Science North gets permanent site

·5 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Science North has finally found a permanent home in Thunder Bay and Kenora thanks to some strategic planning and $1 million in funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario, (FedNor) and $250,000 from the Thunder Bay Economic Development Commission (CEDC).

The popular science initiative that has stimulated thousands of children to discover more about science will be able to expand its Kenora facility and build a new permanent facility in Thunder Bay with the addition of up to 24 permanent jobs between both sites.

“Five years ago we started a feasibility study to look at what more we could do and how much more we could expand into the region,” said Emily Kerton, project lead for the northwest expansion project of Science North.

“That feasibility study showed us that a 4,000-square-foot addition to the Discovery Centre in Kenora was deemed feasible as well as a 34,000-square-foot Science Centre in Thunder Bay.”

It is anticipated that both centres will draw more than 80,000 visitors annually while providing year-round activities for surrounding Northern Ontario communities and visitors.

The two centres will serve as a place to expand Science North’s outreach, programming and services across the Northwest and to the rest of the region.

“Given that there are many First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario, it is especially important that this project is reflective, appropriate and engaging for Indigenous audiences, and the schematic design phase will be supported by Science North Northwest Indigenous Advisory Committee,” Kerton said.

“This also includes the hiring of an Indigenous community engagement coordinator to ensure visitor experiences and programming are culturally relevant and appealing.

“Visitor Experience concepts include sustainable design, Indigenous influences, human sciences, tech and innovation, and of course, the natural heritage of this beautiful region.”

Kerton says this phase of the project wraps up in 2023. The design development could last up to two years and construction of upwards of another two years after that, adding up to a five-year timespan.

The site will feature large permanent and possibly interactive exhibits with the ability to renew them. The addition of an aquarium is also being considered.

“One of our big conversations right now is about live animals and what kinds of live animals we could feature,” she said. “A small aquarium is possible. But nothing, nothing like the size that you would see in Duluth or in Toronto. Yet, something that does feature the animals of the region, the ecology of the lake, as well as the forests and the surrounding area.”

The site selection has been narrowed down to two locations with the former Pool Six property being their preferred site. If it were selected, it would allow for future expansion.

Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for FedNor, called the new plans for Science North welcome additions.

“It’s another destination, event centre or site that people can take advantage of when they’re thinking about planning a trip to Thunder Bay or to Kenora,” said Hajdu.

“Science North has had a really strong presence in Northern Ontario for a number of years . . .and provides an opportunity for kids of all ages, and young people to get involved with science and fun ways.

“They have science camps. They have different kinds of expositions, partners with places like the art gallery in the museum that introduce kids to a variety and depth of science and how important it is in our everyday lives.”

Hajdu says families want things to do with kids.

“We’ve got a great marina with a water park, many different kinds of shops and a wonderful booming restaurant scene here in Northern Ontario. There are lots of opportunities for outdoor activities and this is just another opportunity for families to take in when they’re visiting our region,” she added.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski says the COVID pandemic devastated the tourism industry and investments like this one for Science North will attract more people to Thunder Bay which will expedite the recovery of the industry.

“In Northwestern Ontario, we’ve traditionally depended on tourists from the Midwest,” said Powlowski. “This investment is going to improve the lives of people here in Northwestern Ontario through new and better economic opportunities, but it’s also going to create new and exciting educational ventures that will sustain and expand our region’s growth.”

“We’re looking at 20,000 new tourists coming to the city of Thunder Bay annually, just for this attraction, “ added Eric Zakrewski, CEO of the Thunder Bay Economic Development Commission (CEDC).

A $500,000 grant to help support the CEDC to improve the infrastructure at Pool Six has come full circle as it is one of the potential locations that Science North is considering.

“It doesn’t take much imagination for us as a community to dream about having a new campus, a $40- or $50-million science and technology hub down on the waterfront in Thunder Bay,” said Zakrewski. “When you combine that with the infrastructure improvements that the city of Thunder Bay is undertaken, with the $500,000 grant from the federal government previously this year, we’ve undertaken some dock enhancements, we’ve improved the structure there so that Viking ships can safely dock there, we’ve improved the landscaping and we’ve gotten rid of 100 years worth of industrial derelict concrete and rubble that has been on that site for more than many of our lifetimes there.

Zakrewski says those funds, leveraged with provincial funds and funds committed by city council, have totaled over $2.5 million to improve our waterfront to roll out the best welcome mat ever for Science North to hopefully locate their new campus down there.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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