Continued Closure of James Street Bridge Hurts FWFN Business

Bannon's Gas Bar and restaurant on Fort William First Nation
Bannon's Gas Bar and restaurant on Fort William First Nation
The James Street Bridge remains closed to train, vehicle and pedestrian traffic
The James Street Bridge remains closed to  vehicle and pedestrian traffic

Bridge Closure Impacting FWFN Business

THUNDER BAY – It is not a bridge too far. It is a bridge not working. On October 31st, a fire damaged the bridge across the Kaministiqua River in Thunder Bay connecting the city and the Fort William First Nation.

CN Train loaded with lumber stuck on the south side of the tracks.
A CN Train loaded with lumber was stuck on the south side of the tracks after the fire

The vital transportation link has remained closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic ever since. The CN Rail bridge is however open for trains to travel across the structure. CN Rail has been from all reports slow to move on any efforts to effect repairs on the bridge. The company moved very quickly to get trains back on track and crossing the bridge.

CN took the bridge over from the Grand Trunk Railroad. In that agreement with the City of Fort William, the railway is required to maintain the bridge. However since the fire last October, there has been little movement to re-establish the pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

Getting passenger cars and pedestrian traffic going again has appeared not on CN Rail’s agenda.

One view on the relationship between FWFN and the bridge is expressed by one source as, “There is only a very sad and tragic history with regards to how our nations was treated by the former owner Grand trunk railway and the city and the government”.

The closure of the bridge has however continued to impact the Fort William First Nation. Business on the FWFN is down as much as sixty per cent at the gas stations on the First Nation.

Bannon's Gas Bar and restaurant on Fort William First Nation
Bannon’s Gas Bar and Restaurant on Fort William First Nation

Jobs are being lost, and long-standing businesses on Fort William First Nation are facing possible closure.

Wally Bannon, the President J & W Confectionary/Bannon’s Gas Bar speaking about CN Rail states, “I realize you have a responsibility to your shareholders but there is also responsibility to the community. History repeats once again when the Federal Government built the rail throughout the country where they starved Aboriginal peoples so they would leave the lands you wanted. The history here at Fort William is laced with much the same”.

“The agreement for the CN Bridge is between you and City of Thunder Bay, but you continually try to put Fort William into the fray. I am of the opinion that the Aboriginal people and businesses are not important to you. You hold the insurance on that bridge, anywhere I have seen a fire and damage happens, an investigation happens to find out the cause – nothing. I have not seen or heard of no numbers as what the damage costs are yet you want others to help you pay. Is this another attempt to stave off us, because Aboriginal people and especially members of Fort William have shown we are a very resilient people”.

The iconic Fort William First Nation business normally has 28 employees. Since October that number has dropped. Bannon shares that more layoffs are coming, and it could force the closure of the business if the situation does not change.

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