EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the next several months, The Equity will be reporting on the progress each municipality within the Pontiac has made since the last slate of municipal elections in 2017. This series aims to uncover and expand on what key accomplishments, challenges and notable events each community has dealt with over the past four years.
Being surrounded by five popular lakes, rich forests and nestled away from the Ottawa River makes for a beautiful atmosphere in the Municipality of Thorne.
Maintaining that beauty is always at the top of the municipal council’s mandate, and the main focus in that regard is on staying on top of the 73 km of roads that lie within Thorne.
“We’re always in the process of trying to improve the roads,” said Mayor Karen Daly-Kelly. “That’s one of our major problems, of course right now we’re surrounded by government roads and we can’t do much with them.”
Thorne finds itself in a position where three of the major roadways in the municipality, Rte. 301, Rte. 303 and Rte. 366 are all largely provincially maintained.
Daly-Kelly said that the council’s major achievement since her electoral term as mayor began in late 2017 was the paving of a section of the 366 that Thorne has jurisdiction over.
“Last year [in 2020] we spent a fair bit of money in getting the western part of Rte. 366 paved, so coming into Thorne makes it a lot nicer,” she said. “…Because we’re a small municipality ourselves, we don’t have the cash base to pave these roads, but when we got a grant we went ahead and did it to what we thought would have been the best one.”
Thanks to the gas tax credit, municipalities such as Thorne can transcend their modest tax base of approximately 450 full-time residents in order to pay for projects such as the one Daly-Kelly mentioned, which cost roughly $750,000.
Councillor Robert Wills said that another one of the council’s major accomplishments was the completion of the municipal building, which houses fire equipment and road crew equipment, in 2019.
“The two things that Thorne does is [douse] fire and keep the roads in shape,” he said. “So I mean that’s two very important things that the municipality does, so that building was a big thing for us.”
Daly-Kelly said that other priorities include a renewed focus on improving the appearance of the various road entrances to Thorne.
“We’re trying to keep it so that, when people come into Thorne they have a nice look at it, and they see that the back roads are just as visible as the main roads,” she said.
Daly-Kelly and Wills both lamented the detriment of the pandemic on the social health of the community, as they are normally livened up by events thrown by the Thorne Community Recreation Association (TCRA), especially the yearly Ladysmith Oktoberfest, which was recently cancelled for the second year in a row due to COVID.
“Thorne was a very active community. We had, you know, parties and dances and Oktoberfest and the flea market, and none of that has been happening,” Wills said. “That just sort of takes the wind out of the balloon for the community, it feels like we’re in suspended animation. Everything is going along and you know that, but it doesn’t feel like it’s real anymore.”
Daly-Kelly said that the recent imposition of border restrictions from both Ontario and Quebec governments has also caused trouble for the many Ontario residents who have seasonal homes throughout Thorne. Some residents have noted on Facebook community groups that they were stopped by police on their way to their cottage and told to go home, as the trip is not deemed to be essential.
“I know a lot of people are hassling them right now because of the pandemic and it’s not really fair,” she said. “… I don’t like to see any of them harassed, unfortunately it’s not up to me or my council to do this type of thing. And when they come over here, you know, they want to settle in and have a nice weekend as well, and it’s hard. It’s very, very tricky for them.”
Beyond the struggles of the pandemic, Daly-Kelly said it was one of her priorities, when she ran for mayor, to keep the mill rate low for taxpayers, and she said she had done so.
Another priority was attempting to harness the natural beauty of the area in order to boost tourism opportunities, while doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. She said that events such as a boat wash that is scheduled to be held this year typically draw tourists, and therefore ensuring that visiting boaters aren’t contaminating Thorne’s waterways is crucial.
“We have a park, [but] one of the major problems we have is most of our land is privately owned,” she explained. “It’s not a problem, but it’s not available to the public … so therefore, we don’t have a chance to put up some trails and stuff like that. One of the other aspects would be, we do have some tourism businesses here and they do a very good job and they are also very environmentally conscious.”
While Daly-Kelly is wrapping up her first term as mayor after eight years as councillor, Wills is serving his first term on Thorne’s council, and he said he’s pleased with how the council has functioned without turmoil.
“The previous council was very argumentative and was no fun, I was attending the meetings pretty regularly for most of the four years previous and it was, just there was a bad atmosphere there, and we had an almost entirely new council and it has been, there’s been little or no rancor that I can perceive,” he said.
“But it’s very positive and cooperative,” Wills added.
With many Thorne residents routinely dealing with spotty internet connection, Daly-Kelly said she was happy to hear about the announcement from last week regarding a plan to have high-speed service for Thorne residents, and the rest of the Pontiac, by September 2022. She said she heard from people in the community that Thorne might have its high-speed infrastructure set up even sooner.
“The sooner they can get it, the better it will be,” she said. “It all depends on who you’re talking to as to when it’s supposed to be in. I’ve heard this summer, I’ve heard next year, I’ve heard the end of the year.”
“We definitely need it, because if people are going to be working at home, which a lot more people are, then we need this type of situation,” she added.
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