Over thirty years ago, advice from the Ontario government about diversifying the economic structure of Thunder Bay and the region was ignored. During a resource boon for the forest, pulp and paper, and grain shipping industries, this advice was taken to be a holier-than-though attitude towards the North. “Diversity” was a word spoken by a cultured Toronto elite.
But they were correct. A region, let alone a city, cannot rely solely on its resources. The world progresses and regresses in economic waves from unpredictable international forces that have nothing to do with the good will or hard work of the people in this city.
Relying on only a few industries is very risky. A city can go from Boom, Bust, Echo, and then to Ghost Town rather quickly. Think of Detroit or many other large dilapidated American cities.
And Thunder Bay was getting ugly. Real ugly.
Here’s a true story that might upset you. The couple will go unnamed.
Seven years ago, a young man from the USA got a good job in Thunder Bay. His wife was under contract at her job in the U.S. and couldn’t move for a couple months. The husband bought a house here. After the wife’s contract ended, she hopped on a plane for Thunder Bay. The husband was unable to meet her when she arrived at the airport, because he was busy at work. “No problem,” she said over the phone. “I will find my way.”
And she did. She got a taxi at the airport and was driven quickly to her new home from where she called her husband. “I like the house,” she said and added with excitement in her voice, “I’m taking the car to see the city.”
Half an hour passed, and the husband’s cell phone rang while he was at work. It was his wife. She was crying. He asked, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” worried that something serious had happened. She responded, yelling, “WHY DID YOU MOVE TO THIS F*#@ING UGLY CITY!!”
His wife had driven from her home, down Arthur Street, along Simpson, Water and a long stretch of Cumberland Street, to stop at a motor hotel, short of the Boulevard Dam.
Her husband had to restrain himself from laughing. He met up with his wife and drove her to see Boulevard Lake, the Bluffs, Chippewa, Hillcrest Park, some of the old decorated homes and other beautiful locations in the city. She was calmed enough and decided she could stay.
You can only rely on nature to provide beauty for so long in order to describe a city as beautiful. A well-traveled, and slightly despondent man once said of Rio de Janeiro, that if it wasn’t for the long beaches, the picturesque hills and mountains, the city would be as much a dump as any other big South American city.
While Thunder Bay stagnated over the years, Grand Mirais and Duluth expanded and beautified themselves enough to become serious tourist destinations and economically vibrant. Thunder Bay didn’t follow suit, and politicians would visit both cities and ask, “How did you do this?”
These cities had a plan.
Thanks to all sorts of forward thinking people, we now have a Culture Plan. The Culture Plan is but one aspect of diversifying the city, but a major one for attracting tourism, business and other economic development. Last week I lied. I will go into details of the Culture Plan next week.