The community of Fort Frances is celebrating a century of history this year.
“Most people really enjoy the history of small communities like Fort Frances and how they change,” says Pam Hawley, curator of the Fort Frances Museum. “Many people are very interested in the fur trading era, others are interested in the First Nations and how those relationship developed. There are others who are interested in the earlier history and in the development of industry and how that changed the community.
“There has been a real resurgence of interest in genealogy,” Hawley says. “People who think there might be the slightest inkling of a connection with a distant relative will come looking for evidence of their presence here.”
Fort Frances’s history actually dates back more than 100 years, says Hawley. It starts in 1688 when explorer Jacques de Noyon established one of the first settlements in Fort Frances and placed the community in the history books as the oldest settlement west of Lake Superior. A wintering post named after explorer Pierre de LaVerendrye was set up in 1731.
In the early 1800s the Northwest Company established the gateway to their Athabaska region at this site. By the late 1800s, lumbermen, settlers and miners began to pass through to take up homesteads, search for gold and to access the abundant timber resources.
Fort Frances’ establishment as a constituted corporation took place by proclamation in 1903 and, since then, it has become a hub of activity in forestry, mining and later, an region ideal for electricity generation for a growing industry in Ontario, says Hawley.
She says the damming of the Rainy River to generate electrical power was pivotal to Fort Frances’ development.
“It marked a real taking of this community from a pioneering community to an industrious one.”
In 1914, the local paper mill was turning out newsprint and the Shevlin-Clark Company was sawing white and red pine into lumber. In 1909, Fort Frances became the judicial centre of the District of Rainy River, establishing the growing community as one of the major towns in northwestern Ontario, Hawley says.
By 1948, growth continued as the Town of Fort Frances annexed the Township of McIrvine. Some 50 years previous the Township of McIrvine and Village of Fort Frances had been originally incorporated from the Municipality of Alberton.
Hawley says it also became the site of one of Canada’s most notorious crimes in legal history known as “the hot stove murder” when, in 1944, four men invaded the home of Viola Jamieson in search of money.
She died of her injuries several days after the men placed her on a hot stove. The men were found guilty of murder, two were hung and one was sentenced to life in prison.
Fort Frances’ history is soon to be available in a book and video produced by the museum. The book will be launched on June 26 as part of Homecoming Week activities from June 26 to July 1 taking place throughout the community.
“We’ve never had a book on Fort Frances’ history, before, so we’ve put this together,” she says.
“Proceeds from its sale will go back to the library so we hope we can have another century of Fort Frances’’ history here."