On April 11, 1903, the Corporation of the Town of Fort Frances came into being. It consisted, according to early records, of approximately 720 acres and “approximately 650 souls in number.”
Oliver Mowat, who as premier and attorney-general of Ontario had battled both the Dominion and Manitoba Governments to keep this region for Ontario, signed the proclamation as lieutenant-governor.
Organized government, on the municipal level, had arrived in 1891 when the municipality of Alberton was incorporated. It included the Townships of Roddick, McIrvine and Crozier and the Village of Fort Frances. There were 146 residents (100 were needed to organize) and the assessment totalled $63, 019. the first meeting was held on May 30.
In 1898 the Township of McIrvine and the Village of Fort Frances withdrew from Alberton. The first meeting of council of the municipality of McIrvine was held on February 7, 1898. J.C. Barr presided as reeve with Jas. Thompson, W.A. Baker, George Campbell and H. Williams as councillors. One of its first actions was to appoint a Boards of Health consisting of Dr. Robert Moore M.D., C.J. Hollands and Jas. Thompson.
The Town of Fort Frances, with Franklin H. Warner, clerk of McIrvine and also to become clerk of Fort Frances as returning officer held its first election on April 18, which found Walter J. Keating, local lawyer and later master of titles, named mayor by acclamation with Louis Christie, Alfred H. Watson, William Floyd. Richard J.F. Marsk, Cyrus T. Howey and E.A. Frederick as councillors. Council met for the first time on Saturday, May 2, 1903 at 11 a.m.
One of the first acts of council was to petition to have McIrvine annexed to the town as McIrvine was left with less than 20 inhabitants and the school was in Fort Frances, which occupied the center of McIrvine. This annexation did not take place, however, until November 30, 1948, when McIrvine passed into history and became part and parcel of Fort Frances.
John Knauff, one of the first town employees, for the sum of $50 per month, served as constable, lamp lighter, sanitary inspector, repairer and overseer of streets and sidewalks, and also as pound keeper.
In 1906 the town was divided into two polling subdivisions, No.1 in the north and No. 2 in the south with the middle of Church St. as the dividing line. Mayor and councillors were elected at large. In 1903, the council approved dividing the town into six wards for municipal voting purposes with one councillor for each ward. In 1948, the voters approved dividing the town into three wards with one councillor form each ward and three elected at large. To stimulate interest in elections, this was changed in 1959 by voters. Terms of mayor and councillors were lengthened from one to two years with the mayor and councillors-at-large elected in “odd” years and the three ward councillors in “even” years.
Although ward boundaries were changed slightly in intervening years, the big change came in December 1976 election. by provincial legislation all municipal elected officials-mayor, councillors, boards of education and Public Utilities Commission- were elected for two-year terms.
Fort Frances embarked upon its own school system in 1907 with the dissolution of the Fort Frances and McIrvine Union School Section. C.J. Hollands was the arbitrator.
Mrs. E. C. Scott held the first formal class in the sitting room of the Alberton Hotel following the organization of the first school board of school trustees including Daniel Biddeson and John. Armit in January 1887. That fall the little Red School was built and occupied and used until 1898 when the two-storey four-classroom building was erected by the board of Public School Trustees and put in use in the fall of 1914. With the increased school population, the continuation school classes returned to the old Scott St. school building. In June, 1918, the formation of a high school board was approved and that fall the continuation school became the high school. At the election of January 1, 1923, the voters approved the creation of a Board of Education to replace the public and high school boards and its first members were elected in 1924. Two- year terms for the Board of Education members were adopted.
In 1905 the first Roman Catholic Separate School was organized with 17 pupils and a teacher. It stood on First St. across form the present high school. Later it was moved to the Nelson St. site of the present St. Mary’s building and served until 1912 when a four-room school was erected.
Because of the expanding population and changes in policy which brought many students in residence on the Couchiching Reserve into the separate school system, two new ward schools were constructed. The St. Francis School to severe the West End was built in 1955 and St. Michael’s School, to serve the East End, was constructed in 1963.
On January 1, 1965, the Fort Frances Retarded Children’s Authority wears created by council to operate Kinhaven School for the Retarded. local funds for the building were raised through various projects of the Kinsmen Club of Fort Frances.
The Indian Residential School on the Coochiching Reserve was operated separately from the town’s school system. The ancient frame building erected early in the century, was replaced by a million dollar structure in 1962. It is no longer in use as a school.
Then, on January 1, 1969 by public legislation, public school education was placed under the Fort Frances-Rainy River Board of Education and separate school education under the Fort Frances-Rainy River Separate School Board of Education.
The School for Nursing Assistants, operated by LaVerendrye Hospital, was opened on September 12, 1955. Its graduates who must write provincial examinations, are certified registered nursing assistants.
In 1891, C.J. Hollands was appointed the first police magistrate for this area, indicating that policing then was in effect.
In May 23, 1896, John Perry of Woodstock, Ont., deputy sheriff of Oxford county, was named provincial constable and keeper of the lockup at Fort Frances. What is known as the district jail was built (of Fort Frances brick) in 1907, according to available information. It served the town until the opening of the new town hall complex in 1976.
The board of Police Commissioners was established by bylaw on September 4, 1912, and has been in operation to date except for the year 1931. It consists of the district court judge, the mayor of Fort Frances and a citizen named by Order-in-Council.
In 1903, the year of incorporation, George Campbell made a joint assessment of both McIrvine and Fort Frances. Many familiar names- D.J. Gillon, C.J. Hollands, W.H. Elliot , Alex McKenzie, F.H. Huffman, W.C. Anderson, E.T. Calder, J.A. LaForest, J.D. Armit and Ross Marsh’s tenure of office that a Toronto firm made the first reassessment of the town. In 1970, a provincial assessment office was opened in Fort Frances as Ontario set up regional assessment authorities to take over from the municipalities.
In 1903 the bylaw creating the fire department was approved by council. For the first years of its existence, it was a voluntary department. Fire protection actually started in 1902 when McIrvine purchased a hand wagon and hose reel from Bowmanville for $215. It was damaged en route and new hose had to be purchased. Then Then on March 6, 1905, Fort Frances voters approved the construction of a town hall with municipal offices, fire hall, supply of water and fire engine. The new steam-operated fire engine stood on a flat car while the main business section on Front St., between Scott and Church Streets, burned to the ground in 1905. In 1914 the fire department was reorganized to include several full time members in addition to volunteers. With variations, this system exists to this very day. It is operated by council.
In 1904 the Rainy River International Telephone System was given a five-year franchise by the town to operate a telephone system. In 1913 this system was sold to the town for $5,000 and operated by the Fort Frances Telephone commission. (Prior to its sale, Shevlin-Clarke Co. Ltd. was given permission by the town to erect poles and string telephone wires between its office and the long distance wires between its office and the long-distance line on the international bridge.) In 1924, to meet with technical requirements, voters approved the telephone system being taken over by the town and operated by a committee of council. On June 15, 1957, the municipally-owned system we sold to The Bell Telephone Company of Canada for the sum of $225,000. A completely new system with dial telephones was installed here as elsewhere throughout the District of Rainy River.
In 1900 the paper mill and dam sites in International Falls were purchased by E.W. Backus and his company and in 1905 construction of the international dam was started. In an agreement between the Crown (in Ontario) and Backus, the Town of Fort Frances was to receive its power from the company. For many years the light and power department was handled by a committee of council. In the 1959 election, voters approved the creation of an elected Public Utilities Commission with two members being elected at large and the third being the mayor ex officio. The two members were elected for two-year terms in alternate years until the election in 1976 when all elected officials in Ontario began to be elected for two–year terms.
BOARD OF PARKS MANAGEMENT
On May 8, 1910 the Town of Fort Frances entered into an agreement with the Department of Indian Affairs to lease the property known as Pither’s Point Park for a period of 99 years. On December 26, 1927, this lease was redrawn to expire on May 1, 2009 A.D. The Board of Parks Management was established on February 4, 1918 after a vote of the rate payers. It was granted $4,000 for permanent improvements which included a boathouse and a pavilion. In 1918, mayor H. William had advocated securing park land on Rainy Lake.
In 1944, the Board of parks Management was also entrusted with the care of the cemetery which had been established in 1903 to serve Alberton, McIrvine and Fort Frances, and eventually became property of the town. In 1913, Dr. D.C. McKenzie, C.J. Hollands and George Campbell were named to the Board of Trustees of the Fort Frances Cemetery. In 1925, the mortuary was erected and in 1948 property for River view Cemetery was acquired.
In addition the West End and Rotary and smaller parks are under the board’s supervision.
One of the first needs of Fort Frances was a water works system so, for that reason,. the town hall, (to become known as Mayor J.A. Osborne’s “White Elephant”) with its firehall and fire equipment, was approved by the voters on march 6, 1905. A $30,000 water works debenture then was approved by the voters on June 27, 1906. Construction began in 1907 and water mains were installed on Front, Sinclair, Nelson, Scott, First , Second and Third Streets: Cornwall, Central, Armit and Victoria avenues. A storage tank (water tower) where the new Safeway building now stands and the pumphouse with intake at Scott St. and Co. Rd. E. was included in the project. The Pither’s Point pumphouse was approved in 1931 with the town paying 50 per cent of the cost.
A system of sewers also was installed with a 20-inch sewer on First St. from Central Ave. to Mowat Ave. This was the outfall to the lower river. Then 18-inch sewers were installed on Mowat Ave. from First St. to Nelson St. and on Nelson St. from Mowat ave. to Portage Ave. Twelve -inch sewers were placed on Scott St.from Mowat Ave. to Portage Ave. and nine-inch sewers on Scott St. from Mowat Ave. to Front St. and on Church St. from Mowat Ave. to Portage Ave.
In 1914 the first five-ft. and ten-ft. cement sidewalks were laid.
In 1922, the town’s street paving program began wide a wide 46-ft pavement on Scott St. from Mowat Ave. to Portage Ave. and 20-ft. between Portage and and Victoria Avenues. At the same time, Central Ave. was paved from the South side of Second St. E. from Mowat Ave. to Central Ave. Paving was continued in the 20’s . This of course was concrete pavement.
At the present time there are 21.72 miles of paved street, 8.7 miles of surface treated roads; 12.49 miles of gravelled roads; 11.63 miles of lanes; and 25.99 miles of sidewalks.
The sewage disposal plant, operated by the Ministry of the Environment, was opened in 1964. It is fed by 31.22 miles of sanitary sewers. In addition, there are 12.79 miles of storm sewers which bypass the disposal plant.
An extensive blacktopping program began to be carried out after the installation of the storm sewer system, the interceptor sewer and sewage disposal plant in 1963-4. This program was concentrated south of the CNR right-of-way and has been continued to this date.
In 1949 a pedestrian tunnel was installed under the CNR right-of-way on Portage Ave. This was replaced in 1959 when the town authorized a vehicle and pedestrian subway with 80 per cent of the cost being paid out of The Railway Grade Crossing Fund, $35,000 by the DNR and the rest by the town.
On January 12, 1898, 12 gentlemen subscribers to the Declaration of the Mechanics’ Institute met to elect officers, draft bylaws and forward a duplicate of the declaration to Toronto. this was the beginning of the Fort Frances library system. Then, on February 6, 1914, the first Fort Frances Public Library Board was instituted and pressed for a Carnegie library which was opened on January 15, 1915. A wing, the Centennial addition partly financed by the town and Municipality of Alberton through provincial centennial grants, was opened on July 1, 1967.
In 1954-55 the Library Board petitioned the minister of Education to establish the Rainy River District Library Association which was done with Carl F. Schubring as chairman. As a prelude to forming the Northwestern Regional Library, the local district association contracted for book and film service from the Thunder Bay Library Co-operative of which Robert R. Steele was a guiding member.
In 1921 voters approved an advance of $30,000 to the Memorial Arena Co. for the erection of a skating and curling rink at the corner of Nelson St. and Portage Ave. to replace the original. In 1933, in the midst of the depression, ownership of the building was transferred to the town and a Memorial Arena Rink Board was named to operate it until it was sold to the Fort Frances Curling Club after the erection of the Fort Frances Community Memorial Arena in 1951.
Earlier, block 25 plan Sm33, now occupied by the Sixth St. school and Rotary Parks was set aside for amateur sports and in 1932, the Amateur Athletic Commission of the Town of Fort Frances was authorized by council. A baseball park was erected, but in 1950 the council turned part of the property over to the Board of Education for the Sixth Street School.
After World War II, the Fort Frances Recreational Council was authorized by resolution later confirmed in 1956 by a municipal by-law, to supervise a recreational program.
Under the Community Centres Act, the following were authorized:
Fort Frances Community Memorial Arena in 1950;
Rotary Park and East End Athletic field in 1958
McIrvine Community Centre and West End Athletic Field in 1959;
West End Community Centre building in 1962.
The Fort Frances Swimming Pool Complex spearheaded by the Kinsmen Club of Fort Frances was opened on November 1, 1975. Management of both the arena and swimming pool complex have been placed under the Fort Frances Recreation Commission.
HOMES FOR THE AGED
In 1918, the council approved the establishment of a House of Refuge to serve the combined Provisional Judicial Districts of Thunder Bay, Rainy River and Kenora. Then on March 11, 1946 it approved a bylaw for a district house of refuge and the approved $130,3000 for a Home for the Aged on September 28, 1950.
Recommendations as directors are forwarded to Queen’s park by the Rainy River District Municipal Association. There is a mutual understanding that one of the five directors will come from Fort Frances. Appointments are made by Order-in-Council.
In 1902, the Municipality of McIrvine granted John Reid Sr. , grandfather of John and W.G. Reid, a 10-year tax concession on the sawmill he was about to erect on six acres of land. He also was permitted to build on the Front St. right-of-way, a practice continued by Shevlin-Clarke Co.Ltd. which also received a tax concession from the Town of Fort Frances when it bought out Mr. Reid and built its two sawmills. Tax concessions also were given to E.W. Backus and his companies in Fort Frances over the years as an encouragement to the industry.
In 1958 the voters approved a 150-acre town industrial site north of Fifth St., East of McIrvine Road.
FORT FRANCES AIRPORT
After talking for years about an “airport” for water-based air planes on Rainy Lake, an airport was constructed and placed in operation northwest of Fort Frances in 1972. It is operated by the Fort Frances Airport Commission. Construction of the airport led to the development of a regional air service, first by O.J. “Bud” Mallory’s Voyageur Air Service late in 1972, followed in 1975 by the Ontario subsidised NorOntair which links Fort Frances primarily with Thunder Bay as well as Kenora and Dryden.
In the mid 1950’s Fort Frances planning board was formed and in 1958, the town passed bylaw 1961, a detailed zoning plan for the town. An Official Plan for the orderly development of the town followed shortly. In 1977 an update of both the official plan and zoning bylaw was approved. The Committee of Adjustment to handle consents and minor variances was formed in the 1960’s.
DISTRICT WELFARE BOARD
To centralize welfare administration. the Ontario Government authorized district boards. The District of Rainy River Welfare Administrative Board was organised in the fall of 1966 and handles welfare for the municipalities. Its board represents the municipalities which must nominate elected officials (mayor, reeve, councillor) as board members. Members-at-large also are appointed by the province.
CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETY
At one time, this was financed by public givings, but in recent years, the provincial government and municipalities have taken over the financing.
ODDS AND ENDS
On January 6, 1898, the McIrvine council extended its thanks to Dr. Robert Moore for planting shade trees in Fort Frances. Many of those stately trees are older than Fort Frances. And later in December J.A. Osborne was allotted $4 to secure views of places of interest to send to a Rev. Burows for a lecture tour through the States.
In 1900, the public library was rented by McIrvine for council meetings, police and division court and other municipal meetings for $10 every three months.
On May 27, 1901 the council tried to interest the Victorian Order of Nurses in establishing a cottage hospital here.
December 3, 1907, the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay were freed of any frontage tax for an easement permitting the town to construct its First St. sewer across H.B. Co. property into the river.
July 3, 1914, the council approved $600 for the regimental band of the 98th Regiment of Canada Militia. Some of these band instruments were in sue locally during the Second World War.
February 15, 1928, the town approved the sale of the Scott St. school to the Fort Frances Unit of the Canadian Division of the British Empire Service League for $4,000 as a clubhouse for officers and men “in commemoration of those who have died in active service.” the property purchased by the town as a temporary office for the Fort Frances Police force in the 1970’s is now being turned over to a museum committee.