Canada eying purchase of Ely, eh?
Officials say recreation town could be moved to other side of BWCAW
By ANGIE RIEBE
Published: Monday, March 31, 2008 10:59 PM CDT
ELY — Could Ely really disappear from the map of Minnesota next year? Will Ely really soon belong to Canada?
There are many questions still to be answered, more information yet to be told.
But, according to the Ely Chamber of Commerce, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has reportedly entered into negotiations with the state governor’s office to buy the town of Ely and move it to the Canadian side of the border in an attempt to boost tourism. If a satisfactory price can be determined, Ely could “reappear” on a new map come early-2009 — the map of Ontario, Canada.
The chamber’s just-announced “news” of Canada’s unprecedented offer to buy Ely — a virtually unbelievable circumstance — has come as quite a shock to everyone from the mayor of Ely to local resort owners and canoe outfitters.
“This is truly amazing,” said Linda Fryer, administrative director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce. “This came as such a surprise that we haven’t even had a chance to react. Who would have thought that someone would be interested in buying Ely?”
Blayne Hall of Williams and Hall Outfitters in Ely was a bit dumbfounded by the chamber’s announcement, but not completely surprised.
“We were all shocked to learn of how serious the parties were to complete the transaction,” he said. Yet, “it’s an event that was bound to happen sooner or later, with a resource like the Boundary Waters sitting so near Canada.”
In a prepared statement, the Premier of Ontario has pledged that the town will retain its worldwide reputation as the entryway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — only from the other side of the border, according to the chamber. Street names, buildings, homes, restaurants, gift shops and museums will also remain the same.
The story of the sale, though, has left Minnesota residents wondering if this might be the last summer to enjoy the 1 million acres of unspoiled wilderness the Ely area is known for worldwide, Fryer said.
“I think it’s really important that if we’re going to be locked in negotiations for a long time before it happens that it’s in the best interest for people to visit Ely sooner than later,” Hall said.
John Schiefelbein, owner of North Country Canoe Outfitters and Pine Point Lodge, agrees.
“With the coming change and passport situation going into Canada, I hope Minnesota people and U.S. people will take the summer of 2008 as their opportunity to visit Ely while it’s still on our side of the border,” he said, referring to the pending passport requirement to cross the border.
Ely Mayor Chuck Novak was stunned by the chamber’s incredible announcement.
“I’m not really sure whether it’s real or not,” he said. “I’ve had several phone calls from a lot of people inquiring about a potential offer to buy the city, but I have no document at City Hall.”
Novak said he was awaiting the next delivery of mail to see if anything official had arrived. “Until then, I don’t know what to do.”
He said he would seek the advice of council members and “walk around and ask our citizens” for their input.
“We have to figure out what position to take as a City Council,” Novak said. “I don’t think anyone on the council would entertain the position to sell the city.”
Hall said his customers have been concerned about the situation. “Everybody’s been calling to find out if they need to change their money before coming up and if they need passports.”
Schiefelbein has experienced a similar situation.
“There’s been a demand from past customers to keep us as the home of Ely,” he said.
After all, there’d be many adjustments if Canada took over Ely.
“I’m not sure how easy it will be to use loonie coins instead of dollar bills,” Schiefelbein said. “Personally, I’m very proud of the U.S. eagle. It will take some getting used to the Canadian beaver.”
However, “with the U.S. dollar on par with the Canadian, valued essentially the same,” it may help some, he said.
But “there will be an economic impact,” he added. For instance, phone numbers will have to be changed, and “I understand the mail to Canada is slower and it will take us longer to get our brochures out. ... It concerns us.”
Additionally, he said, “the Minnesota DNR will lose out on state fishing license revenue from all the people who come to Ely for the fantastic fishing.”
And there’s no telling how long it will take United States tourists to get to the new Canadian Ely.
“I’m not sure where they’ll put the Canadian Customs station to get into Ely,” said Schiefelbein, who envisions visitors backed up to Duluth “with the number of people trying to get through Canada Customs (to Ely).”
But he does understand Canada’s interest in Ely.
“Any place would be lucky to have Ely,” Schiefelbein said. “It would be a tremendous boon to Canadian tourism to have the central entrance into the Boundary Waters, (a place) which is unparalleled anywhere in the world with such a huge number of lakes and wildlife and fishing opportunities.”
Schiefelbein said there is a petition residents can sign to try to stop the sale of Ely to Canada, and he urges people to do so by visiting the Ely Chamber of Commerce’s Web site at www.ely.org.
“Voice your support” of Ely remaining in Minnesota, he said.
The April 1 announcement has been truly “amazing,” Hall said.
Could it be a coincidence that it was made on April Fools Day?
“It was totally out of the blue,” Schiefelbein said. All of a sudden on April 1st, bang, they hit us with this. You’ve got to kidding, eh?”
Additional information on this ongoing story will appear in tomorrow’s Mesabi Daily News.