By MAGGIE M, Wedgee-in-Chief, Editor, the wedge.LIVE 🖤 TO SHARE click icons at story’s end
Smiths Falls is an anomaly and a miracle-in-the-making. It may be the fastest growing town in Ontario–not unlike Milton was a few years back.
History proves when towns across North America experience the loss of their big business base, they dissipate into dust bowls. Smiths Falls defies those odds a decade after the departure of Hershey and Stanley.
Canopy Growth, also known as Tweed, is fueling much of its rebirth, but there is something else. It is much more fundamental.
Lori Lawrence, Biological Dental Hygienist, founded Smiles Sensations in 2008–one year after the closure of Hershey. “It didn’t look promising, but I decided to take a chance,” says Lawrence. There’s that fortitude, the soul of what is driving this town to historical heights. Ten years later, her practice is soaring and she is recognized nationally.
“It didn’t look promising, but I decided to take a chance”
It’s not easy for a town of 9,000 to make a shift from chocolate to cannabis; but shift, it did.
“Our citizens have a ‘never quit’ attitude,” says Mayor Shawn Pankow. “People find a way to move ahead.”
“Smiths Falls will always be ‘home’ with great memories and along with some not so happy memories shared with family and friends throughout the years,” says Dan Andress, Owner, Andress’ Your Independent Grocer. “That is why Smiths Falls will always be ‘home’ !”
I have heard many business leaders and citizens speak of those memories, their relationships in high school. Their former classmates could be employed by them and their children too. The roots here are deep. These are ties that bind and have kept this town from eroding.
FROM FORTITUDE TO OPPORTUNITY
Smiths Falls’ re-branded mantra “Rise at the Falls” may have been prophetic. The signs are now crystal-clear that it will rise above its historical performance and the nation’s economic medians.
The town is an investor’s dream: land, properties are still affordable and its workforce still considerable. Its water and sewer infrastructure can also support the growth–this is a critical factor to growth.
There is also the fact that all roads lead to Smiths Falls–highways, rail, water and air. I learned today that the 4,000 feet airstrip in Montague can receive private jets–not just propeller craft. Its accessibility places Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston and Montreal markets within easy reach.
The law of supply and demand will alter this window of opportunity soon. A market correction always occurs. Right now, Smiths Falls is undervalued.
Businesses here are experiencing an uptick. Realtors report bidding wars and the town is pivoting daily to respond to an increasing demand for housing, short and long-term.
LAND ON THE MOVE
The pressing need for quality short-term residences has triggered the town to ask its residents to open their homes to visitors, a B&B of sorts.
A request for proposal went out last fall to develop the old water plant rearing beautiful Centennial Park and sitting on whitewater into a mixed-use, six story complex with hotel space. Among the many submissions, Bruce Linton, CEO, Canopy Growth, was selected by the town committee.
“He is so visionary,” Malcolm Morris, CAO, Smiths Falls raves.
No one can argue Linton’s vision and tenacity, bootstrapping a controversial business by renting a portion of the old Hershey plant just a few years ago. Today, Tweed, owns the whole building and the land, and refers to it as the “Smiths Falls campus.” (The company has already expanded to other Canadian locations and Europe.) Its headquarters tower over the town’s east end, building out beyond the former plant, seemingly without cease.
The town officials are not lacking in vision themselves. I am witnessing the transformation piece-by-piece. Formerly ignored spots are now bucolic attractions. Its famed bascule bridge is a beautiful, manicured stop by the locks–perfect for a picnic.
Along the canal a European boat company lines brand new docks with visitors from the world.
“Wie hei sen zie,” I asked German boaters as they rose between the locks from a depth of 26 feet–the deepest in Ontario. I also asked them, “How are were doing?”–as a destination. They exclaimed, “Beautiful!”
In town, a new architect is now moving the Hotel Rideau project forward on Beckwith Street. The builder reports windows are on their way and exterior painting continues. Soon, this historic building will offer much needed residences to the town. It will be one of its most photographed sites when complete.
Main Street East is also experiencing a facelift in recent weeks with the transformation of a mixed-use building recently purchased by an Ottawa builder. Ten much needed apartments also near completion. The floors where gutted and built up from bare walls. The exterior walls still await a coat of gray and finishings that will turn this former dog-eared real estate into a prime address. Three retail locations are already leased out of five. This has happened very quickly, surprising everyone.
Savvy investors always know timing. Like in comedy, it’s everything.
2019 launches the revitalization of Beckwith, Smiths Falls’ main road, with new infrastructure, roads, sidewalks, lamp lights, benches and angled parking. The details are still being hammered out. It will remain, “Ontario’s widest road.” Completion may occur by summer 2020.
A this point locals and visitors will see a jewel in the heart of the Rideau–not just economically but aesthetically.
Those who look upon Smiths Falls as an opportunity are wise. This town may grow into a city by its numbers in less than a decade.
The years ahead are very promising. The love lyric , “Should I stay or should I go,” is now answered. Again, there are those who never wavered.
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UPDATE MAY 30, 2018
Last May 23rd Mayor Shawn Pankow spoke before the Senate to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code related to cannabis. Here is his speech. Among the highlights:
- “Smiths Falls has risen to become the vanguard to the impending legalization of cannabis”
- “We are in the early rise of an economic renewal like nothing we have ever experienced before”
- “[Cannabis] is a plant that has been used legally for medical and recreational purposes for thousands of years, but made illegal in Canada in 1923 under the Opium and Drug Act.”
Read the whole speech as it is incisive regarding Smiths Falls’ catalyst to its economic renaissance and truths about this plant. It implores Senators to consider who grows and produces this precious product for quality and safety, once legalization comes to pass.
JUST IN: This morning Canopy Growth announced the purchase of a corporation on the African continent, Daddy Cann Lesotho PTY Ltd.
Mayor Pankow reminds the wedge that, “Tweed employees all have stock options that vest (1/3 yearly for three years) that will also enable them to grow their wealth and will add to demand in the housing markets.”
I am reminded of tech employees who have partaken in like manner and are today multi-millionaires. Canopy may soon be at the table with an elite club of influencers on a global scale.
That fortitude is paying off in dividends.
NOTE: Credit is due to Mayor Pankow for giving us this word “fortitude” in our interview.
ABOUT THE “SOUL OF” SERIES
This is a first for the wedge, this “Soul Of” series, going from place to place to define its gravitas. Also, by design this series is perhaps a first on the web. After 20 years on the web, we have never seen anything but static content. This story will evolve daily, weekly until it reaches maturity.