At the Fort Frances Times, we have been preparing for our special 100th anniversary issue. From 100 years of papers, we have gone through the issues and pages and picked a variety of stories about Rainy River District. It has been a learning experience.
One of the big changes that can be felt reading through the issues is a shift in attitude across the district. One hundred years ago, there were great dreams of wealth, industry and mining. There was great optimism. There was a feeling district residents could accomplish anything they wanted.
There was a belief Rainy River District was a land of opportunity.
Changes began in the district with the construction of roads and railways, which replaced the river transportation. The district became a unit.
The district began growing. Mine Centre exploded with gold fever; copper was discovered near Emo. And as people began flowing in, huge sawmills were built at Fort Frances, Emo and Rainy River. The district was a major exporter of lumber on the continent.
Farms sprang up. Flour mills were built. A canning factory was established in Emo, and district farmers for years boasted growing the best peas and beans nationwide in major agricultural fairs. People pooled money and resources to establish creameries, brick factories and mills.
Schools grew and burst at the seams. They expanded again, and each year more students graduated. During the 1930s depression, more people arrived as the lumber mills, paper mill and road construction provided jobs that could not be found elsewhere. New businesses were started, and innovative changes were taking place. Residents and business embraced new technologies and developed new methods of doing business.
Even during the Second World War, district residents carried an air of optimism in funding Victory Bonds and supporting their sons at war.
District hockey and baseball teams carried the banners of district residents into competition and returned successful. Boxers grew and won Canadian Golden Glove championships.
In the 1950s, schools expanded even more. The district reached its peak in employment. Tourism expanded. Farms grew to larger acreage and larger herds.
For two months, we have been cramming, learning more about our district than we ever thought possible. Older district citizens, on hearing about the anniversary edition, have dropped in and offered their views on pieces of our history.
Many stories today are similar to those in previous decades. The battle over funding schools has been on- going. It took nearly 70 years to settle the power agreement here. Fort Frances has complained since the the 1900s of the transfer of government agencies to Kenora and now Thunder Bay, while district municipalities complain about the centralizing of government agencies in Fort Frances.
Early residents understood that whatever they wanted or needed, they couldn't depend on government to supply. They had to depend on family and neighbours and community. Then it happened.
Sometime in the 1960s, the newspaper started advertising for volunteers to work on community groups, maintain playgrounds and community rinks. People stopped looking at themselves as being the solution and looked elsewhere for help. The newspaper picked up that change. Having grown and expanded for 60 years, the district became comfortable - and began resisting change. District residents and business have become more insular.
If the district is to grow and change as it began a century ago, we will have to go back and look at the efforts of those first citizens who risked everything to establish this area as their home.
We must embrace their optimism and co-operation.