Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall and sharing the truth of the residential school system

I had the opportunity to attend the grand opening of a residential school exhibition, called Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall, at Algoma University last week. It is a survivor-driven exhibition, and I want to recognize and thank the survivors who contributed to it, along with Algoma University and in particular the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre for helping facilitate the establishment of this important addition to our community.

For far too long we did not as a country, a province or a city, acknowledge, tell or share the story of the residential school system. I did not learn of the residential school system as a child in elementary school, a teen in high school or a university student who completed two degrees at two different institutions in two different parts of our country. I was not told the story of how children were often taken from their parents, how parents and grandparents would resist, how siblings were separated, how the children were unwillingly divorced from their language, their culture, their history, how they were told what they knew and loved and believed in was wrong and how children were mistreated. It affected tens of thousands of children and tens of thousands of families; and the social and cultural consequences are still very much a part of today. This is the truth and it is a truth we must acknowledge. Most importantly, it is a truth we must share.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, final report and calls to action show us a path forward, but I suggest that it is critical we keep one simple idea constantly in mind: Truth comes before Reconciliation. Truth comes first.

I strongly believe, and have said for years, that Sault Ste. Marie has all of the elements to lead. We have tremendous First Nation and Métis leadership, we live in an important place, Bawating: the heart of Turtle Island, and we are home to a residential school which is now a place of higher learning.

The establishment of a permanent Survivor-driven exhibition in a former residential school demonstrates this leadership and represents an important step for Algoma University and for our community. I commend the leadership and staff at the university for making this project a reality, and I encourage people to visit it. It is open to the public and guided tours are available. To book a tour, you can email shingwaukdg@algomau.ca or call 705-949-2301, Ext. 4623.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall will advance our community’s efforts to share the truth of the residential school system. It will help ensure our community at large learns about what happened and it will help ensure the experiences of survivors are never forgotten.

Recognizing our fantastic local volunteers

I was asked to say a few words last week at ARCH’s annual butterfly release last week and I spoke about how, as Mayor, I am included in or invited to events across the community and I am always impressed by the care and kindness people in our community show for one another. I was in two parades this past weekend and I found myself reflecting on those comments during both and I want to thank and recognize all of the community leaders and citizens who made both events happen.

The first was our annual Rotaryfest parade on Saturday. What the Rotarians do for our community is nothing short of tremendous and to think that Rotaryfest is largely volunteer driven is incredible. It is a great weekend every year and it would not happen without the exceptional commitment and community service of our Rotarians.  If you have the time, you should check out the exhibit at the Museum celebrating Rotary’s 100-year anniversary in our community. And if you see a Rotarian, thank them. Thank them for their time and their effort and the care they show for our community. It is, really, remarkable.

The second happened on Sunday morning. We raised the Pride flag in front of City Hall and then walked as a group over to the Bushplane to start the Pride celebrations. Pride has really grown in our community and I think Sunday was the biggest group we have had for a Pride flag raising. It was great to see people from across our community celebrating Pride and really nice to see representation from our elected officials, Canada Border Services, the RCMP, the OPP and Sault Ste. Marie Police Services, including Chief Stevenson.

It is important to recognize that these events would not have happened but for the engaged people in our community that make them happen. Volunteerism and participation are essential to an active and vibrant community. We are fortunate to have so many people who care enough about each other, and our community at large, to make these events happen. They make this a better place to live and I thankful for their efforts.

A city-wide Smart Grid for Sault Ste. Marie

City Council has unanimously supported the Sault Ste. Marie Smart Grid proposal approved by the Board of Directors of PUC Inc. This was an important step for a project that will help our community upgrade its electrical infrastructure, be more innovative and encourage economic growth and diversity.

I wanted to use a blog post to break down the project for those who may have missed Monday night’s meeting.

The Smart Grid concept has been discussed both by Council and the PUC for a number of years. As a PUC board member since 2015, I can confirm that the time and effort it took us to get to this point was important. It is time and effort that was required to ensure the appropriate due diligence was completed and the entire project thoroughly assessed.  This is a big infrastructure spend and we needed to spend the time and make the effort to ensure it was a sound and beneficial project. We have done that.

The project will result in a grid that is ready to meet new and growing demands for reliable and improved power quality. Recent media articles offer a summary of how a Smart Grid functions. To provide you with an example: the smart grid optimizes voltage for the purpose of minimizing the customer’s energy consumption; leading to lower bills. In addition to the improved efficiency the self-healing feature of the smart grid will see a reduction in the frequency and duration of power outages. Other benefits also include; a reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions, enhanced cyber-security, and economic growth.

As a result of receiving Council’s approval, the PUC will move forward with this project and efforts to secure funding from the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. The PUC and the board are looking for a commitment of around $14 million in federal and provincial support for the construction of the Smart Grid. The project will not move ahead if we do not receive the necessary funding because if we do not receive the funding, the cost of the project will exceed the efficiencies in the project. Therefore, project would not be bill neutral. It was critical to both the PUC board of directors and city council that the project is bill neutral.

As this project moves forward, there is also a plan to construct a Centre of Energy Excellence for Northern Environments (CENEX) in our downtown. Infrastructure Energy (IE), the company the PUC is working with on this project, intends to establish a corporate presence in Sault Ste. Marie, and the plan is for CENEX to be that presence for IE and other partner companies.

A city-wide Smart Grid would provide electricity cost benefits to residents and business, job creation for our local economy, benefits to the environment (reduction in carbon dioxide emissions) and growth in our downtown core. This project is a great project for Sault Ste. Marie, and I was proud to cast the shareholder’s vote on behalf of council. I want to recognize my fellow PUC board members, the PUC management and staff and reiterate my commitment to helping move this project forward.

$50,723 for Every Breakfast Counts

A team effort and tremendous support from our community has secured the operation of Every Breakfast Counts for the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019. In just three weeks, we raised $50,723, far exceeding our target of $25,000.

This would not have been possible without contributions from businesses, organizations and citizens, along with help from our partners: Algoma Family Services, Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services and the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District.

This spring, staff in my office approached me with a question: what happens to the local students who depend on breakfast programming provided at school for a meal to begin the day? When we asked about this need, and how we could assist with addressing it, we quickly determined the following:

Our community has the expertise to help – Algoma Family Services works with our school boards throughout the year to address food insecurity.

Our community has the desire to help – the United Way has developed, and City Council has endorsed, a poverty plan, it has acknowledged and prioritized food insecurity and it is currently in the process of establishing a Food Security Resource Center.

Our community has the infrastructure to help – Social Services operates across our community year round and works with many of the same families who are challenged by food insecurity.

So, if we have the expertise to help, and the desire to help and the infrastructure to help, what were we missing? What we are missing was the funding to purchase the food for a summer program.

I not only saw this as a challenge we could meet, I saw it as one we had a responsibility to solve. So my office committed to our partners that they could go ahead and develop the program, and we would make sure the money was raised.

Thanks to our caring community, this was not a challenging task and thanks to our caring community, there will be a new option to address food insecurity.

It is also important to recognize the importance of our community partners. Algoma Family Services has used its expertise to develop a food plan and is also able to help increase our buying power, meaning we will be getting the most out of the support raised. The United Way accepted donations and distributed receipts to donors. Social services staff and summer students will purchase food and distribute meals.

Meals will be provided through Social Services neighbourhood programming, and 100 percent of the funds raised will go towards the purchase of fresh fruit, milk, yogurt, cereals and other healthy food options.

Once again, to all of the people who supported our campaign through financial contributions, or the contributions of their time and efforts: thank you for your generosity. Your community will be better off because of your civic-minded actions.

A busy June; local volunteers and our caring community making a difference

There are a lot of great things happening in our community and I want to recognize the efforts of the people behind the scenes working hard to make these things happen.

In the past few days alone events taking place locally have included: the Queen Street Cruise, Relay for Life, a World Refugee Day celebration, National Indigenous Peoples Day and National Anishinaabe Day celebrations, the ARCH Summer Solstice Garden Party and the Bellevue Park Splash Pad groundbreaking. It takes a lot of hard work from dedicated volunteers to put on these events, events that offer fun activities and raise support for important local causes.

Hard working volunteers have quickly turned the Queen Street Cruise into a popular event. The two-day celebration drew hundreds of people to the downtown area once again for live music, classic cars and food; and the event raised funds for ARCH.

Every year Relay for Life brings in thousands of dollars from our community for the Canadian Cancer Society. It would not be possible if it were not for volunteers who organize the event and participants who raise money for research and support services.

The World Refugee Day celebration brought together members of our community to share culture and celebrate diversity, thanks to the efforts of Refugee 705, Global Friends, the Sault Community Career Centre and the Downtown Association.

National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations took place throughout our community, including at Sault College, and National Anishinaabe Day celebrations were held Whitefish Island. Thanks to Sault College and Batchewana First Nation, people across our community had the chance to celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures and achievements of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The team at ARCH Hospice hosted a Summer Solstice Garden Party in celebration of a recent expansion. Thanks to fantastic support from our community, ARCH has expanded to include a Paediatric Room, Children’s Playroom, Garden Room and Family Vigil Space. I understand that ARCH raised just over $3 million to support the expansion, including an incredible $2 million from community donations, fundraisers, and the Why it Matters campaign.

The groundbreaking for the Bellevue Park Splash Pad would not have happened if it were not for the support of our dedicated committee members, and contributions from sponsors who supported the project: the Kiwanis Club of Lakeshore and Kiwanis Club of Lakeshore Foundation, the Rotary Club of Sault Ste. Marie, the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, local citizen’s Albert Williams annual charity hockey tournament and the Jones Family. Thanks to their civic-minded generosity, people of all ages will get to enjoy a fun, summer experience at no cost to the users.

A common theme throughout all of these events is our caring community. It takes a caring community to organize these events, and it takes a caring community to support them.

As Mayor, I see this first-hand, and I am in the position to offer recognition. To all of our local volunteers: your actions speak to our best qualities and you are having a positive impact on your community. Thank you for all that you do for Sault Ste. Marie.

Highlighting a positive trend that bodes well for our community

I have noticed a trend developing in our community, and I want to draw attention to this trend in the hope of encouraging support and fostering future growth. There is a cool cluster of local businesses in our community, and many of the new businesses contributing to this cluster are owned and operated by local woman.

Just to name a few examples (my apologies if I am missing any businesses) from the past year plus: BRIEMAKESSPACES (Brie Gallagher), Canadian Shield Ceramics (Donna Michelle Mercier), Creative Nest Studio (Diane Petainen), Discover the Canvas (Katrina Thibodeau), Feeding Your Soul Cafe (Mary Greenwood), Golden Child Kitchen (Angela Caputo), J.Caroline’s (Jane McGoldrick), Lavish Salon (Olivia Braido), Powder Room Beauty Bar (Elise Millard), InSPAration Float Centre (Stacey Lampe), Rasoi – The Indian Kitchen (Neeta Marwah), Ivory Lane Collective (Amanda Carchidi), Scott Coffee Co. (Sarah Huckson), Shabby Motley (Ashleigh Sauve), The Healing Loft (Anne-Marie Caicco, Sarah Fratesi and Sheila Paluzzi) and Vibe Eatery & Juice Co. (Kristy Rachowski).

As the Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, it is important for our City to see new businesses open and contribute to our local economy and our community as a whole. As the father of two young girls, it is great to see these role models emerging as they are providing Sault Ste. Marie’s next generation with numerous examples of what can be achieved right here in their hometown.

I want to thank Anne-Marie, Angela, Amanda, Ashleigh, Brie, Diane, Donna, Elise, Jane, Katrina, Kristy, Mary, Neeta, Olivia, Sarah F., Sarah H., Sheila, Stacey and all of the many fantastic local business leaders for taking active roles in our community and I encourage people to support them. A strong culture of entrepreneurship is vital to the health of our economy, and as a community it is important to support our entrepreneurs as they will help us become a more vibrant and prosperous community.

In addition to the economic benefits successful local businesses provide, they do so much more for the community as a whole. Local businesses and their owners provide support for important local causes, initiatives, teams and charitable organizations. They can serve as a gathering place and they help develop a sense community identity.

I wish the above mentioned businesses much success, and I once again encourage people to support them and all of businesses here in the Sault.

Silver Ribbon Gala in support of the Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Committee

It was good to see a strong turnout at last night’s Silver Ribbon Gala. The gala was the first ever fundraising event for the Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Committee. The work of committee members in support of front line staff is important, and in turn it is important for the community to show support for the staff who are offering help and hope to people who need it most.

The gala was also a chance for attendees to wear a silver ribbon in an effort to combat the stigma unfortunately still associated with mental health and addictions, which is something that touches all of us. No matter our job, or social circle, or personal means, we have all dealt with, or we all deal with, mental health and addiction challenges; whether they are our own, or those of people that we love, or people that are in proximity to us on a day-to-day basis, these challenges are present in each of our lives and each of us contends with them to varying degrees.

In this respect, it is critical for our local leaders to send a message to people suffering from and fighting through mental health and addiction challenges. In this blog post, I want to reiterate the message I delivered last night: You are important. You are important to your community. You are important to its future. We acknowledge your challenge. We care about your challenges, and we are working to provide you the support that you deserve.

For my part, I recognize that we certainly have much more work to do. I commit to continue to work with our community partners at the Algoma Leadership Table, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, Sault Area Hospital, Group Health Centre, Algoma Public Health and the Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Strategy Committee to develop the systems and supports our community needs to more effectively address our challenges.

In closing, I want to recognize and thank all of our front line workers, in particular those who received awards last night:

The Extra Mile Award (Kristy Jones from Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services)

Community Advocate (Desiree Beck and George Wright)

Trailblazer Award (Lisa Case)

Humanitarian Award (Erin Thomas – Ontario Works)

The Hidden Gem Award (Kathy Berdux – John Howard Society)