It was an evening to catch up with old friends, reminisce, and celebrate all the achievements of standout former athletes and builders.
The third class inducted into the Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame was granted official entrance Saturday night during ceremonies held at La Place Rendez-Vous.
First to be recognized was Scott Fawcett, who was part of 10 championships over his nearly 30-year football coaching career at all levels and earned a spot in the local hall after recently being inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in Thunder Bay.
Fawcett was introduced by former Muskie football head coach Jack Hedman, who gave him his first coaching duties with the black-and-gold back in 1978.
“Coach Hedman, thank you for your generous words. On behalf of hundreds of Muskie football players over a long period of time, thank you for all of your efforts,” said an appreciative Fawcett, who won a Grey Cup ring with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1999 as a special teams coach.
“To the Hall of Fame committee, thank you for this honour. It's a great night. The people in Thunder Bay put on a great event, people in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in Red Deer put on a great event when we won with the Dinosaur team but if I had my choice, if I only got one [induction] . . .” Fawcett continued, banging on the podium to indicate he would have chosen getting the local nod ahead of everything else.
Dave Mitchell was the lone athlete to be enshrined on Saturday night for all of his efforts during an impressive powerlifting career.
Picking up the sport when he was in high school, Mitchell went on to accomplish an excellent career that included three Canadian championship titles (1988, 1989, 2001) while also setting 11 records along the way.
“I'd like to thank everybody for being here and supporting all of our new inductees to the Hall of Fame this year,” Mitchell enthused.
"For me, I was always an average athlete, never stood out. But my dream was always to be a champion at a sport and I picked powerlifting.
“Putting [in] 110 percent dedication and discipline, setting goals for making it to each level—provincials, nationals, and world level,” he noted.
“Writing every workout in a journal that I ever did in a gym, and I still have them today.”
Honoured posthumously into the “builder” category was Barney Maher, who helped create the Muskie hockey program in 1965 and was instrumental in establishing the local chapter of Ducks Unlimited Canada.
His daughters, Kathleen and Ellen, accepted the induction on his behalf while Kathleen gave the speech.
“On behalf of the Maher family, it is a privilege and an honour to accept this award for my dad,” enthused Kathleen.
“Barney would be very honoured to join his fellow inductees and he would be thrilled to know that he made it into the Fort Frances [Times] paper again,” she added, to roars of laughter from the audience.
"As with many recognized here, it is not just their actions alone that have allowed them to become successful.
“Many in the Fort also deserve thanks and recognition for their valuable contribution to Muskie hockey,” Kathleen stressed.
"My mom, Lois, would have been very proud to see Barney inducted here tonight and I would like to recognize her role in supporting Barney through their marriage. Barney would have loved to have been here today to see everyone and to have a great visit with all of you.
“To joke with you and to get caught up with everyone's life. And he loved events at the Rendez-Vous because it was so close to his beloved lake,” she added.
“On behalf of the family, we are very proud of what Barney has achieved and we thank you for honouring his memory here tonight.”
Ken “Keno” Christiansen was welcomed into the hall as a builder for his 55-year coaching career in hockey.
Most notably, Christiansen has been an assistant coach for the Muskies the past 35 years and has been a mentor to countless hockey players.
“My dad asked me to say a few words on his behalf to recognize all the people who supported him throughout his career in coaching,” said his son, Rick Christiansen, as Ken recently underwent an operation in Toronto and was unable to attend the ceremony.
"Pretend you hear his voice . . . 'I wish I was able to attend tonight and join in celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of all of tonight's inductees. I'm honoured to be included with such talented, determined, and hardworking individuals who truly demonstrate excellence in sports.
“Congratulations to all of you.'”
Bruce McLeod then was inducted as builder for his time as the athletic director for his Alma mater, the University of Minnesota/Duluth, and for an outstanding career as a successful commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Over 25 years as the commissioner, McLeod presided over some of the most successful seasons in the seven decades of men's WCHA history.
That included eight national championship campaigns by league teams in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2011, and from the get-go he had been a vocal and strong proponent of a women's WCHA that—at one point—had won 14 consecutive national championships since its founding in 1999-2000.
“As Terry Ogden mentioned, I've had some other awards in my career along the way in the U.S. and national type of awards, but there really is nothing like coming home,” McLeod beamed.
“There's nothing like the hometown and there's nothing like being recognized by your hometown.”
The final builders to be honoured were Bob and Mary-Beth Tkachuk.
For over 30 years, the Tkachuks have been involved with squash and were two of the pioneers of the Multi-use Tennis Courts Committee.
Bob and Mary-Beth created the junior squash program in Fort Frances in 1997. By the early 2000s, the junior program was an annual fixture with their talented young squashers at events like the Ontario Winter Games and the Junior Nationals.
“I'd like to say we are really honoured to be here tonight, grateful to be receiving this award,” said Bob, humbly.
“We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Jason Kabel for nominating us to this building category in the Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame. Also, thank you to the Sports Hall of Fame committee for accepting us with this honour as a couple.”
Skip Clint Barton then spoke on behalf of his 1996 Northern Ontario Police Curling championship team that was inducted for their legendary run in front of the home crowd at the Fort Frances Curling Club.
The squad, which also included Scott Gobeil (third), Don Robertson (second), and Steve Maki (lead), compiled a 9-2 in the round-robin to earn first place honours in a field of 12 teams before they prevailed in the championship game over Team Alberta with a last-shot victory.
“It was an incredible time of my life that I'll never forget,” Barton recalled of his team's championship run.
“I can remember the final day of the championship, to win a national championship it was probably the easiest thing that ever happened to me because Scott sunk two in the four-foot and all I had to do was put guards on it—we were the champs,” he lauded.
“The whole community put us on a pedestal and we were walking around like we had won The Brier, like it was amazing. The curling club was full every night and it's something that I'll never forget.”
The final inductees were the members of the 1953-54 Fort Frances Jaycees Juvenile hockey team that became the champions of both Thunder Bay and Manitoba during an extraordinary championship run that spring.
Managed by Gord McTaggart and coached by Bill Lloyd, the rest of the squad was comprised of Julian Brunetta, Gary McFayden, Fred Beck, Jerald Shperuk, Bill Abbott, Art Rousseau, Don McMillan, Tony Munch, Joe Armbruster, Ron Silver, Bob Peters, Dick Gustafson, Ross Pearson, Gerald Melnychuk, Ron King, and Don Zeleny.
“What Bill did, our team was sort of leftover guys that weren't picked by the other teams, and Bill was sharp enough that he molded us into group that had purpose and desire,” Brunetta, who served as the team's captain, lauded of his former coach.
"He played defensive hockey and he told us, he said 'If we win by one goal, that's all that's necessary. Don't kill yourself, don't break yourself down. We want to win by at least one goal and that's it'.
“And that's what we did," Brunetta enthused. "We had a heck of a run that year.”