One city councillor vows she will continue to fight for the future of the conservatory, even after a $500,000 funding request from the province was rejected.
Thunder Bay city councillors learned earlier this week an application through the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Ontario 150 fund for repairs and upgrades to the Centennial Botanical Conservatory was not successful.
Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, who represents the Northwood ward where the facility is located, said the issue is an important one.
“Whatever Northwood — my constituents — want and want me to push for, that’s what I’m going to push for,” Ch’ng said.
“It makes sense. People want to feel good in their city. Things like flowers in parks and people connecting with the outdoors, it brings people together in a way very little else could.”
The city had tried to access two separate senior levels of government funding programs established to mark the nation’s 150th birthday, worth $500,000 each.
The result of the application to the Canada 150 fund is not yet known.
The conservatory, which was opened in 1967, had been closed for nearly all of 2012 as a result of falling glass panes from the ceiling.
The proposed 2017 budget includes a $3.5-million renewal plan for the conservatory, which had assumed the Ontario 150 funding, along with $1.55 million in other revenue and $1.45 million from reserve funds.
The renewal called for a display area build-over, enhanced accessibility and the potential for additional programming space.
The capital project detail sheet in the budget noted “this project will not proceed without full contributions from the other levels of government,” which also included possible funding through the new Build Canada Infrastructure Fund.
A memo provided to council by infrastructure general manager Kerri Marshall did not provide any specific reasons for why the request was denied.
“The application was acknowledged as complete, however, it was noted that the grant review team found requests for funding by others as having a higher priority for support,” the memo reads.
There’s more to the conservatory than most people realize, Ch’ng insisted.
“Many people think it’s just about the greenhouse and the pretty display area, which is absolutely beautiful and wonderful, especially considering our climate,” she said. “But the greenhouses in the back — which the public don’t often see and isn’t spoken about — is run by a very small crew of Thunder Bay staff that plant all of the flowers in the city.”
“Every park around the city has been touched by the greenhouses in the conservatory. It’s important, I don’t think there’s an appetite to not have flowers in the park.”
Kevin Sidlar, co-chair of the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory, said the group remains hopeful the project can go ahead.
“It’s the only place in town where even in the middle of winter you can get that bit of nature, that bit of natural beauty without freezing,” Sidlar said.
“We think of it as an indoor, all-season park and I think in a place that gets winter as harsh as we do we really need a place to just relax and recover.”