Challenges have returned

I, like most of the communities across Rainy River District, have been watching with bated breath the outcome of negotiations AbitibiBowater is going through with bankers.
Saturday’s announcement that Dick Evans was joining the company’s board as the non-executive chairman is encouraging. Evans previously had led Alcan, and successfully negotiated its sale to Rio Tinto.
Evans will be challenged to turn around AbitibiBowater. But if his previous experience and success is any indication of what the future may hold, Abitibi’s potential will be realized.
When he was asked why he would hook up with Abitibi, his answer was, “I’m also interested in challenging situations, and AbitibiBowater is very challenging.”
Each day of last week, the community waited to find out the outcome of its debt negotiations. As each deadline extension was reached, and then was extended again, we breathed a sigh of relief. The stock has remained steady.
Back in 1934 when my grandfather, James Cumming, and his partner, Russ Larson, arrived in Fort Frances to take over the newspaper, the mill was in receivership. The mill, under E.W. Backus, had been put into receivership in 1931.
The sawmills had been shut down for a period.
The Shevlin-Clarke sawmills announced they were re-opening on the first of April, 1934. Just as now when the building industry was in a downturn, the sawmill had been shuttered while orders piled up.
There finally were enough orders in April, 1934 and 140 men were put back to work.
The paper company, even though it had been in receivership for three years, had continued to make paper for customers.
It took seven more years for the reorganization of the new paper company, known as the Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company, to come out of receivership in 1941. It did so stronger than ever. Bonds and loans were converted to stock in the new company.
In reorganizing, the new company (Mando) in 1941 sought out R.H.M. Robinson, a highly-respected business leader who was chosen to be its new president and lead the company into the future.
I remember sitting with Russ Larson in the late 1970s when he was telling a group of young business people at the Rainy Lake Hotel stories of how the mill and workers worked together to keep it mill open and operating. Today, I wish I had paid closer attention to what he was telling us. I wish I had taken notes.
I do remember Russ talking about the late nights that workers and management spent trying to eke out every penny of profit they could. I remember him telling us about the optimism that both he and my grandfather had felt in adopting Fort Frances to raise their families.
I remember him telling us that both he and my grandfather felt confident the mill would secure the future of Fort Frances and Rainy River District.
Fort Frances was seen as an area of prosperity in the 1930s. The Shevlin-Clarke and Mathieu sawmills were running at full speed. There were lots of jobs in the woods cutting trees for the paper mills and sawmills.
Much has changed since my grandfather and Russ Larson arrived in Fort Frances. However, many of the challenges that were facing the district 75 years ago have returned.
There may be lessons to learn from what happened in those seven years that the paper company spent reorganizing.

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