West Nipissing municipal council took their show on the road June 20th, holding their meeting at the North Monetville Community Centre. This was the first of several council meetings scheduled to be held in outlying communities in an effort to bring local government closer to the grassroots of West Nipissing’s smaller communities. North Monetville borders the Municipality of French River, and the French River municipal council, under the leadership of Mayor Gisèle Pageau, attended as part of a crowd of 25 people at the meeting.
WN Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon welcomed the neighbouring council. “It’s really nice to see such a lovely turnout for a meeting with council and I’d just like to take a moment before we begin with the land acknowledgement to recognize Mayor Gisèle Pageau and the members of the French River Municipal Council who came here to join us this evening. We have Renée Carrier, Bob Prévost, Willy Schneider and Dean Wenborne here with us, along with the mayor. And I’d just like to say thank you very much, it’s wonderful to have you here. I know our Council members look forward to speaking with you after the meeting and just shaking hands.” The French River council sat through the whole meeting, which ended with an open floor for local citizens to voice their concerns.
The outreach to North Monetville was very well received and, following a lively exchange around local roads issues, Heather Fryer spoke, “I’m a member of the Community Centre Committee and I’d like to thank you, Madame Mayor, and our councillor Jérôme Courchesne, for hearing our concerns… and for some of the improvements that we’ve already seen and those that we anticipate for the future.” Mayor Thorne Rochon commented on what a great asset the community centre was to North Monetville and praised the local committee.
What followed was a general acknowledgement of common concerns and mutual support between the two neighboring municipalities, with comments from Renée Carrier, whose French River Ward 6 borders on Jérôme Courchesne’s WN Ward 8. Some community members thanked council for making the effort to travel, “Because for us to travel to Sturgeon for a council meeting, well, it’s a long way.” Mayor Thorne Rochon spoke of her ongoing relationship with Mayor Pageau, “The various council members of the Municipality of French River that I’ve been connecting with since I started have just been amazing. Gisèle has been extremely warm with me. You know, she’s got an extra term under her belt and I’m the new mayor with no previous experience on council; having another woman mayor as a neighbour whom I can turn to and call has been great. I’ve seen Renée [Carrier] at a couple events. …I think that we’re both fortunate in the fact that we both have very good teams around our Council table right now, we have a lot of good people working on the right things for the right reasons… We’re going to continue to have a good relationship moving forward.”
Mayor Pageau garnered laughter when she quipped back, “and just to let you know, I had to tell our councillors – they don’t get to vote here! Bob [Prévost] is having a very difficult time.” Coun. Dean Wenborne also received laughter when he told West Nipissing, “I just wanted to say that it’s so refreshing to hear all of the problems that you have, because we don’t have any of that!” Coun. Wenborne is 92 years old and has been on the French River Council since 2003. He used to own Sandy Beach Lodge on the French River main channel, in the Dry Pine Bay area, operating it for 50 years before selling in 1993. He told Mayor Thorne Rochon, “So I’ve been sort of retired for quite a long time now, but this has been home for me for 76 years, since we came here. I just love it here. I remember when there was no highway, when the only way in was down what we called the Hagar Rd. That was it to get down into the French River. The railway was the only way in and out for a lot of the tourists at the time. They came by train. Times have changed a lot in 76 years.” The meeting ended on those comments and the group took some time to socialize afterward.
Monetville issues addressed
A local resident introduced himself by saying, “I live down East Path. It’s supposed to be a road.” All the residents of East Road in attendance decried the conditions, noting that they’ve been promised gravel for 10 years, the road has been denuded of gravel, and when it rains the water runs into the road instead of off the road. “Our grader operator does everything he can, but he’s working with nothing.” Manager of Public Works Shawn Remillard had the chance to speak directly to the residents, explaining that the 6.6 km East Road was scheduled, and had been deferred to 2024 to meet budget constraints. He explained that, as with Dokis Road, the first year is dedicated to brushing, ditching and drainage, and then aggregate goes on the following year. “If you add gravel now you typically lose it.” He added that the costs for the road would be approximately $7,000 per kilometre.
Mayor Thorne Rochon told the residents, “So as long as it gets approved through our budget process next year, the brushing and ditching would be planned for 2024, with the granular addition planned for 2025, which, if you’ve been hearing that for 10 years, is not reassuring.” Residents weren’t happy with that position, asking who was going to pay for their vehicle damage while they wait for the repairs. They noted that the shoulders were 4 to 6 inches higher than the centre. “Something has to be done.”
CAO Jay Barbeau told the complainants he had just traveled the road with Remillard, “Obviously it’s dry right now, so there’s no problem, but I can see there’s absolutely zero product on that road… It was a very rainy April … so our worst roads suffered the most.” Remillard said, concerning the high shoulders causing the water retention, “When I drove with the CEO down East Rd. I noticed the exact same thing… high shoulders and there’s no cross-load left.” Council was told that more people are moving in, the traffic is higher, and East Road has been pushed back far too long. Dwight Fryer, who has lived on East Road for years, said, “I want everyone to be aware that the last rainstorm we had… 8 hours after it stopped raining, I counted 38 places with water on the road (on a 2km stretch between his home and the highway); 12 hours after it stopped raining there was still 31; 24 hours after there was still 11. …The last time it was graded they graded the centre part where we drive, did nothing with the shoulders… I’ve lived there for 78 years. I’ve never ever seen it in the condition it’s in now… Since our township was annexed, the only time I ever seen gravel was on the first mile. The rest of it, nothing other than the odd repair…It’s never been in that condition.” He added that recreational vehicles are increasingly using that road, “The recreationists [usage is] 5 to 10 times the use of the residents.”
Another East Road resident commented that she was a school bus driver that used Dokis Road, and wanted to express gratitude for what West Nipissing has done on that road, adding that she felt she had to trust that WN would do the right thing. Mayor Thorne Rochon commented that in regard to Dokis Road, “For our municipality, it’s all perspective. For us it is a road… For Dokis First Nation, it is THE road.” She said that Dokis Road affects three communities – West Nipissing, French River and Dokis F.N. “We’re a relatively new council. We’ve been here for six months. …Jérôme [Courchesne] and I have come down to the community … to identify ways that we can make some improvements to the Community Centre… I know that there is still a lot of work to do for this part of our municipality, but I hope that the people in North Monetville will be buoyed a little by the fact that we are here and we are listening.”
Residents also asked that a turn around on East Road be amended as a school bus got stuck last winter, the driver now refuses to use the turn around, and the place currently used to pick up children poses a safety hazard. After some discussion, Remillard said that some of the repairs could be accomplished before the school season. Part of the turnaround is on Dwight Fryer’s private land, but he was agreeable to allowing the work.