NHL superstar Joe Thornton grew up playing hockey in St. Thomas, and now the City of St. Thomas is recognizing his remarkable career by naming the arena at 75 CASO Crossing the ‘Joe Thornton Community Centre’. Currently, Thornton is sixteenth all-time in NHL scoring with 397 goals and 1030 assists for 1427 total points. Photo courtesy of the San Jose Sharks.
Joe Thornton is returning to his hometown of St. Thomas for two very special events.
On Friday, June 22nd, Thornton will be helping to host ‘The Big Assist’, an intimate evening inside the historic Elgin County Railway Museum to raise funds to support the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and the STEAM Centre. Donors who contribute $2500 (or more!) to boost the two charitable organizations will enjoy a relaxed night of local food and drinks set in and around the impressive collection of locomotives and railway artifacts in the Museum event space.
Next, on Saturday, June 23rd, the City of St. Thomas is honouring Thornton for his remarkable career by naming the arena at 75 CASO Crossing the ‘Joe Thornton Community Centre’. The whole community is invited to attend this awesome event! It is recommended that members of the public come to the arena by 12:30pm. Beginning at 12:45pm, there will be an on-ice presentation in the St. Thomas Minor Hockey Association rink featuring Joe Thornton and representatives of the City, which will include the official naming of the arena and the unveiling of the photo of Thornton that will be placed on the ‘Wall of Fame’ inside the building. After that, starting at 1:30pm, all youth (age 17 and under) are invited to lace up the skates and get on-the-ice with Joe! (The City notes that, depending on volume, skaters may be limited to 15 minutes, just to ensure that all kids on hand have the opportunity to get onto the ice).
These two events help to mark an extraordinary period of transition for St. Thomas. Roughly ten years ago, the City was hit very hard by the Great Recession, suffering through the closure of a number of local businesses and losing thousands of jobs in the process. The good news is that the community has rebounded dramatically through a series of small and large-scale investments by both the private and public sector. With ‘The Big Assist’ and the re-naming of the local arena, the story of St. Thomas is continuing to change for the better … with a little help from one of the greatest hockey players of all-time!
The Big Assist
When: Friday, June 22, 7-11pm
Where: Elgin County Railway Museum, 225 Wellington Street, St. Thomas
Why: Celebrating donors who contribute $2500 (or more!) in support of the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and the STEAM Centre
How to Get Involved: contact Paul Jenkins, Executive Director of the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jessica Moyes, Executive Director of the STEAM Centre, at email@example.com
The City of St. Thomas Honours Joe Thornton
When: Saturday, June 23, 12:30pm
Where: Joe Thornton Community Centre, 75 CASO Crossing, St. Thomas
Why: Official ceremony at 12:45pm to name the arena in recognition of Joe Thornton and his remarkable career in hockey, and to add his photo to the ‘Wall of Fame’ inside the arena; beginning at 1:30pm, all youth (age 17 and under) are invited to skate with Joe!
How to Get Involved: come out to the arena, bring the kids, and have a great time!
The new ‘Joe Thornton Community Centre’ sign was installed on the arena at 75 CASO Crossing in St. Thomas on Thursday, June 14th, 2018.
The Ontario provincial election is coming up on Thursday, June 7th. Progressive Conservative candidate Jeff Yurek, who is currently seeking re-election in the riding of Elgin-Middlesex-London, sat down for an interview recently with STEAM City Media journalists (L to R) Jenn Klassen, Alex Popen, and Maddie King.
Voters in Ontario head to the polls on Thursday, June 7th. For most, this will mean choosing a candidate representing one of the four major parties: the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, or the Green Party.
Recently, our team of student-journalists at STEAM City Media had the opportunity to interview Jeff Yurek, the Progressive Conservative candidate and incumbent in the riding of Elgin-Middlesex-London. The questions covered a wide range of issues, including why Doug Ford would be a good Premier of Ontario, why mental health issues have increased significantly among young people, and how the education system could change given the way in which technology is transforming how students learn.
This is an interesting interview! Three sixteen year-olds pose questions to an experienced politician, and the answers are illuminating. There was a small audience on hand in STEAM City Media headquarters to observe the conversation. Here is the transcript of the interview:
Jenn Klassen: Why do you think Doug Ford would be a good Premier for Ontario?
Jeff Yurek: That’s a good question. Doug is bringing to the table experience with regards to running his own business. He has some experience in municipal council. What he is bringing to the party is his leadership in the terms of how do we bring businesses back to the province? How do we run an efficient government so there is less waste – there’s lots of waste in the government – and repurpose that money into the front lines? So, I think Doug will do a great job coming forward as Premier of this province, and making a change in the province so that we can compete with not only other provinces but Michigan, Ohio, New York, so that jobs stop leaving our province and start coming back, so that we start growing the revenue in the province again to spend on the programs that we like to have — our health care, education, agriculture, environment. That’s why I think he’ll be a great leader.
Alex Popen: So, something we’ve been talking about here is lowering the voting age. Would you support lowering the voting age to sixteen? If so, why would you, or why would you not?
Jeff Yurek: That’s good [laughter] — that’s throwing me! There was a private members’ bill that came forward near the end of the session with that idea of lowering the voters’ age. Usually private members’ bills are hard to get passed. Usually it has to be the government to make that change. I don’t have an opinion on that yet, because I don’t think when that decision comes that it’s up to me. It’s up to who I’m representing, and I haven’t really had that discussion with constituents. That hasn’t been an issue that’s come to my office yet. So, if the law is proposed to change the voting age, you would have to have that discussion with the constituents.
You also have to see what else is attached to that. You can’t buy cigarettes until you’re 18 [Ed. note: 19 in Ontario], but is that going to lower the age of purchasing cigarettes or anything else? Usually society has deemed you an adult at 18. I think voting is a very, very serious responsibility to have. So, I think it would be time to have that general conversation.
Maddie King: You’ve been very critical of the Liberals not putting enough money into mental health services for children and youth. Why do you think there is a growing need for these services, and what would you change if your party was elected?
Jeff Yurek: Sure. I guess the first part would be services. If you look at Elgin County alone, there is really only one agency that provides services for children and youth, and the wait-list is long. Too often kids have to go to London, and sometimes they’re turned down. I think the wait-list in London is nine months for any type of treatment. Imagine – you broke your leg, and you get your leg treated the same day; if you have a mental illness, you’re told to wait. That’s wrong.
The reason why I think there’s a problem, other than there’s very little services here in Elgin County – they just released some statistics last week, which shows that over the last ten years, children and youth experiencing mental illness have gone to the emerg — that number has increased seventy-one percent. It’s increased seventy-nine percent for those children and youth who have been hospitalized because of mental illness. So, the statistics show that it’s headed in the wrong direction. All other illnesses that affect children and youth have gone down for their use of the ER and / or hospitalization, where we’ve seen seventy-one and seventy-nine percent increases for the other. Our party is proposing an investment on top of the current services of $3.8B over ten years with mental health, addictions, and housing. What we are going to do is build up the community mental health agencies. They’ve had a base funding freeze for over ten years. We need to build up the supports in the community so that children and youth seeking mental health help, it’s there for them, especially in rural and northern Ontario. That will decrease the burden on our emergency departments so the wait time isn’t hours upon hours because the children and youth who need the help actually have the services.
I spoke to a paediatrician in town just a few months ago. She’s at wits’ end because she can’t get her clients the help she needs to. So, this investment is new, and it’s really going to build to fix the mental health system — not only for children and youth, but adults as well.
Alex Popen: Being our current MPP, what do you think your biggest accomplishments are so far?
Jeff Yurek: I would say my biggest accomplishment, that I personally think has been, was that I was able to get a Private Members’ Bill — I mentioned that they don’t really pass; mine passed — Ryan’s Law. That changed how students are treated at school with regards to asthma.
A few years back, a child died of an asthmatic attack at school because he couldn’t get to his puffer, because the old rule was that teachers kept it, or the office kept it, because it was a medication. There wasn’t really enough thought to that, the fact that it’s more like an epinephrine pen, where if you have an asthmatic attack, you need your medication. So, my bill allowed kids and young adults to carry their asthma medication, their ventolins, their bricanyls, on them at all times, provided that their parents said it was okay. It also had principals create a file on kids who have asthma, so they understood and had an emergency plan for them in case there was an emergency. Personally, I think that was a good accomplishment because there’s too many kids out there – there’s twenty percent of kids, apparently, from what I’ve learned — who have a form of asthma. It’s important that they have access to medications.
Maddie King: The Liberals have changed OSAP so now some students can access free tuition. If your party was elected, what would you change, or would you change anything?
Jeff Yurek: No, we’re not going to change what’s already in the system, for now. We’re going to review OSAP to see how we could streamline it and make it easier to access, and make sure it’s meeting the needs of the students.
Jenn Klassen: With the way that school is changing, like with WiFi, with our phones, who do you think would be most ready to reimagine this new generation of school coming up?
Jeff Yurek: Yeah, that’s good. We have had the promise of working with not only the teachers, but I think you raise a good point that I think — you’re making me think here — that I would advocate for it, is actually having some student-tables, too. I was just talking to you about Instagram, right? I’m lost at Instagram. So, I would think the younger generation, maybe some of the newer teachers who are just graduating into the role need to play a role. We say that we want to bring the value of the teacher to the table, and usually they pick teachers who have been well-experienced, and they do have have great knowledge and experience and that’s valuable, but maybe you need the younger students to be there.
We’ve already talked about re-doing the math curriculum. We’ve talked about financial literacy in the school system. One of our MPPs put forward a bill, that we support, for farm literacy, especially in urban areas. If you don’t experience a farm, you don’t really understand what farmers undergo to bring the food to the table. We’re lucky to live in this riding. We kind of get a sense of it, but in some of the larger urban areas in Toronto, they don’t understand.
We could probably try to dovetail into how we change the system to be competitive, and definitely say somebody at the STEAM Centre had a good idea! I’m going to push that idea of having some sort of student involvement with that. I don’t know what it would look like, but that’s a great idea.
Jenn Klassen: So, last question … where, other than your home or office, do you feel most at home in Elgin-Middlesex-London?
Jeff Yurek: Elgin-Middlesex-London, where do I feel most at home other than home and office … could I say my parents’ house?! Or do you want something else? That’s a great question. You know, I would have to say I like Pinafore Park. It’s peaceful. I used to bring my dog out there to walk and go to events there. It reminds me of my childhood. We used to have, on Labour Day weekend — oh, what was it called, anybody remember? Shivaree weekend! It was a big parade, much like the Fire Muster that goes on there, but before it was ‘Shivaree’.
It was the only time that really we went out as a family in the community because my Dad worked all the time. We have six kids in my family, so my Mom liked to be at home because it was a good way to control us, but we would all go to Shivaree and have fun there. Nowadays, just going to the park, they’ve done a wonderful job of keeping it up, I think. It’s nice. It’s relaxing.
Date of Interview: May 14, 2018, at the STEAM Centre in St. Thomas, Ontario
After several weeks of sampling burgers at various spots around the Railway City, the team at STEAM City Media decided that our ‘Best Burger Spot’ for 2018 is ‘Snack Wacky Foods’ on Burwell Road! Maddie and Jenn stopped by recently to congratulate the owner, Hermann, on this special recognition.
National Hamburger Day pops up on the amusing, ever-evolving calendar of ‘National Holidays’ every May 28th. This year our friends at Railway City Tourism challenged our team at STEAM City Media to go on a quest — specifically, the ‘Railway City Burger Quest!’
After several weeks of tasting burgers at different spots around the City, we decided that our favourite experience was at Snack Wacky Foods on Burwell Road. The burgers are awesome!
Please find the full account of our adventures on the Railway City Tourism blog.
The Art & Soul Café in Port Stanley has a warm, welcoming vibe. Located at 291 Bridge Street – just east of the landmark King George VI Lift Bridge and across the street from the Port Stanley Festival Theatre – the restaurant is open from 8am to 4pm daily. One could describe the spot as quaint, elevated by bright paintings by local artists arranged on the walls.
How is the Setting?
Port Stanley is a community in transition. Once a busy working port, the village is shifting fully toward tourism. In 2010, the federal government divested the main harbour to the Municipality of Central Elgin, in which Port Stanley is located, and provided over $13.5M to assist with the clean-up and redevelopment of the area. Subsequently, the municipality has picked up additional properties and made improvements, including a new walking pier and park-space. Environmental remediation work has been undertaken as well. Now, the community has the opportunity to transform the waterfront area further, which should be a major catalyst for ongoing economic development. Restaurants like the Art & Soul Café should only benefit.
Atmosphere & Hygge-Factor
We are fans of the Danish concept of hygge! Basically, this is a word that refers to how we make ourselves comfortable and cosy. The Art & Soul Café has managed to achieve this by distributing wood tables neatly in the space, building a counter and menu board that draw staff and customers together, and allowing lots of natural light to illuminate the artwork on the walls. We also like the ‘Wishing Well’, a cool little design-hack in the centre of the room.
While the café closes daily at 4pm, one wonders how the space would look at night with candles on the tables and candlelight flickering over the paintings. Maybe in the future …
The Art & Soul Café focusses on simple breakfast and lunch offerings. During our visit, Maddie had an omelette and Andrew had the breakfast croissant — both were decent. Really, the genuine treats were the traditional British scones with butter, whipped cream and preserves, a lovely addition to the table and apparently one of the specialities of the owner, Sarah Lockhart.
Food & Drinks
The coffee is fine and there are some delicious strawberry-banana smoothies available, too! Along with breakfast and lunch items, there is an assortment of ‘pastries and sweet things’ to sample, including buttertarts, croissants, gluten-free chocolate brownies and cookies.
Customers walk up to the counter to order and servers bring the food to your table; in our experience, everything went smoothly, and everyone was friendly. Quick and fun …
Did We Feel at Home?
Our test of a restaurant is whether we felt at home during our visit. Why would we want to eat somewhere that makes us uncomfortable, or where the staff seems indifferent? Fortunately the setting, atmosphere, and service at the Art & Soul Café avoids these traps, which is why the place has quickly become a fixture in Port Stanley. Everything feels bright and cosy. Customers tend to linger a little, just to enjoy the ambiance a bit more. The Art & Soul Café feels like home.
Article by Andrew Gunn with contributions by Maddie King
When the new owners of the Elgin Mall purchased the property in fall 2016, the challenge was clear: how can the retail complex rebound after at least a decade of steady decline? Well, brothers Jay and Mory Burstein have started the process by revamping the large space at the west end of the Mall, which once-upon-a-time housed K-Mart and more recently Zellers; now, Giant Tiger and a new Dollarama store will be the tenants. These two businesses should attract a steady flow of customers. With more people in the Mall, more possibilities arise.
Consider the traditional theory of a mall: first, secure a couple of department stores as anchor tenants, and locate those stores at opposite ends of the building. Next, encourage customers to wander indoors between the department stores, hopefully buying things at the smaller shops in-between. (This is the same basic premise as in grocery stores, where managers put milk on one side and bread on the other and trust that everyone will criss-cross the aisles.)
For malls, the traditional theory is evolving, mostly out of necessity. Online retail and big-box developments have put pressure on department stores in malls. Think of Eaton’s and Zellers and Target and Sears. Perhaps more significant, real estate values have been escalating and there is a need for more housing. In urban markets, adding residential density is generally the quickest and surest way to maximize return on investment. The Elgin Mall was once on the edge of St. Thomas, but now neighbourhoods surround the property. It would have been reasonable, really, for a developer to purchase and level the Mall to build houses and apartment buildings. The free parking lot is enormous, and represents a lot of unrealized potential.
Malls in North America are interesting cultural places right now, squeezed in a sense between the hip vibe of a busy downtown and the boring efficiency of a big box-store plaza. Are malls cool or not? Our view is that, in a small city, the rules for a mall are the same as for any other business: if the mall owners care about the community, the community will care about mall.
For this reason, we are excited to see that the new owners are motivatedto make the Elgin Mall a centre of activity again! Of course, there will be an ongoing need to re-imagine the space, focussing on the consumer desire for experiential retail and bright places to gather. New stores and aesthetic upgrades are crucial for sure, but a cultural makeover is required, too.
We want to contribute to the positive momentum at the Mall and offer some ideas for how to make the place a true local destination. Some of our ideas are practical, some are whimsical.
Here is our list of Top Ten Ways to Revitalize Elgin Mall:
1. Keep the Stores Coming!
Obviously, a mall needs great stores to keep shoppers coming back. Giant Tiger and Dollarama are moving into the west end of the mall, but which stores are next?
STEAM City Media ran a Twitter poll recently to ask St. Thomas and Elgin County residents for suggestions, and Winners and Sport Chek were clear favourites! In a city with a population of 40,000, including a lot of young families with kids playing sports, the lack of a true outlet for athletes is glaring. Beyond that, think of the stores that were in the Mall not too long ago, like La Senza … could some of these retailers be drawn back? How about a clothing store for kids, like Gymboree or Justice? What about Old Navy?
How about something totally different? This is a huntin’, fishin’, campin’ kind of community, right? What if the Mall attempted to attract an experiential retailer like Bass Pro Shops? The closest stores are in Vaughan, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and across the border in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Half of southwestern Ontario would make the drive down to St. Thomas …
2. Update the Food Court Atmosphere
Have you ever wondered how all those little restaurants end up in mall food courts? Well, take a look at MTY Group, the Quebec-based, TSX-listed company that owns such brands as Cultures, Extreme Pita, Manchu Wok, mmmuffins, Mucho Burrito, Thai Express, and countless others. Franchisees sign up, invest, and flock to fill spots in malls with busy, attractive food courts. The company is a Canadian success story.
Perhaps the Elgin Mall could go in a slightly different direction. Consider this path:
Step One: why not cultivate a food truck vibe in a mall food court setting? Put the emphasis on local chefs and encourage innovation. Let one micro-stall be available on a rotating basis, challenge entrepreneurs to build an audience, and start marketing the food court as a local destination! Maybe a homemade pizza joint would work, or some vegetarian fare. We could include a teaching kitchen and let local chefs and guest instructors run classes. Experiment!
Step Two: what if the mall owners blew out the old, uncomfortable seating and transformed the setting into a relaxing space with soft seats, free WiFi, and greenery? String up some lights and add charging stations (powered by solar panels on the roof). Suddenly families would come back, teenagers would hang out, and the community would have a fun gathering spot.
Right now, the Elgin Mall food court feels stuck between bland and something more interesting. Subway is there for a familiar option, yet recent additions like Traditional Fish & Chips and Smitty’s Backyard Burgers are earning some nice buzz, even though neither one is a well-known brand. If we put more attention on local food innovation, could we transform the space into the mall food court of the twenty-first century?
3. Roof-top Garden Patio!
While we dream up ways to attract more visitors to the Elgin Mall, how about a truly fantastical option? After all, boring attracts boring, but try something different and people will show up!
Imagine a staircase from the food court leading up to a roof-top patio! Nothing complex or overly manicured, just some outdoor tables, chairs and flowers, plus a sound system with an ever-evolving playlist to which guests can contribute. The spirit of a place never surfaces without song … and the Elgin Mall has been as spirit-free as a place can get for a long, long time!
Call it the ‘Elgin Mall Bleak Suburbia Make-Things-Better Sunset Patio’ — actually, the sunsets can look surprisingly impressive from the vast open space of the Elgin Mall parking lot, and would be even better from up on the roof! Sun-drenched late afternoons in spring, summer, and fall would pass into cool, chilled-out evenings. Add a little music spilling over the rooftop into the parking lot and onto the sidewalks, and suddenly we have signs of life …
Reinforce the roof if necessary, but let’s make this happen!
4. Revamp the Roadside Signs and Entrances
Signs matter, especially with a retail property set well-back from the road. The current store signs at the entranceways hardly draw the eye, and certainly a new digital sign could help promote the stores – and people – inside the mall. The enter and exit signs are functional but could use updating, too. Perhaps a new logo and colour palette would serve the Mall well.
5. Reinvent the Vacant Restaurant on the Southwest Corner
This former Kelsey’s Restaurant still looks like a burnt-out Kelsey’s ten years after restaurant operator CARA packed up the joint. (In addition to Kelsey’s, CARA Operations Ltd. owns brands like Swiss Chalet, East Side Mario’s, Milestones, Montana’s, Bier Markt and Harvey’s.) A homegrown set-up called Station Master Restaurant briefly occupied the space, but unfortunately failed to gain traction.
What would work in this space? We put this question out on our Instagram account and received some interesting suggestions, including Red Lobster, Montana’s, Qudoba, and a request for a vegetarian restaurant or an indie beer and wine bar. Another recommendation was for Beertown (check out the location in north London), or for Railway City Brewing to set up at this location with great food, too. All solid recommendations.
A craft brewery would be an interesting fit, and a tasting room would draw people from the neighbourhood as well as suds aficionados from afar. Certainly a restaurant makes sense, if customers would connect this experience with going to a movie at Cineplex in the Mall. (We are slightly concerned that people would insist on parking at the restaurant, and then driving to a parking spot closer to the theatre, just to avoid walking; if so, this may mean that the restaurant is simply too far away from the Mall. Feel free to sigh along with us, for so many reasons … ).
Another option: would this be an ideal location for the new Ontario Cannabis Store?
6. Fix the Parking Lot and Add Some Green Space!
We understand, of course, that realistically the Elgin Mall owners have to focus on the essentials: managing existing relationships, attracting new stores, and improving key infrastructure. Not too far down the list, however, must be a reinvention of the massive on-site parking lot, right? Are there better ways to utilize this space? Could accessibility be improved?
Imagine the parking lot reinvented with new asphalt, curb features, light standards and some green space (Cineplex could screen the occasional movie on the Mall lawn!).
7. Art Zones
Communities gather most frequently and passionately in spaces where the people see a part of themselves reflected. What if a wall or hallway installation could be dedicated to showcasing the work of young local artists? Companies and individuals could support the area in an innovative way: for every piece of artwork purchased, one sponsor could donate the amount of the purchase price to support art programs for kids at the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre (sponsors could cap the annual total donation, of course). This would brighten up the mall, help encourage young artists, and support the arts in St. Thomas and Elgin County. Art matters!
8. Indoor & Outdoor Recreation Opportunities
How about an indoor and an outdoor ball hockey rink? What about an awesome indoor rock climbing space like at Junction Climbing Centre in London? Give people fun experiences and reasons to visit the Mall …
9. High-Rise Apartment Buildings
Returning to the parking lot for a moment … with so much space, would it make sense to build an apartment building or two on-site, similar to the high-rise facilities nearby on the south-side of Wellington Street? If a lot or two could be parcelled off and sold, this could be a real revenue-driver for the Elgin Mall. Land use and zoning should not be a problem, given the surroundings. Maybe it would be best to demolish the existing restaurant building, and include a restaurant on the ground floor of a new apartment building on the same site!
Alternatively, would there be a way to construct an apartment complex close to the Mall and connect the two? This would build-in customers for the shops, and residents of the apartments would have easy access to a gym, movie theatre, and grocery store.
10. STEAM Centre / Fanshawe College Student Entrepreneurship Hub
Would the Elgin Mall like to have a never-ending supply of potential tenants? Why not encourage the STEAM Centre and Fanshawe College to partner on a student entrepreneurship hub, complete with equipment to design and prototype new products and experiences?
The Thames Valley District School Board and the STEAM Centre have co-developed a distinctive grade ten program called ‘STEAM School’, which encourages students to come up with ways to make life better for others in the community. This includes coming up with ideas for new start-up businesses! Why not partner with the St. Thomas/Elgin Regional Campus of Fanshawe, which is the only Fanshawe campus that does not offer a business diploma program (seriously, think about that … all post-secondary students interested in business have to leave the community!) Why not make one awesome space that high school and college students can utilize? Fanshawe already has boots on the ground with an Employment Services Centre in the Mall. The STEAM Centre rented space last summer to run camps, which went very well. Let’s put the puzzle pieces together, get creative, and get the mall rocking!
We hope this list sparks some conversations, and provides a few ideas to the new owners of the Elgin Mall. It is awesome to see the place gradually coming back to life!
Top Ten List Developed By Alex Popen, Maddie King and Jenn Klassen with Andrew Gunn