Not having washrooms on highway unlikely to increase Northern Manitoba tourism, says councillor

A couple of Thompson councillors are not impressed with a recent letter to Mayor Colleen Smook from Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, informing her that the provincial government has no intention to do anything about a lack of public washrooms along Highway 6.

“This is basically them telling us that our tourism dollars are important for them but it’s not important to provide services to people,” said Coun. Jeff Fountain during council’s July 15 meeting. “In fact we’re going to now tell travellers that, ‘Hey, from here, from this point forward, you’ve got 600 kilometres where you’re not gong to be able to get anything,’ and expect that that’s going to increase tourism up here. I’d like to thank our provincial counterparts for such excellent thinking.”

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Fountain was responding to a July 3 letter from Schuler, which was written in response a May 10 letter from Smook about the distance between restrooms along Highway 6.

“Manitoba Infrastructure acknowledges that remoteness and longer distances between communities in the north has always been a challenge,” said Schuler. “Devil’s Lake Wayside Park and other wayside parks have been closed for several years now. Unfortunately, vandalism and cleanliness were issues that made wayside parks at these locations difficult to sustain.”

Since the Ponton gas station at the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 39 burnt down last July 28, travellers between Thompson and southern Manitoba have had to endure a 225-kilometre stretch between Wabowden and Grand Rapids with nowhere to fill up their car or use a bathroom. South of Grand Rapids, it’s about 175 kilometres to reach businesses with washrooms at St. Martin Junction.

The infrastructure minister said travellers should be made aware of the long distances between destinations and that department staff would review signs between Thompson and Grand Rapids as well as south of Grand Rapids to ensure they provide adequate information.

“If additional signs are warranted, they will be installed as soon as possible,” said Schuler.

Deputy mayor Kathy Valentino seconded Fountain’s remark about putting up signs warning of no services being a poor solution.

“I just would also like to express my disappointment in this letter,” said Valentino, who was chairing Monday’s meeting because the mayor was in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

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