It was a day to renew friendships and catch up on old times. At least, that was how Grace Van Drunen described the Burriss centennial celebrations held Saturday.
For Van Drunen, it’s not just history. It’s her life. She was born in a Burriss farmhouse 93 years ago this September and lived in the township all her life.
She’s watched it grow—and change.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she enthused about the centennial celebrations as she perused through the Tweedsmuir history books produced by the Burriss Women’s Institute.
But it wasn’t only Burriss residents who turned out—many others were drawn back by their family ties. Atikokan resident Elmer Brandrick, for one, came back to the place he was raised.
And Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, whose grandparents settled there in 1902, recalled comical memories of the community in which he spent the first 15 years of his life.
Dona Pollard, who emceed the evening festivities at the Devlin Community Hall, also shared memories of her great-grandfather, Levi Hatch, the first Canadian settler in Burriss.
“I have roots here,” said Watten resident Carol Lyons as to why she came out. Her father was a Kennett, one of the original families to settle in Burriss.
“He would have loved this,” she added.
More than 300 people dropped by Crossroads School on Saturday to look at the history books, the “mini-museum,” play baseball, or just visit with friends.
“I think it’s very important we celebrate these occasions because it has so much to do with who we are and where we’ve gone in life,” NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton told those on hand for the opening ceremonies Saturday morning.
“This history, and other history, is so important to preserve,” agreed Burriss W.I. president Sheri Stamarski, who was among about 15 people who organized the centennial.
While the history books were popular with visitors, Stamarski noted the highlight was the draw for the historical quilt, handcrafted by the Burriss W.I., Ed Johnson, and Winnie Rousseau, which was won by Dorothy Haines.
“The look on her face was just priceless,” enthused Stamarski. “Everybody wanted to win it. I did, too.”
The picture of the Burriss School by Mamie Herdman was another popular draw, Stamarski said.
“It couldn’t have been more appropriate for Nathalie [Donaldson] to get it,” she remarked, noting the Donaldson family has been in Burriss for 100 years.
Donaldson also emceed the opening ceremonies.
Meanwhile, the Burriss W.I. is still compiling stories for a history book it hopes to get to press next year. For her part, Van Drunen recalled the cross-country trek to get to the old Burriss school, one that led them right to a neighbour’s bull.
They were like little mice trying to sneak around, she smiled, with no ditch or fence to protect them if it charged.
“As soon as he heard us, he’d start pawing and roaring,” she laughed.
And Stamarski stressed it wasn’t just the long-time residents they were looking to—they want to hear from everyone who has a special memory of Burriss.
“I know there are many family stories that I don’t have,” she said.
Proceeds from the centennial celebration will go towards covering costs of getting the book to print.