Cross-border tug-of-war to return

Duane Hicks

The International Tug-of-War will return this summer.
The Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club has teamed up with the Backus Community Center in International Falls to collaborate and bring back the event, which hasn’t been held here since 2013.
The tug-of-war, which involves teams from each side of the border running a 1,200-foot rope across the Rainy River and pulling–will take place on Saturday, June 30 at the Sorting Gap Marina during the dragon boat festival.
Robin Bjorkquist, event co-ordinator for the Backus Community Center, is hoping to attract celebrities to this year’s tug-of-war and make it the high-profile event it deserves to be.
“I am very excited about it because the tug-of-war has been my passion for quite a few years since [former Falls CAO] Rod Otterness got me involved personally,” she noted.
“I was one of the people that brought the Viking alumni to our area,” Bjorkquist added. “We were spearheading that whole effort.
“My personal feeling is that celebrities bring more fun to an event, and this is such a unique event that I’ve always wanted to use it as a tool to bring people here–not just to our side but your side, as well,” she said.
Bjorkquist and others, including her Canadian counterpart, Diane Maxey, already have been brainstorming about who to invite this year.
“I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time,” Bjorkquist said. “Over the years I have reached out to all kinds of people, like even George Clooney–we are talking that level.
“I got a rejection [letter] from his agent,” she noted. “I thought that was cool. At least he responded.
“But we will be working to invite fun, special people.”
One suggestion so far has been Minnesota Wild player Eric Staal, who actually was born in Thunder Bay, but Bjorkquist admitted hockey players have proven difficult to get in the past.
“We’ve had success with football players on our side,” she remarked. “So I’ll be reaching out to the Canadian football teams to see what kind of alumni we can get.
“I’ve always thought it would be fun if we could American football versus Canadian football.
“We’ll have to see how it goes,” Bjorkquist admitted. “You have to invite 200 people to get two to come.”
Bjorkquist said if anyone has any ideas for celebrities to invite, they’re welcome to contact her at
Backus, meanwhile, is applying for an Explore Minnesota grant to possibly get money to support the event–although the competition will go no matter what.
“You need people to pull and you need a rope, and you guys have the rope and we’ll both have people on each side,” Bjorkquist said.
“In reality, that’s all you need,” she laughed.
The tug-of-war on the U.S. side will be a fundraising event for Backus Community Center, complete with food vendors and carnival games, just as it will be one for the Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club on this side.
“So Backus is excited to get involved in the community,” Bjorkquist said. “We’re not just a building; we’ve reached outside our walls to do really cool things in our community.
“And so we’re excited that we can partner with the wonderful people on your side that have created such a wonderful event, and then think big and be bringing people to both sides for economic advantage and development,” she added.
The International Tug-of-War (at times referred to as “Pulling for Peace” and the “Peace Pull”) was started in 2006 by then Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk and International Falls Mayor Shawn Mason.
The last International Tug-of-War planned here was in 2014 but it had to be cancelled due to the flood conditions along the Rainy River.
All three pulls of the 2013 contest were won by the U.S. side.
For more information or to register for the tug-of-war, either Team Canada or Team U.S.A., visit