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Wildfire evacuee reception team delivered '1,000 per cent,' says choked-up Provenzano

Federal and provincial agencies are planning to apply best practices from Sault Ste. Marie to future emergency evacuations
North Spirit Lake First Nation
Message to the people of Sault Ste. Marie from North Spirit Lake First Nation

In an emotional address at the start of Monday's City Council meeting, Mayor Christian Provenzano described a moving tribute received from a North Spirit Lake First Nation elder forced to evacuate his home by northwestern Ontario wildfires.

"We welcomed just under a hundred guests from North Spirit Lake First Nation," the mayor said.

"Those guests have all returned home, back to their First Nation."

"I had the privilege of meeting a number of people that came here from North Spirit Lake. I went up to the Water Tower where they were staying a few different occasions."

"On the last occasion, I walked in just to check on the folks before they were leaving the next day and one of the elders recognized me from my previous visits and pulled me aside."

"He told me that he had never been to a place like Sault Ste. Marie, and he had never been treated the way he was treated in Sault Ste. Marie."

"He remarked on the kindness of all of the people of Sault Ste. Marie that he interacted with."

"He remarked on how he was treated and the members of his community were treated, and how grateful he was for Sault Ste. Marie, referring to it now as a second home."

"In the seven years that I've been mayor of the community, the conversation that I had with him was one of the most special that I had. He created a significant amount of pride in our community," the mayor said, at times seeming to struggle getting his words out.

Provenzano then thanked some of the local organizations that came together to welcome the North Spirit Lake evacuees, including:

  • J.J. and Coun. Donna Hilsinger and the staff at Algoma's Water Tower Inn
  • Malcolm White, the city's chief administrative officer
  • Sault Transit
  • the city's community services, communications and cemeteries departments
  • Lauren Perry and Naomi Thibault from the city's emergency management staff
  • Sault Ste. Marie Police Service
  • Social Services
  • Ontario Health
  • Chief Andy Rickard and Garden River First Nation
  • Batchewana First Nation
  • Dave Jones from Turtle Concepts
  • Indigenous Friendship Centre
  • Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services
  • Nogdawindamin Family and Community Services
  • Algoma Public Health
  • Canadian Red Cross
  • Sault Area Hospital
  • The Clean Team laundry division of Odd Job Jacks
  • Superior Family Health Team
  • Algoma Nurse Practitioner-led Clinic
  • Algoma District Medical Group
  • Group Health Centre
  • Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services Inc.
  • many other groups that donated time and items

"It was an exceptional project with a tremendous amount of community collaboration," the mayor said.

"The team that worked on this succeeded 1,000 per cent. They made Sault Ste. Marie look great and they certainly made our guests feel great."

"I understand that the federal and provincial agencies that participated and oversaw the work were impressed themselves and are going to take some best practices from what happened here and apply those practices to other communities when other evacuations have to occur," Provenzano said.

In a separate address, the mayor urged more Saultites to consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We're doing pretty well in the Algoma District and our vaccination rate is healthy. But the reality is that we want to see it improve."

"We have kids starting school again in September, a large number of those children who'll be attending school cannot be vaccinated."

"They'll be in classrooms. They'll be in close quarters. They'll be in congregant settings."

"One of the ways that we can help keep our kids safe is by getting the vaccinations ourselves."

"For all of you who have got it, your first and second dose, thank you. For those of you who have not, as a matter of convenience we have a number of doses that are easy to get."

"We have significant pop-up clinics, walk-in clinics. You can really get your vaccine without much effort or challenge."

"For those of you who are concerned about it or have some hesitancy, I respect that, but I would encourage you to learn about it, to solicit expert advice, to solicit medical advice, to not get your advice from social media but get it from people that study this and know what they are doing and talking about."

"The more of us that get vaccinated, the safer that we keep ourselves, our family, our friends and our community at large," Provenzano said.