More than 300 school children and residents turned out for the grand opening of Centre, which represents a partnership between Fort William Historical Park and American entrepreneur, David Parsons of Parsons Management and owner of the Grand Marais Inn. The project has been in the planning stages for three years.
The initiative is aimed at increasing cross-border visitation to Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario. The Centre features prominent Fort branding, including a variety of dynamic, interactive touch-screen displays and heritage exhibits, along with information on Thunder Bay and Ontario.
Addressing the ceremonies were Grand Marais Mayor Sue Hakes, David Parsons of Parsons Management, Assistant Deputy Minister of Tourism, Tourism Planning and Operations Division, Shirley Phillips, and FWHP General Manager Sergio Buonocore.
Grand Marais was targeted by Fort William Historical Park because of the high volume of tourist traffic that passes through the town especially during the summer months, and its relatively close proximity to Thunder Bay. However, for the last several years, there has been a decline in the number of vehicles crossing the border from Grand Marais into Ontario.
"There is a saying, you go fishing where the fish are," said FWHP General Manager Sergio Buonocore in his remarks to the gathering, referring to the tourist activity in Grand Marais. "It is our hope that the Canada Gateway Centre will enable us to re-connect with our good neighbours south of the border and let them know that we are open for business, not only for Fort William Historical Park but for Thunder Bay and Ontario as well."
The centre ties-in nicely with the Fort's existing major billboard and branding campaigns which have grown dramatically over the past two years, with boards dotting the landscape along the I-35 and Highway 61 highways in Minnesota.
Festivities were kicked off with a small procession led by costumed Fort staff that went from Harbor Park in the heart of the city to the Centre. Cars stopped along the parade route and tooted horns at the costumed interpreters while passing the Centre.
Onlookers received free Fort William Historical Park T-shirts and admission passes. Opening remarks will be highlighted with the firing of cannons and muskets.
The Centre is set to be open year-round with longer operating hours during the summer months.
The event received coverage from Thunder Bay and Grand Marais media and WDIO-TV in Duluth, Minnesota.