|Frontier School Division
Social Studies/Native Studies (SS/NS) Department
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Leaf Rapids is a former mining community in Frontier School Division that has been trying to survive in the face of mine closure. The news articles below can be used to encourage discussion about the challenges faced by communities like Leaf Rapids as they work to make a future for their children. Each of these articles is a summary of the original. Evaluate the article itself for thoroughness, bias, etc.; in other words, read critically. Also consider the content, and the contribution it makes to addressing the central problems faced by one-economy communities forced to re-invent themselves after a mine or plant closure.
When a local bylaw passed 2 April 2007, Leaf Rapids became the first community in Canada to ban plastic shopping bags in stores. The reason for the ban was relatively simple. The one-use plastic bags were considered “resource-intensive to produce, dangerous to wildlife, and non biodegradable – the bags will reportedly take up to 1,000 years to break down.” Bond Ryan, municipal administrator for Leaf Rapids, said they had been putting “50,000 of those bags in the land fill each year.” It was a big problem for the community. The first steps were taken in May 2006, when a three cent levy was imposed on single-use plastic bags. News of this action reached Instore Products, a company that “sells reusable, cloth-like bags made of non-woven polypropylene, a recyclable plastic popular in Australia and Ireland.” It donated 5,000 bags to Leaf Rapids, and all local citizens had received them. If they forget them when they went shopping, they could either go home to get them or they could buy replacements at the stores for between $1 and $2 each. The town was serious enough about the by-law that it planned to fine local retailers $1,000 if they gave out the old type of bags. Reaction from the local citizens was mainly positive.
Discussion: Was this a well-timed publicity stunt by a town wanting attention? Consider the economic development issues faced by Leaf Rapids. How could publicity on shopping bags tie in with economic development issues?
Journalist Michelle MacAfee provided a new twist to the plastic-bag ban in Leaf Rapids. When the town decided to ban one-use plastic bags, it did not consult a lawyer, but town administrator Bond Ryan believed it was covered by the Municipal Act. “Towns have the right to ban stuff that defaces their town, and to help make their town look good,” says Bond. Robert Tyler, a Winnipeg lawyer who specialised in municipal law questioned Bond’s statement. Even though the Municipal Act gives a town considerable authority, Tyler wasn’t sure that Leaf Rapids’ by-law could “withstand a legal challenge because the legislation is open to interpretation.” The question was: Do towns have the right to control what a business can or cannot market from its premises?
Discussion: Why is the issue of community rights versus individual rights often so contentious? What impact could the ban on plastic bags have on potential newcomers to the community?
Cathy Cirko, Vice-President of Environment and Health, Canadian Plastics Industry Association, Toronto, responded to MacAfee’s March 28th article with a letter to the editor. Cirko noted that the landfill site at Leaf Rapids had a problem with bears that created considerable mess. Her solution was better landfill management rather than a ban on plastic shopping bags. She thought the ban could actually make the situation worse. Her reasons: (1) Studies show that 50% of plastic shopping bags are used for kitchen garbage. If they aren’t available, people will purchase “kitchen catchers” that are made of heavier-gauge plastic. (2) In Ireland, there was a 90% reduction in plastic bags being handed out in stores, but the amount of plastic going to landfill increased by 10%. She wanted an opportunity to work with the people of Leaf Rapids to work out more equitable solutions.]
Discussion: When reading newspaper articles, critical readers need to watch for bias. Could Cirko’s article be biased? Why? Was there any validity to her argument about the ban making things worse? If Cirko was right, a seemingly logical step in trash management may have backfired. Can you come up with “more equitable solutions”?
Tom Ford, managing editor of The Issues Network, thought that Leaf Rapids had taken a great first step in government efforts to fight climate change. He pointed out that Ireland started its own environmental strategy with a 15-cents-per-bag levy on plastic bags in 2002. It was so successful that there was a 90% reduction in the use of plastic bags, and this became the impetus to a “robust anti-pollution and climate change program in Ireland.” The money earned from the levy was used to “fund recycling centres, environmental awareness campaigns and for the enforcement of environmental legislation.” It went on to reduce its carbon emissions by 8% by 2004, and hoped to reduce it a further 10% by 2012. Ford felt that Canada was wasting its time arguing over climate change and doing nothing to control it. He thought Leaf Rapids had set a good example.
Discussion: Ford quoted the 90% reduction in the use of plastic bags, just like Cathy Cirko [See summary of her letter, March 31], but he said nothing about the 10% increase in landfill. Who had the stronger argument, Ford or Cirko? Or, is it possible to know with the information reported in the articles? Why? Was Ford’s solution the kind of “equitable solution” that Circo was after in her letter? Why or why not? What was Ford’s underlying assumption about carbon emissions. Compare his position to that of two scientists, C.D. Idso and K. E. Idso, whose article “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming” can be found at CO2Science.org.
Written by Murray McNeill and titled “’Phoenix birds’ flying north,” this article was about a number of Arizona retirees who had bought cottages on the west side of Lake Winnipeg around Gimli “to escape the oppressive summer heat back home.” As Gimli Realtor Sheldon Brounstein described it, “They come up north to cool off!” More to the point, they were telling their friends, so by word of mouth the message was getting out. It was about time. The article went on to add that former Manitobans living in Alberta and British Columbia were buying here too, because the price was right. It appeared to be a phenomenon that was spreading across Northern and remote Manitoba as well as Northwestern Ontario.
Discussion: What arguments could be made or strategies used to further promote the idea of a northern summer home for Arizona and other United States “sunbirds”? Perhaps this was the time for Leaf Rapids to become the phoenix and rise again with a little help from those sunbirds down south. For more information see the Town of Leaf Rapids website.
Over the Social Studies/Native Studies Department has become increasingly interested in the discussion of Northern Manitoba’s economic development. Our community history Wabowden: Mile 137 on the Hudson Bay Railway awakened us to the importance of the railway in past development. OmniTRAX, the new owner, had begun to revitalize that tired old line, and we wondered if it could achieve the economic miracle that had been hoped for when the railway was first built. As we talked, we began to consider the role of educators in this process. What were our schools doing to help prepare students to look at the economic possibilities of Northern Manitoba? Did we have that focus, or was it more often the case that we were educating them to leave for the so-called greener pastures of Winnipeg or other urban centres across the country? We had to concede that it was the latter. We were doing little, if anything, to prepare our students to stay and built their lives in Northern Manitoba.
On a trip to Leaf Rapids to promote heritage among our teachers there, we were astonished at the infrastructure the community had to offer to newcomers, and we wondered how this might be harnessed now that the mine had been closed. As we brainstormed for ideas, we came up with one we thought was feasible. Why not make Leaf Rapids a destination for seniors and others wanting to escape the oppressive summer heat of southeastern and southwestern United States? Their summer climates require air-conditioning like our winter climate needs a good heating system. So, if the Canadian “snowbirds” go south in droves during the winter, why don’t the American “sunbirds” come here for the summer? Why indeed!
We had to conclude that there seems to be little done by the province to promote this kind of development. In fact, we’ve got lots of people who don’t want any development at all. It can be discouraging, but we think maybe if people start discussing possibilities, then the entrepreneurial spirit, which seems in many instances to have migrated to Alberta and BC, might be stimulated. Could it be that educators have a role to play in this? What a novel thought!
Now we talk to people about economic development in Northern Manitoba, and some glaze over at the idea. Others will say that it is possible, but it “won’t happen here” for a variety of reasons. Well, maybe, but on the other hand, if enough people start thinking positively, something could happen.
Discussion: This editorial puts a positive spin on northern development. What are some arguments for and against this optimism? Is this kind of economic development good for the North? What are some of the downsides of development?
Journalist David Kuxhaus was fascinated by the low, low prices of housing in Leaf Rapids. After the Ruttan mine closed in 2002, many vacant houses came on the market, and they were cheap. For two- to six-bedroom houses, you could pay anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000, which was a deal you probably couldn’t get anywhere else in the country, at least anywhere with an infrastructure like that offered by Leaf Rapids. The town only had sixteen houses left [August 2007] of the sixty-six it purchased from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in March 2007. They were listed at http://www.townofleafrapids.ca/homes.htm . As of February 2009, there were still some available.
Imagine retiring to a place that was remote from the crime, congestion, and bad air of city life, the hot summer temperatures of Arizona, the humidity of Chicago, and the rat race of the urban treadmill. Leaf Rapids could hardly be further from this picture of America. Instead, it offers peace, quiet, clean air, lakes and rivers nearby, as well as fishing, but with all the amenities of a community within walking distance, or as near as the speed of your golf cart. If you bought into Leaf Rapids’ available real estate, you’d also get a golf cart. Leaf Rapids was supplying them with each new house sold, so this community was going green in a big way.
Discussion: Design a promotional plan for Leaf Rapids aimed at people fed up with living in the city.
According to this news report by Bruce Owen, an innovative plan to revitalise the communities of Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake had been shelved. It called for the renovation and sale of “66 former miners’ homes, vacant since the Ruttan copper mine closed almost seven years ago.” The towns of Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake were going “to team up with Bob Izumi, the star of TV’s Real Fishing Show, to market the houses as affordable vacation spots for sport anglers.” The aim was to turn both communities into “top-notch tourism hot spots.”
In exchange for the properties in both towns, Izumi was to launch a $2-million marketing campaign, tapping into his media network and fan base to woo buyers and even filming his fishing show in northern Manitoba.
Mayor Ed Charrier of Leaf Rapids said it fell apart “when a proper marketing campaign couldn’t be put together.” The province had been asked to “contribute funding towards the proposed three-year campaign,” but it did not get involved. Indeed, the entire region had to be marketed for tourism and recreation, before it would be possible to get government assistance. With insufficient money to proceed, the project had to be abandoned.
Now both Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake were “working on a bunch of new ideas.” They were not sure “how to market things yet,” but they definitely needed “provincial support.”
The houses were still for sale. They had been heated during the winter and kept in good repair year-round. “Prices range from a 768-square-foot bi-level at $20,000 to a 1,144-square-foot bi-level duplex at $40,000.” They were built in the 1970s and had been empty since 2002, when the mine closed. There were about 500 people still living in the town, which is 200 kilometres northwest of Thompson.
Discussion: Other mining communities in Canada have faced the same challenges as Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake. Bralorne, located 285 km. west of Kamloops, was a gold-mining town in the last century. Frank Whiting Jr. and his brothers bought the town in the 1970s with the aim of reviving it as a vacation destination. For more information on their success, see The History of Bralorne and Pioneer Mines, Bralorne-Pioneer: Their Past Lives Here,Vanishing B.C., and Bridge River Valley Real Estate. Mines close, but sometimes they open again. See Bralorne Gold Mines, Ltd. for the most recent developments.
Evaluate the success of the Whiting brothers and others in revitalising the town of Bralorne? Are there any lessons to be learned by places like Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake from the Bralorne example?
Why do you think provincial governments are wary of getting involved? Is it because a few hundred voters aren’t considered very important? In the case of the Manitoba government, is it a lack of commitment to northern development? Or is it simply the lack of imagination and creative thinking in the provincial government bureaucracy?
Click on the footnote number to return to the text:
 There have been some studies completed. See “Northwest Manitoba Regional Tourism Strategy Phase I: Inventory and Situation Analysis” completed for the Northwest Manitoba Community Futures Development Corporation.
 Frances B. Whiting was the eldest son of Frank Whiting, whose World War I battle experiences are also featured on this website. Frank Jr. was born on 19 November 1923 and grew up in Vancouver. He received his B.Sc. in geology from UBC, and a Ph.D. from McGill in 1955. He worked in South America, where he met and married his wife Cora in 1957. He travelled extensively, and after his return to Canada he visited Bralorne in 1972. He helped preserve the town and establish the Bralorne Pioneer Museum. He died in West Vancouver on 13 September 2007, leaving behind his wife and three children, Patricia, David, and Laura. Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AMEBC) News, v. 9, Issue 17 (16 November 2007)
Last updated : February 26, 2009