As we head into 2020, let's reflect on the biggest events and news stories of the decade. Some are good, some are not. One thing for sure is that northerners are a proud, hardy bunch. Here a look at what happened in Ontario's Sunset Country.
On January 4, the Olympic Torch Relay passed from Thunder Bay to Dryden, Kenora before heading to Winnipeg the next morning. Thousands of Dryden residents lined the streets, which were decorated with red and white ribbons. In fact, so many came out to the Olympic Torch Parade in Dryden, they got mentioned on national TV during the opening ceremony!
The end of July 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Rainy River-Baudette International vehicle bridge. Over 10,000 people attended the official opening on July 30, 1960.
Plans were to build it in the early 1930s, and a concrete abutment was poured on the US side of the Rainy River. But the hard economic times of the Great Depression put the project on hold. No one at that time would imagine that it would take another 28 years for a bridge to become a reality. After 60 years of use, a new bridge to replace the current bridge is set to open in 2020.
The Sioux Narrows Arts Festival turned 50! The festival is celebrated as an annual event on the August long weekend. In the early years, the festival had 15 to 20 local artists and was held in the Sioux Narrows Community Hall. Then it grew and moved to Father Moss School gymnasium. In 1984 it was relocated to its current location, the curling rink on Red Indian Road.
The summer of 2011 was full of forest fires. More than 3,000 people were evacuated including two full communities—Cat Lake and Keewaywin First Nations. Most of them were evacuated by the military. Employees at Musslewhite Mine and residents at Mishkeegogamang First Nation near Pickle Lake were also evacuated. As of the end of July 2011, it was the third-largest fire season for hectares burned since record keeping began in 1917.
Mike Richards, of Kenora, won his first Stanley Cup playing for the Los Angeles Kings. He brought the Stanley Cup home to Kenora where fans got a chance to get a photo with Mike and the cup and an autograph! The day started when the Cup flew by floatplane into Mike Richard's place on Lake of the Woods. He would go on to bring the Cup back again in 2014.
The Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre held its grand opening on June 21, 2012. This spectacular building sits directly in between Highway 71 and Lake of the Woods in Sioux Narrows. Today, there are many exhibits including fishing and outdoor-related memorabilia including fish mounts, old motors, boats, and old antique fish lure collections. Currently, around 10,000 people visit the NOSFC annually.
On January 18th, 2013, Bruce Sederberg of Duluth caught and released a massive 46” lake trout that he caught while ice fishing on White Otter Lake and staying at Browns’ Clearwater West Lodge near Atikokan, Ontario. This fish of a lifetime was a staggering two inches longer than the previous record, and Bruce is now the world record holder for ice fishing catch and release lake trout.
Some people may want to forget April of 2013! Normally in April, the snow has melted and we are seeing the lakes melt, occasionally even getting out on the water. However, Mother Nature had other plans. There was a storm on April 18 and 19th, 2013 which brought around 2” of snow to the Atikokan/Thunder Bay area.
In 2013, the Lac Seul First Nation opened the Lac Seul Event Centre which houses an arena and multi-purpose facility to stage local and regional conferences.
In June, The Lake of the Woods Brewing Company opened for business in a 100+ year old firehall. Starting with the taproom and crafting the beer on location, the company has now grown to three locations (Kenora, ON, Warroad, MN and Winnipeg, MB) and can be bought in stores and restaurants in many cities around Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota.
Some April Fool’s Joke!! Sioux Lookout set a new record for the most snowfall in a 24 hour period. Between March 31 and April 2014, Sioux Lookout accumulated 55 cms (21.65”) of snow. 47 cms (18.5”) of that fell on April 1st, setting a new record for daily snowfall for the town.
Hailing from Atikokan, Ontario, Mike Ranta decided he wanted to raise awareness and funds for the Atikokan Youth Centre. Mike and his dog, Spitzi began paddling across Canada starting on the west coast. Many followed his seven-month journey across Canada via his Facebook Page, Mike Ranta’s Paddle. In 2016 he paddled a similar route.
It was touch and go whether the ice would be out for walleye opener, but most tourist operators were able to open on time. The amount of snow received in the 2013/2014 winter and the rain in the Spring raised the levels of lakes in the area to levels not seen in 50 years.
There was flooding through much of Sunset Country, from Rainy Lake to the Winnipeg River. Everywhere you went on the water, you saw barrels covering docks, trying to keep them down. Read more about the flooding here.
On December 13th, residents of Fort Frances woke up to find red yarn woven through the entire town, all leading back to his store. Tim Hortons decorated the restaurant in yarn and offered free coffee and hot chocolate. It brought some good cheer to the community after a tough year, including the shutting down of the last paper machine at Resolute Mill.
See a more detailed review of 2014 here.
After 10 years of sitting empty, the Rainy Lake Hotel in Fort Frances was demolished in October 2015. The derelict building that was built in 1928 was once the hot spot for social activities and housed a great restaurant and a bar with live music, but is now just a memory.
Read more about 2015 here.
In January of 2016, a newly constructed bridge over the Nipigon River heaved, closing the Trans-Canada Highway (and the only road connecting Eastern and Western Canada). The western part of the bridge has pulled away from the abutment connecting it to the river bank's edge, lifting up about 60 cm (23.6”) and making it impassible and unsafe for vehicular traffic.
After suddenly closing the Spring Bear Hunt in 1999, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources decided in 2016 to extend a limited pilot project from 2014/15. From May 1 to June 15 each year, the bear hunt will be open to residents and non-residents.
Normally in December, the lakes have frozen over and anglers are waiting for solid ice to go ice fishing. However, after an unusually warm spell, muskie anglers were seen fishing until December 8!
Canada turned 150 in 2017! Deck in Canadian pride, all communities celebrated on July 1st.
On July 31, 2017, a severe hailstorm pounded Red Lake and caused severe damage to homes, cars, and aircraft. The Norseman Park monument, which is the town’s icon, is covered in fabric. The hail created holes through the body and wings of DRD severe enough to go right through to the inside of the aircraft. DRD was eventually taken down and is still getting repaired. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up, and the community and businesses have been fundraising to garner enough funds to restore the town’s famous icon. Read more about the progress of the restoration here.
The rowing events at the 2017 Canada Summer Games were held on Rabbit Lake in Kenora, Ontario from July 31-August 4 at the Kenora Rowing Club.
New Gold, a mine near Finland, Ontario (off Highway 71) commenced processing ore on September 14, 2017, and completed its first gold pour on October 5, 2017. Commercial production followed on October 19, 2017.
Built on the location of the old Rainy Lake Hotel, the Rainy Lake Square in downtown Fort Frances held its grand opening on May 17, 2018. The beautiful space is now used for open-air markets, live concerts, movie nights, and more. While some may miss the glory days of the hotel, residents are now thoroughly enjoying this new space.
In June 2018, Olympian Eric Radford returns to Balmertown after capturing Gold and Bronze medals in Pyeongchang. He spent the day at a meet and greet, talked at the school, and was honored to have a street named after him.
Marijuana was legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018. While legal, the only place to buy pot in Northwest Ontario legally was online on a Government site. Visitors should be aware of the rules and regulations about cannabis in Canada.
Greyhound Bus Lines stopped bus service on October 31 from Sudbury, Ontario to the west coast.
In March of 2019, a fire started in the Lila’s Block on Main Street in Kenora. The building was a total loss, but the firefighters managed to save the two abutting buildings. The Sunset Country office is directly across from the building that burned.
In early June, Sioux Lookout Fire 008 came very close to the Township of Pickle Lake. As you drove along Highway 599, you saw charred trees on either side of the road. These aerials show just how close the fire came to the community.
Red Lake had several forest fires including Red Lake Fires 23, 39 and 40. Red 023 was southwest of Keewaywin and eventually caused the evacuation of Keewaywin First Nation. Red 039 caused the evacuation of many residents of Pikangikum. Red 040 was located near Nungesser Lake which is 40 km (25 miles) north of Red Lake. Nungesser Lake Lodge and Birch Point Camp’s guests were evacuated. While the fires came extremely close to both camps, they were both saved. Some boats and portages were burned though.
Red 039 was another fire in the Red Lake area. Unfortunately, Chimo Lodge on Roderick Lake was not as lucky as the others. Guests and employees were evacuated, fearing the worst. However, when they got the chance to get back into the lodge, only 40% of the cabins were lost, keeping 60% of the property intact!
In Ontario, there were 537 fires in 2019, well down from the 1,324 fires that occurred in 2018; however, the number of hectares burned over the course of the season was roughly the same as last year, at 270,000 hectares. More than half the forest destruction occurred in the Red Lake district, where two large fires scored over 140,000 hectares.
The summer in Kenora saw the opening of the Muse (the Lake of the Woods Museum and brand new Douglas Family Art Centre) as well as the Rotary Splash Park. Kenora also broke the Guinness World Record for the most people wearing plaid.
Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which straddles the Manitoba/Ontario border, was cut off from the mainland after an aqueduct was built to supply Winnipeg with water over 100 years ago. Freedom Road was finally built and opened to drive on this summer, changing the lives of the people who were once at the mercy of the often-broken barge named Amik which was used to transport residents to the mainland.
That sums up just some of the major events in the last decade in Sunset Country. What are your favourite moments? Let us know on Facebook.