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Ch'ng vows conservatory a priority despite denied funding

Ontario has rejected a $500,000 application for renewing the conservatory but Northwood Coun. Shelby Ch'ng doesn't believe that will necessarily shelve renovations.
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Shelby Ch'ng Northwood

THUNDER BAY -- Northwood's city councilor isn't deterred over the province rejecting a $500,000 request to help save the Centennial Botanical Conservatory.

Shelby Ch'ng believes the movement behind the conservatory has strength down to its roots. 

"Whatever my people want, my people get," Ch'ng said.

"Whatever Northwood -- whatever my constituents -- want and want me to push for, that’s what I’m going to push for. And it makes sense. People want to feel good in their city and things like flowers and parks, people connecting with the outdoors. It brings people together in a way that little else could.

"This is important to them and it's important to me."

The Ontario Trillium Foundation rejected the application to its Ontario 150 program in favour of other projects. The parallel federal infrastructure program in recognition of Canada's 150th anniversary has yet to announce successful applications but the conservatory was the city's top priority and was counting on both streams. 

The rejection puts the $2-million conservatory renewal in a challenging position. A tender is out for a study that will determine whether there's a business case to repair the building whose greenhouses have grown the flowers for the city's public gardens.

The municipality will set its 2017 budget in the meanwhile, leaving a question mark over how much money is needed from the city to fund the project. 

“We were counting on this funding to move forward so we could leverage it out of Renew Thunder Bay but just to ask Renew Thunder Bay to foot the bill for the entire thing might be premature at this point,” Ch'ng said.

The building constructed in 1967 for Canada's centennial anniversary has seen almost no investment since. Falling glass led to its temporary closure in 2013 and doubt over its future. 

The Friends of the Conservatory's efforts to bolster visitation since it re-opened were instrumental in making it a top infrastructure priority this year. Its executive was the only organization to attend the first pre-budget deputation session in November. 

The weight of that public pressure is a strong force in the discussion, Ch'ng explained. While she said she's not stepping back, she's not pushing forward either.     

"The water’s trying to find a place downhill and there’s blocks in the way. It’s all going to go at some point.” 



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