(OPINION) – I wrote an opinion piece in the fall of 2017 that offered an alternative to tearing Victoriaville down. It was a call out to the city to invest dollars into its revitalization. This opinion piece shared how the revitalization happened on the northside of the city and the components necessary. I believe Councillor Ch’ng and Mall Manager Brian Phillips were aware of this article that was published in the Women’s Magazine in the Chronicle Journal. I was clear in sharing that gentrification does not always have to be a by product of revitalization. Turning Victoriaville into a 3 season Civic/Community Space and now with your( Sheena Campbell) input, ensuring we build into the plan a place for our most vulnerable to go during the winter season is a easily managed and welcome addition. Unfortunately City Council has done nothing and many of the business owners in the area are frustrated and see the only option as tearing the mall down. I don’t blame them, as something has to be done. Here is One Woman’s Opinion…..
Downtown Fort William has been on the minds of many people in the city of Thunder Bay. I have to admit that most days the optics are not good, as this area of the city is in the process of revitalization and is having its challenges. I have a front row seat in a chair that faces Victoria Ave. East, one door down from a pub that many have labeled the most notorious in our city.
As in any community, there are a host of characters walking through their days-some with clear intent, and others wandering the hours away. This neighbourhood is no different, and from this window of clear view, I have been able to decipher some of the issues that face the south core downtown.
Sixty percent of the businesses operating in downtown Fort William are owned and operated by women. This percentage is quite impressive as the ratio of men versus women who are self employed in Canada is at a 35-65 split as of 2013. I am one of these women.
Having participated in an economic revitalization of a village outside the city of Thunder Bay before 9/11 wreaked havoc on the tourism industry in Northwestern Ontario and as a restaurateur in the revitalization of downtown Port Arthur, I know that all projects start with a clear vision.
The revitalization of the north side of the city was achieved with the cooperation of visionary entrepreneurs, a vibrant arts community, their local Business Improvement Association, and the City of Thunder Bay. This collaboration of efforts worked year after year and is reaping the rewards of their labours today. Their shared vision, the plan they put into place and the implementation of that plan has created a vibrant community again. The waterfront is still in development and will be an asset to this city for generations.
Coming to downtown Fort William was a conscious decision. I joined an established business community that had seen better days—an understatement. This side of the city is no different than our neighbours to the north; it needs a vision, a plan of action, a team to implement it, and an amazing attraction.
I am on record of being in favour of the demolition of Victoriaville, but after having watched the street from my shop window and speaking with our diverse community, I have changed that view. I have also been made aware that this side of the city, although looking for change, would like to see revitalization without gentrification. I am in agreement.
Victoriaville is in need of a reinvention to become not only successful financially but successful in changing the dynamic of downtown Fort William.
I envision a new Victoria Civic Centre, a three-season community space housing an amazing attraction, such as Mrs. King’s Carousel now located at Chippewa Park. The carousel could be moved with their permission to become an attraction worth seeing in the heart of downtown Fort William. The Fort William Parks Board purchased this carousel that was built by Charles Wallace Parker from Mrs. Maude King for $583.33 on June 21, 1934 when she became bankrupt while operating her carnival at Chippewa Park.
Removing the entrances to Victoriaville would lower a substantial heating cost, and leaving a portion of the roof to cover the carousel could help with the expenditure of dismantling the roof. We now would have a downtown, formerly cut in two, reunited with this thoroughfare. I envision umbrella-covered tables, local buskers, retail peddlers, pow wows, families enjoying Mrs. King’s carousel, business lunches, live music, a bike lane, and the opportunity for Fort William to be added to the list of places to visit in Thunder Bay.
I want our downtown to be a proud prosperous community again. This is my vision for how we can find our way back there. If it becomes a shared vision, we will need a plan of action, a team to implement it, and an attraction that can take centre stage.
– Lori Paras