It took a strong entrepreneurial spirit and vision of a brighter future to see the people of Terrace Bay through one of the most difficult economic downturns this small Northern Ontario town has ever experienced.
Located on the north shore of Lake Superior, east of Thunder Bay, this small community of 1,700 people was built around a pulp and paper mill in the 1940s that at its peak employed more than 1,000. However, during the last two years, an ailing forestry sector resulted in the layoff of the entire workforce of 420 people, leaving a startling 40 per cent unemployment rate.
“It has probably been the toughest time Terrace Bay has gone through in its history,” said Carmelo Notarbartolo, chief administrative officer for the Corporation of the Township of Terrace Bay.
In what appeared to be the end of the township’s economic lifeline, the paper mill sat idle under creditor protection, unable to pay its taxes. But council remained hopeful and rallied for financial support from the provincial government for the mill along with funding for other economic diversification projects to breathe some life back into the community.
“They (council) said, ‘We can’t just sit back and hope something happens. We have to look toward the future’ …They were committed to it, and administration took it and ran with it,” said Notarbartolo.
With council’s support, advocacy, and perseverance, Terrace Bay Pulp Inc. was able to obtain a $25-million loan from the Ontario government. Other money from a private financier was coming, leaving the township hopeful that the mill would return to full production of 1,200 tonnes of pulp per day.
Other diversification efforts were initiated about four years ago when council struck a strategic plan, which it has aggressively implemented.
A $3-million downtown revitalization project helped give a facelift to the core businesses with new canopies, landscaping enhancements and a 50-foot lighthouse with an observation deck, visible from the Trans Canada Highway, and providing a view of Lake Superior, the township and the downtown.
“We’re hoping the lighthouse will hook travellers into our downtown core,” Notarbartolo said, explaining that Ministry of Transportation statistics indicate 800,000 vehicles pass by Terrace Bay every year. “Even attracting a small percentage of them to spend some money in our downtown will generate new revenue for our downtown businesses.”
The project prompted a local pharmacy to expand its services and staff as a direct result of the project.
New highway signage and in-town signs have been erected to promote tourism attractions like the gorge, beach and golf course.
A $2-million cultural centre was created through the renovation of an old elementary school. It houses a new library, senior’s activity centre and community hall.
With the community’s aging population, the senior’s centre will provide a space for recreational activities as well as a place to gather. The community hall has already booked events and weddings, generating some employment and keeping people in the community. Previously, events and weddings took place outside of Terrace Bay to nearby Schreiber.
The $1.9-million highway commercial project, completed in 2009, developed seven fully serviced commercial lots along the Trans-Canada Highway in order to attract new businesses.
Partnerships with nearby townships like Schreiber, Jackfish and Rossport have helped strengthen each other’s position when applying for government funding.
“We always keep in touch and let each other know what we are doing,” Notarbartolo said. “We tell the government that the projects benefit the places around us.”
Another area council has zealously targeted is the healthcare field by dedicating a full-time staff member to recruit physicians. Terrace Bay now has a full complement of family physicians, which Notarbartolo said they struggled with as late as 2009.
“This is something we are very proud of because neighbouring municipalities cannot say the same thing. With an older demographic, it is important to have this.’
Notarbartolo said they expect to see the full impact of the projects by the end of 2011.
“It’s been some very tough times but there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “All the little things in the strategic plan have evolved successfully and now the mill will be back up and running. We’re very excited about the next 12 months in Terrace Bay.”