Fort William Neighbourhood Comes Alive on a Sunday Morning

Getting set to go at the tailgate sale at The Hub
Getting set to go at the tailgate sale at The Hub

A rare and exciting sight, South May Street on a Sunday full of cars.
A rare and exciting sight, South May Street on a Sunday full of cars.

THUNDER BAY – LIVING – The Fort William downtown neighbourhood is usually a quiet place on Sunday. Few businesses are open, and bluntly put there is little reason for many people to come downtown. Or at least that is how it used to be. Now, thanks to the individual efforts of some of the downtown business owners who are willing to see the possibilities rather than the problems, that is changing.

This past Sunday, the Fort William downtown was a busy place.

Getting set to go at the tailgate sale at The Hub
Getting set to go at the tailgate sale at The Hub

The Hub at 111 May Street South hosted a tailgate party. Hundreds of people came to enjoy the festive event. May Street was lined with cars. It was like a fast trip back in time to when the downtown south business district was a thriving place.

Smiles were the order of the day as young Eli checks out some new wheels
Smiles were the order of the day as young Eli checks out some new wheels

So what is changing? More than anything else, there is a desire to change the area coming from a number of business owners. Lori Paras from The Hub, which if you have not visited this newly opened bazaar has taken the approach of embracing the neighbourhood. Norma Jean’s on May Street has started opening on Sunday. Now there is a great place for breakfast, lunch or a quick snack.

On Sunday, the back parking lot behind The Hub was full of merchants offering all kinds of wares, everything from clothes, to kayaks, to DVDs and CDs.

Sunday started hot, wet and humid. But that did not deter the tail-gaters who started arriving and setting up.

Often it is easier perhaps to focus on the negatives, and not on the positives. There is a lot of independent positive energy in the downtown Fort William Business District. Over at Centennial Square, the Dollarama and Renco Foods are now open on Sunday. That dedication comes from a desire to do business, but also a determination to help build a positive neighbourhood.

That determination comes at a price, there is time, and sweat equity needed to build a new and positive atmosphere.

That work is coming from many places across the neighbourhood. The Ambassadors from the Crime Prevention Council are out daily across the neighbourhood.

The ever-enterprising youth from the Regional Multicultural Youth Council have taken time and effort this summer to help make a difference too.

There are new businesses opening across the neighbourhood. Ian Hodgkinson is in process of opening the Krav Maga Alliance at 112 May Street North. “I never thought I would be as blessed as I am. After being in the business of sports entertainment, bieng on tour for 30 years, to re-invent myself, to find a real profession, to help people, to be home at night, to raise a young child by myself, it’s the most amazing thing ever”.

Although Krav Maga is extremely effective in self defence, it is an awesome tool to develop character, and is such an amazing tool for therapy , again, I am blessed, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have yet another chance at enjoying life to the fullest,” shares Hodgkinson.

Norma Jeans in downtown Fort William is ready to go...
Norma Jeans in downtown Fort William is ready to go…

The decision by Norma Jean’s to open on Sundays fills a much needed missing piece in the downtown.  On Sunday, Norma Jeans was serving up hotdogs and chips, for free, accepting donations for the Underground Gym.

Building a neighbourhood takes energy, determination and effort.

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs has told NetNewsLedger.com that the true legacy of this Council will be a revitalized downtown Fort William. Seems like the Mayor and Council are going to have to pick up their game a bit to get things rolling from a city standpoint to really make that happen. Talk is one thing, action is quite another.

The Mayor’s heart is in the effort, now what is needed are the positive actions that will make that happen.

May Street South looking North on Tuesday August 18th - A sharp contrast to Sunday.
May Street South looking North on Tuesday August 18th – A sharp contrast to Sunday.

What is needed?

Downtown Fort William is a neighbourhood full of potential.

Having walking street patrols in the evenings by Thunder Bay Police would be a major step forward. Driving by in their cars, the police miss the opportunity to become a part of the neighbourhood.

Maybe one of the components is that listening to the people downtown in addition to consultants and experts is needed. Downtown Fort William has a lot of people from across the region who come downtown. The Rotary Shelter House states that they are full every night, in fact the figures presented by Shelter House recently suggest that the facility is at 146% capacity.

Downtown areas in successful communities thrive because there is a a residential component that has lots of people downtown. Those people support the small shops and businesses that open and stay open. Downtown Fort William has a growing downtown population. The potential is there for business and for a safer environment for people coming downtown.

Getting actively engaged is a major step forward. The Crime Prevention Council has completed a neighbourhood safety survey. Many of the components of that plan are being implemented. They included removal of the fence around Paterson Park, the removal of brush around the Thunder Bay Historical Museum, and general improvements around downtown.

Much of the positive work is coming as the neighbourhood businesses continue to engage with the neighbourhood.

Dilico has opened a new office on Archibald Street in the Fort William Downtown
Dilico has opened a new office on Archibald Street in the Fort William Downtown