Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford along with four small businesses in northwestern Ontario discussed the challenges brought by the pandemic and how they were able to move forward because of provincial funding.
“Unfortunately we can’t meet all of the challenges that you’re facing and it’s never lost on me,” Rickford said. “Whether we’re talking about businesses small and big or seasonal, our endeavours this past fall were strictly for the north to try to create programs that could best help you without any more loan options.”
Rickford referred to the meeting last Thursday as a celebration of $4 million worth of Northern Ontario Recovery Program (NOHFC) announcement. Small businesses in northern Ontario, like many across Canada have faced a tough year.
Funding from the NOHFC is in the form of a conditional contribution and does not exceed $25,000. Due to high demand, the NOHFC has paused applications since November 2020.
“We’ve asked a couple of the successful applicants to join us today and to explain how this program and the resources that they receive from it have provided them with an opportunity to modify their business in the context of this pandemic,” Rickford said.
Two of the four recipients are from Fort Frances.
The first to share her story was Sarah Noonan, owner and operator of La Place Rendez-Vous Hotel in Fort Frances. She said her focus was thinking outside the box in order for her business to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noonan said the funding they received helped to purchase a Combi oven for their restaurant which allows for more precious control rather than a convection oven. Noonan said this purchase modernised how they can do food services.
“This investment allowed us to provide a more consistent food product that gave us more options to do takeout,” Noonan said. “This is a way that we delivered the quality food that we would but then they can pop it in the oven and cook it at home when they’re ready.”
Noonan said this helped them pivot back to takeout during the recent lockdown but were fortunate to be able to have people dining on their patio in the summer.
Jeff Wright of Wright Physiotherapy in Fort Frances, was also one of the recipients.
As the only private physiotherapy throughout the district, providing private physiotherapy as well as services with home care and long-term care, they were forced to explore distanced services.
With the funding they received, Wright said they put it towards updating two of their treatment rooms to provide virtual physiotherapy services. This upgrade included soundproofing the rooms for improved confidentiality and improving the lighting and computer systems for a better virtual session.
Wright said virtual physiotherapy will continue post COVID-19.
Rickford said that there was a lot of interest in the recovery program and there are talks about the prospect of having a second version that is more nuanced to the new challenges that businesses face. However, he adds that they have to keep in mind that it would compromise the allocation annually that the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund has which is $75 to $100 million and $25 million of that went to the Northern Ontario Recovery Program.
Rickford said 187 businesses in the Kenora/ Rainy River District benefitted from this funding, and while this is good news, it also leaves out those in the tourism sector because many do not meet the criteria.
Eligible projects received funding in order to adapt their business operations to meet public health guidelines but according to Gerry Cariou, executive director of Ontario’s Sunset Country Travel Association, without the business from across the border, it would not make sense for businesses to add more costs and not receive revenue.
Rickford said he has recently become concerned that the federal government has just woken up to the idea that borders are an issue.
“I actually view them as an opportunity,” Rickford said. “I think we need to start talking about how and what that would look like at least by late spring.”
Rickford said the decisions surrounding the border depends on the supply of vaccinations and because of this, it will be a summer of uncertainty.
Natali Trivuncic, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times