From the Town of Spanish all the way to the Sault, a grassroots movement is coalescing, aimed at attracting economic prosperity to a 190-kilometre swath of Northern Ontario.
"I think we have a wonderful area that I want to see thrive," said Edith Orr, chair of the Huron North Economic Community Alliance.
Over the past year, the fledgling alliance has drawn support and seed money from 13 municipalities and First Nations along the east end of Highway 17.
Between now and mid-February, the group will host four summit meetings to hear input from the citizenry.
"This is an awesome opportunity to voice ideas and actions to identify, develop and implement strategies that will lead to economic prosperity for the region," said Orr, well known along the North Shore as a former teacher and principal, farmer, and mayor of Johnson Twp. from 2006 to 2010.
She was involved in founding the popular Johnson Farmers' Market, which was born in a tent in 2007 and grew into a 4,000-square-foot timber-framed pavilion still managed by Orr.
"By being in the farmers' market and the school, it gave me a wider perspective and network of people that, if we pooled together, we could have some significant things happen for the area to improve the economy."
The first three summits are organized around the themes of agriculture, business and tourism:
Business Sector Summit, Thursday, Nov. 30, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Blind River Marina Lounge
Tourism Sector Summit, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Lion’s Hall, Iron Bridge
Agricultural Sector Summit, Thursday, Jan. 25, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Bruce Station
McSweeney and Associates, an Ottawa-based economic development agency, will facilitate the first three summits, recording suggestions and preparing a report that will be reviewed at a fourth summit, which will take place in February.
The main objectives during this initial phase of the alliance are to review the current state of the Huron North economy by sector, define assets and resources necessary for opportunities to be realized, and to identify and mobilize sector leaders into action.
"The summits will provide a forum whereby frontline people can identify and prioritize growth opportunities for communities along the Hwy. 17 east corridor from Spanish to Sault Ste. Marie, including Elliot Lake, First Nations and St. Joseph Island," Orr said in a written statement.
"The alliance is throwing out the challenge to every community and individual to become part of the process and its outcomes."