Spring has finally reached the Sault – I know I’ve said this a number of times before, but I sincerely believe that this time my declaration is true. Six months in the Sault, six months of winter. It’s the first weekend in June, the farmers’ market opened yesterday, the grass is green and the spinach and arugula we planted on the back porch is starting to come up.
Yesterday I spent my afternoon helping out at a fundraising event for the Soup Kitchen that is raising funds for a community health care facility. The event took place at Mill Square, which is a new redevelopment site in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. It is conveniently located on the St. Mary’s River and up until a few years ago it was an operational paper mill. Since then a band of three brothers who are originally from the Netherlands, but currently live and work in Southern Ontario, have bought the historic property and have grandiose plans for redevelopment.
I took a tour of the location back in February. It was a beautifully sunny but terribly freezing cold day. Justus Veldman who is the brother that we see around the city most often gave me and my work colleague a tour of the place. As we walked around the site in hard hats watching the cranes rip siding off the buildings and the bulldozers crush stone I felt like Granville Island redevelopers must have forty years ago.
It was a picture perfect setting of scrap metal, giant paper rolls and old stone buildings that are well over a hundred years old. I am reminded of everything I know about urban redevelopment post 1970s These redevelopers’ not unlike hundreds before them want to turn this post-industrial site into a cultural playground. Their vision includes luxury condos and seniors’ living, a farmers’ market, a rental space for art shows and concerts, a micro brewery, a bistro and cafes. I have to wonder how a population of less than 100,000 is going to support the venture, it’s questionable but not impossible.
Yesterdays event at the Mill Square gave me a glimpse of what a success this project could be. It showed how easily this former industrial landscape came to life. The times they are a changing. As much as Sault Ste. Marie is a city of steel, it is also a city full of culture. There is a seasonal farmers’ market, the Algoma Fall festival, a fantastic music scene, an art gallery, two post-secondary institutions, a handful of small theatres, a few great cafes and a couple cool bars. The trick is to get all these creative minds, buildings and people behind the project and when they do the doors for a strong cultural industry in the Sault might open up!