Pioneer Square: A vision revealed

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A lofty plan to develop a city square on Main St. has taken a major step forward with the unveiling of an artist's rendition of what the spot will likely look like. A concrete stage, a town clock, a cascading waterfall, and a trio of mining statues are among the highlights of what is being called Pioneer Square. If all of the pieces fall into place, work on the square Ð to be built on the former Mr. Ribs property at the corner of Main St. and First Ave. Ð will begin this spring and wrap up by the fall. "I think that it's going to inject some new life," said Cheryl Hordal, a member of the project committee. "It is definitely something that people will recognize as a converging spot, a place to go meet with someone to sit and enjoy a lunch, to maybe be entertained, to listen to newsworthy topics. We just have never had it before, so I think the sky is the limit as to what the uses will be." The artist's conception, produced by an Alberta architectural firm, depicts the park in full use on a pleasant summer day. In one corner, actors perform a play on a concrete, roofed stage as an audience watches from three sets of triple-layered bleachers, also made of concrete. "Almost like a fireplace is the focal point of a room, I think that will be the focal point of our square," said Hordal. A smooth stream of water flows down an adjacent wall, filling a small collection pool before being pumped back to the top. "It will be very tranquil," said Hordal. "It will be in the background, you'll hear the fall." The waterfall is the backdrop for three towering statues of miners that pay homage to Flin Flon's heritage. One of the miners is a woman, a nod to the days of the Second World War when many HBMS employees deployed overseas. The committee is considering having the statues made from copper and zinc Ð Flin Flon's two cornerstone minerals Ð but other materials are also being investigated. "We will try to use as much local material as we can," Hordal noted. In the artist's rendition, the statues appear to be at least eight feet tall, but Hordal said the height has not been finalized. Whatever their height, the statues overlook a vast open area with a large compass outlined on the ground. Positioned nearby is a free-standing entranceway off of Main St. that consists of two Roman-style pillars supporting an overhead beam. In the corner opposite the stage stands a town clock atop a thick pillar of its own. Three thin poles near the stage will bear the familiar flags of Flin Flon, Manitoba and Canada. A thick wall envelopes nearly half of the park, neatly sealing the property off from the back alley to the east and the Subway restaurant to the south. More than 20 trees provide scenery and shade throughout the site, but Hordal said there is a feeling among committee members that shrubs are a better way to go. The ground surface will be crowned with stone, with the committee hoping to secure local cut granite. The park would be lit at night, not with standards like on Main St. but potentially with lights installed near the shrubbery. Wherever and whenever possible throughout the square, Hordal said zinc and copper will be incorporated, be it on the wall, the face of the clock or the flag poles. With the exception of the waterfall, all aspects of the square will remain open year-round. Hordal is already envisioning Santa visits and a possible Christmas tree in the winter. Though the artist's rendition is not entirely carved in stone, Hordal said it is "95 per cent" there. While it took the committee countless hours to agree on the drawing, the real work now lies ahead as they seek the funding to bring the concept to reality. (Their projected budget was unavailable at press time). Provided they meet certain city-sanctioned conditions, the committee has secured the $65,000 surplus from 2008's 75th Birthday celebrations. A key condition is that enough money be generated to complete a self-contained phase of the project in one year. This ensures that the property, prominently located as it is, is not in a continual state of major construction. With the land itself being donated, the committee will now apply for grants from sources such as the HudBay Minerals 80th Anniversary Fund and Manitoba's Community Places Program. See 'This' on pg. Continued from pg. The Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce, of which the committee is a sub-group, is sending letters to area organizations seeking their written support. "Those letters of support will go a long way in helping us to secure the necessary funds from those sources that we're (hopefully) tapping into to get this job done in one fell swoop instead of phasing it," said Hordal. The goal is to begin construction on Pioneer Square as soon as the ground thaws and complete all or the vast majority of the work by the fall. Mayor Tom Therien shares the committee's optimism that sufficient funding will be obtained. "I think it will be an easy sell," he said. "I think (the artist's rendition) looks really sharp. I can't wait to see it in its actual form." Asked what he hopes the square will bring to the city, Mayor Therien replied: "Part of me says a sense of pride." "Downtown's always a focal point of any community and I think this will attract people downtown and keep people downtown," he added. "I think it's just a way to showcase who you are." The mayor is particularly enthused about the inclusion of a stage area. "We've got some great entertainers who could just get up there and entertain the crowd," he said. "It's a soapbox for people if they want to hold a public debate or something of that nature, there's an avenue for you. It's a great meeting place. I think it's a place where people will want to be." Hordal, whose involvement with the project is approaching two years, said plans for the square have gone through numerous modifications. At one time the committee discussed the possibility of waterways running in the ground, but there were concerns that visitors might trip or the streams might freeze up. Also rejected was a large tree in the middle of the ground compass and a roof that is domed, not flat, for the stage. Now optimistic that the project is finally within striking distance of fruition, Hordal can't help but bristle with ardour. "As far as I'm concerned, it will be something that will be very classy looking," she said, "and what more could we ask for when it comes to showing off and displaying and showcasing our city?" Sidebar:The corner of Main St. and First Ave. has great historical significance for Flin Flon. In the community's early days, the site was a focal point as newcomers arriving by train would pass by on their way to gratefully seek employment at Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting. Businessman Abe Ostry purchased the property in 1931, opening a popular grocery store. Over the decades, the site would also house a butcher shop, a Salisbury House restaurant and a Styleright clothing store, among others. It was most recently occupied by Mr. Ribs and the Northern Rainbow's End gift shop until a devastating blaze struck in April 2006. Since then, the property has sat empty, encircled by a wooden barrier. Schoolchildren added colour to the barrier by painting a wraparound mural depicting kids engaging in various sports and physical activities.

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