Ebook reveals stunning details about Elliot Lake mall as inquiry begins

A special Maclean’s investigation by Michael Friscolanti

Maclean’s writer Michael Friscolanti is in Elliot Lake for the start of the public inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre. Watch Macleans.ca for his reports.

Last summer, Canadians held their collective breath as rescuers dug through the rubble of the Elliot Lake mall for two women trapped beneath the collapsed roof. Their bodies would be pulled from the concrete five days later.

What happened at the Algo Centre is about to be dissected at a public inquiry set to begin March 4, but a new ebook by Maclean’s Senior Writer Michael Friscolanti (available here) reveals the disturbing backstory of a building that was literally doomed before it even existed.

Drawing from court documents, property records, inspection reports and dozens of interviews with the people who lived it, Doomed: The Untold Story Behind the Collapse of the Elliot Lake Mall, tells the shocking backstory of a mall that was cursed before it even existed, a star-crossed structure plagued by dreadful timing, dubious decisions and a collective case of wilful blindness. The 14,000-word investigative piece, available here, uncovers stunning details about the building’s troubled history and the people now forever linked to its demise.

Among the revelations:

  •  The original architect of the mall tried to convince the developer not to put rooftop parking over the stores but his concerns were rebuffed
  • The engineer who oversaw the structural design of the mall botched so many later projects that regulators had to warn previous clients to double-check his work
  • The engineering firm that inspected the Algo Centre mall just 10 weeks before the roof caved in—and declared it “structurally sound”—was itself falling apart, disciplined by engineering regulators and preparing to close down.
  • The owner of the mall at the time of the collapse has a long history of stiffing contractors, insurance companies, architects and even his own lawyers, with many of his real estate deals winding up in court. There are key contradictions about his claims to have fixed the roof that will likely be central to the public inquiry.

This is the story of one mall in one small town—but it is a tale that every Canadian should care about. The disaster that struck Elliot Lake could happen anywhere else, at any moment.




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Ebook reveals stunning details about Elliot Lake mall as inquiry begins

  1. It would seem you have missed the whole other story of controlling interests in the town. Elliot Lake Retirement Living controls all including town Council. Look into the Elliot lake Act and the sham of the Cottage lot development. A Golf Course the Town no longer owns but pays for. Go to the local web site (We Are Elliot Lake) and find the real truth about Elliot Lake.

    • Sigh. A lot of small places are like that unfortunately

      People don’t pay attention at the municipal level….and they should considering it’s the govt ‘closest to the people’.

  2. Elliot
    Lake, Ontario, Canada. Once known in the waning years of the twentieth century,
    as the Uranium Capital Of The World, finds itself, in 2013, struggling for its
    very survival. With a population that peaked in the 1970′s at around 40,000,
    today you would be hard pressed to find the 11,500 residents identified on our
    last census and so proudly displayed on our city limits signage.

    Little
    more than a mining camp throughout the 1950′s, the concept of building a
    community around the mining industry blossomed in the sixties and Canada’s first
    planned community came to be. Elliot Lake flourished, through both a boom and
    bust cycle and maintained a uranium based workforce of about 15,000 right up to
    the 1980′s, when mining operations were scaled back and the demand for labour
    decreased, until the mines were finally closed in 1992. The population at this
    point, had dropped to about 8,500. Homes built to accommodate the mine workers
    and their families, were now boarded up. Many stores and services that provided
    for a more robust economy, followed the miners in their exodus from Elliot Lake.

    Still, some hung on. The community hadn’t been totally abandoned by the
    powers that had created it. The mining operations: Rio Algom and Denison, both
    to this day, sustain a presence in Elliot Lake. They maintain and report to the
    city on a semi annual basis, their progress in treating the enormous amount of
    contaminated tailings produced during the mines operational life. They, together
    with Hydro One (Ontario’s provider of electricity) and the two senior levels of
    government, pumped upwards of a hundred million of dollars into the community,
    and in essence, put Elliot Lake on the life support treadmill, on which it still
    jogs along today.

    There was a spark of life for the city, when Elliot
    Lake Retirement Living was created, as a not for profit corporation, in the mid
    90′s, to manage the concept of converting the abandoned homes of departed miners
    - which had been built by the two largest mining operations for their employees,
    to homes that would perhaps appeal to the retired, in the south, who longed for
    affordable housing in their golden years. Given the fact that Elliot Lake is The
    Jewel In The Wilderness, really, what more would be needed to promote the city
    as Canada’s first retirement community.

    In the beginning, Elliot Lake’s
    natural beauty and particular mix of urban/village life was self promoting. The
    population did indeed increase to about 13,500. It was at this point, that
    Elliot Lake Retirement Living (ELRL), became very aggressive in their marketing,
    going so far as to offer a free nights accommodation at the Algo Inn, with tours
    of ELRL’s properties, the city and its environs. This tour package, has since
    been enhanced to a two nights stay, at ELRL’s Hampton Inn, and the tour now
    includes the Cottage Lot Program, which is managed by ELRL.

    Elliot Lake
    was, during its mining heyday, a company town. Today, it still remains a company
    town. The industry that drives our local economy may have changed, but the
    philosophy and critical thinking stayed the same. The question simply became;
    are the retired a commodity to be exploited, or is aging in place a goal that
    ELRL should not only be encouraging, but actively pursue? Is recruiting the
    retired to relocate to Elliot Lake and provide housing options, where ELRL’s
    obligation to their clients end. Have the management team of the retirement
    specialist, not given any consideration to the housing needs of their tenants
    changing as they age and have they, or will they adapt and meet this growing
    challenge? There must be a retrofit program instituted to accommodate the
    lifestyle changes that limit the aging in their ability to enjoy their homes. If
    this is not realized, ELRL’s market share will only continue to decline, with
    little hope of recovering their own position as an innovative industry
    leader.

    Does this herald another bust cycle for Elliot Lake? If indeed
    this is the case, there is no white knight on the horizon to fill the void of
    another lost industry, which does not hold promise for the city. Numerous
    studies have been undertaken by both the city and ELRL. The Kubersi Study,
    prepared for ELRL and passed on to the city, stressed the need to diversify
    Elliot Lake’s economy, as had other previous and subsequent reports. The
    difficulty is the city’s location. Elliot Lake sits roughly halfway between
    Sudbury and Sault Saint Marie, about twenty minutes drive north of Hwy. #17, on
    Hwy. #108. Although the city maintains an airport, the highway is really the
    lifeline of the community. While there is a modest industrial base in Elliot
    Lake, by and large the local economy is service orientated, with limited retail
    exposure. There is a plaza currently being developed – this is largely the
    result of the Algo Centre Mall disaster of June 23, 2012, that may be open for
    business by April 2014.

    Elliot Lake lacks the luster of a large city, yet
    doesn’t accept the mantle of a more quaint, laid back town. A developed retail
    base is lacking. While the economy supports two grocery stores, a Canadian Tire,
    two gas stations, a handful of restaurants, a small discount department store,
    seven pharmacies, a hospital and health centre, all major financial institutions
    and a variety of small business/convenience stores, the overall shopping
    experience is missing in Elliot Lake. Disposable income is spent locally on
    direct personal need: food, shelter, medical, etc., while Sudbury, Sault Saint
    Marie and on-line shopping accounts for the majority of routine, and luxury
    disbursement.

    If nothing else, Elliot Lake is resilient! It has been
    taken to the mat on more than one occasion and has pulled itself up every time.
    Its spirit appears to be indomitable. It appears now, that Elliot Lake must once
    more redefine itself and aggressively market itself to its strength. Young
    families must find a reason to make Elliot Lake their home. The service industry
    has some momentum within the community and perhaps consideration should be given
    to e-commerce. We live, after all, in a global economy. Why not take advantage
    of this and build future industry with this in mind. It is time for the city’s
    Economic Development Committee and those charged with creating a sustainable
    economy for the community, to think outside of the box! Elliot Lake is not
    unique in its struggle with the effects of a global economic downturn, but that
    doesn’t mean we can’t be unique in finding the solution. Elliot Lake is a
    community of promise, not despair. If the leadership can adapt to open and
    transparent business practices and further incorporate and invest the knowledge,
    experience and abilities of residents in achieving its goals, Elliot Lake will
    forever remain, The Jewel In The Wilderness.

    Read more: http://werelliotlake.freeforums.net/index.cgi?board=events&action=display&thread=481#ixzz2MAg3HHGO

    • The senior Citizen Lobby in Elliot Lake is very strong and in a few cases has chased some potential employers form the city, one potential employer wanted to use the then empty Sault College buildings to refurbish Arcade games, the verdict came down saying too much traffic on Mississauga avenue and that employer went elsewhere, Then there was the Quarry for making headstones or granite work it was chased away, then the prospect of disposing spent uranium fuel rods form the nuclear generating stations and they were told “we don’t want that here” will in the case of the spent fuel rods, the lobby was blind to see that Elliot Lake is where the uranium came from, where safer would it be to put it back where it came from? This blindness drove potential employer from the community and with it went the young families who would feed the tax base and fill the empty homes. In Elliot Lake’s desire to make it a retirement community, they forgot the young families who would pay property taxes, fill the schools buy the empty homes make it a community worth enjoying instead of vacating. There was nothing for you adults for recreation, no programs or facilities for the youth and vandalism ran rampant for a time. Without the younger families contributing to the tax base there wasn’t money to support the local police force , businesses left because the influx of cash flow diminished . I lived in Elliot Lake from 1980 to 1992 and watched the Senior Lobby and the desire to bow to them destroy a lot of prospects in the town. It was a shame as Elliot Lake was a beautiful place, and when i drop in on the few friends that are still there it saddens me to see it like this, it was once a fun community and now it is like they roll up the sidewalks after dark. Nothing to do entertainment wise for young couples and even less for the youth. Very Sad

      • left in 1992 – hmmmm …. more ancient history. That was 20 years ago and in those 20 years the so called leaders of this community haven’t done one darned thing to bring employment to this town. They admit this in the Kitimat article. 20 years of zero economic development. The new seniors of Elliot Lake are very PRO new industry in town, be it tourism or manufacturing. They want Elliot Lake to survive even though neither they or their families will reap any benefits from this. They want Elliot Lake to have a future. Too bad those ideas you mention that were squashed by the powers that be 20 or more years ago weren’t on the table now. I doubt you’d find much opposition to this at all amongst the rank and file. Those that have vested interested in controlling this town, maybe they wouldn’t want anyone else to make money here. And that’s the truth.

        • That’s right looney tunes. MacLeans should look more into the deals that Elliot Lake Retirement Living have with the Mayor and his Councillors. The City is totally controlled by Elliot Lake Retirement Living a non profit organization that now has a profitable entity. It is there lack of action that caused the mall to collapse. They well knew the condition that is why they had plans in place for the new mall which is in trouble. Makes you wonder that they new something was going to happen. They had recently commented that they were looking at closing the mall. My question is how were they going to build a new mall with no money. They were certainly rushing for it when the mall collapsed and at that point we didn’t know if the mall was salvageable as the mall had just collapsed. With taxpayers money. they are spending close to or over 3-4 million just to prep the land and sell it to a developer for $800,000, sweet deal for someone at the taxpayers expense. We have had hundreds of thousands of dollars donated and little has gone to businesses in the mall. The City is in control of all that money. As usual the City does not give any information. Everything in this city is kept quiet amongst the few. Go to the web site called, We Are Elliot Lake, this site will answer allot of question to the dirty dealings in this so called City.

  3. actually the City still does own the Golf course – it is managed by Retirement Living but OWNED by the City

    • Ah yes owned by the city. Did you know that the city has an agreement with Retirement Living that forces them to pay $1 million if Retirement Living isn’t the manager regardless of who quits who. Yikes eh. Another Only In Elliot Lake situation.

  4. I can’t wait to gat this issue!!!

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