelter, and fortitude, and the image is one of sanctity, and home.