Thrills were frequent—and free—here

Milt Guba
This Week In Emo

In between the carnivals and circuses that used to arrive every summer, Fort Frances would welcome an assortment of “barnstormers,” as they were known elsewhere, so our New Atlantis never lacked for thrills and entertainment long before TV was born!

These performers were regularly fall, winter, or early spring visitors who could astound you and sometimes cause the more daring among us to imitate them at considerable peril, but usually decide not to try at all.

So we knew the early “polar bears” long before they formed clubs across the country and made you shiver just thinking about them jumping through holes in the ice even in January.

One of them was a middle-aged man who attracted a sizable crowd onto the river ice close to international bridge. He had everyone gasping as he arrived in a bathing suit, jumped in without first testing the temperature with his toes, and seemed to enjoy the dip.

I remember the sun shining that day although the cold was intense despite earflaps and scarves.
Afterwards, our favourite home-grown clown and stunt man, Tony Bolzan, often the centre of attention much of his life, had to try this himself before the hole froze over, but I’m sure Tony was the only imitator that day!

I don’t know whether he was around when another visitor showed how to climb the Rainy Lake Hotel using only the brick wall for handholds. There was a balcony there for many years, used for speeches and judging downtown parades, but this “human fly” ignored it as he made it to the roof the hard way.

Then there was the tall young fellow who actually pulled a loaded pulpwood truck along Mowat Avenue for possibly a hundred feet with his teeth, as advertised, leaning backwards with the load being as many people as cared to climb on.

This was not one of your modern monster trucks but the feat looked impossible just the same.

So, more about the late Tony Bolzan would be appropriate here because lots of his younger admirers would be wondering why he was left out of this account. Tony belonged to an amateur school of heroics and devil-may-care accomplishments.

But what could you say after witnessing him standing on his head atop the small ball on our first water tower downtown?

I first Tony appearing in a cage in one of our local parades as “The Wild Man from Borneo,” a title that suited him in a great costume! That would be not quite 70 years ago, but Tony carried on for most of his life in similar style and made it somehow right up to 75.

I also can remember him for fast footwork on dance floors and when he put on boxing gloves for the cards we used to stage in first old indoor rink. Tony’s inexhaustible energy is a local legend—as well remembered as his scorning the coldest winters in open-necked shirts.

Having such a local star might make you wonder why we would need outsiders coming to town for our amusement, but they would appear and the collections would be taken and they would leave probably no more than a few dollars richer.

Tony Bolzan, though, never advertised ahead of time and had done his thing before many could gather to watch. I’d guess his water tower exploit was about as good as it gets but wait, there actually were others here at that time pulling the same stunt!

Tony was the older brother of Allan Cup coach Joe Bolzan.

Whether or not this was a wilder town in those year, I’m not sure, but there seemed always someone around to fascinate you when everyone had the time to watch! And little money for anything else!

The passing of Joe McKelvie, our papermill fire marshall and member of a pioneer family, became an occasion to remember last week in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church when the widow’s McCaig family members sang and spoke.

Doug McCaig presented a great eulogy that deserves to be published and Doug’s wife, Jo-Anne, and their son, Mark, both impressed everyone as vocalists.

The church must have held somewhere over 200 mourners, including relatives from out west.

Good Friday really lived up to its name! There were a variety of unusual church services across town, including a banquet and concert in the Armit Avenue hall formerly occupied by the Polish.

Now, it’s the gathering place for the “Joy of Life Fellowship” or Calvary Tabernacle church with Pastor Steve Laing and his “praise team” led by organist Mike Andrusco.

Youngsters singing extremely well and a lady pastor, Sandra McEvoy, made for a worthwhile evening.

This for me closed a busy day that began with a St. Andrew’s Presbyterian group in a very different presentation. Easter still arouses so much reverence!

Can you believe this? Jim and Jane McLeod, in telling of their numerous descendants, take pride in mentioning a 17-year-old great-grandson!

You might guess that age would suit some of their grandchildren of the previous generation because the elder McLeods refuse to show their ages.

I can well remember Jane’s own father, Valley, of what seems to be recent years.

But if you want to go trail riding through the district trees in the coming summer, check with Lorne Caul of Crozier before he gets all booked up. Teddy Bone of Burriss, just 80, is still horsebacking and can tell of the fun she enjoys every year in the U.S. mountains!

Lorne figures there’s a future in it for him and can provide the horses. The Cauls were mostly all cowboys, starting with grandfather Lorne Sr. of Devlin. He came from North Dakota as the first baby born at a place named St. Thomas and got to be a well-known teamster with J.A. Mathieu in logging.

He also used to build huge stacks of loose hay with horses on his farm alongside the highway.