The Noden Causeway officially opened on June 28, 1965—linking Fort Frances to Atikokan and opening up a new world of economic, tourism, social, and educational possibilities.
A half-century later, the monumental achievement is being recognized in an exhibit at the Fort Frances Museum.
“Like anyone my age or younger, the causeway has been a permanent fixture in my life,” museum curator Sherry George said during a wine-and-cheese reception last Wednesday to mark the new exhibit.
“I truly remember little about what it was like not to have the causeway,” she added.
“Before the causeway was built, those who lived on the east side of Rainy Lake could only get to Fort Frances for supplies and medical services . . . by boat or walk the railroad bridge across the lake, she noted.
“Schooling for children of these families was often out of railcars,” added George.
“My husband’s family was part of a community living in Rocky Inlet whose schoolhouse came to them in a railcar.”
Visitors to Sunny Cove Camp prior to 1965 remember walking the last three miles along the railroad tracks from the Five-Mile Dock.
“It was just part of the summer experience,” said George. “I can’t honestly imagine what children of today would think about that.”
These days, the ability to travel to Thunder Bay in three-and-a-half hours is taken for granted, she added.
“We forget that prior to the completion of Highway 11, those living in the district travelled first west and then north to Kenora, then doubled back east to the Lakehead—a long trip by car in those days,” George remarked.
But the greatest benefit of the causeway was an economic one.
Prior to the opening of Highway 11, logging was restricted to areas accessed by river and lake drives—and only could come to the mills during the summer months, George said.
Needed supplies came in by railcar and float plane, but not always cheaply or in a timely manner, she added.
And local residents must not forget how Highway 11 allows them to take advantage of the recreational opportunities nearby, such as lake landings they can drive to, prime hunting and fishing just hours away, and skiing and snowshoeing trails, George remarked.
“We are truly blessed by the area we live in,” she stressed.
“The Noden Causeway, stretched three miles across Rainy Lake, provides opportunity for a bird’s-eye view,” George noted.
“From the highest point, the scenery is stunning and never fails to impress.”
While George, like countless others, now may take for granted the ways the causeway and Highway 11 have made her life easier, she “truly appreciates the foresight of people like Bill Noden and our town fathers, the genius of the engineers, and the dedication and pride taken in one’s work by the contractors who worked to make it a reality.”
“We must be grateful that the great thinkers of another time continued to dream, plan, and fight for the causeway we celebrate today,” she said.
Mayor Roy Avis agreed the building of the causeway was vital to Fort Frances.
“Before the causeway, Fort Frances was a forgotten part of the province≤” he noted.
“We were remote, with no direct ties to southern Ontario and also in a different time zone,” he recalled, adding the area was much-more tied to Manitoba at that time, whether it was for health care or post-secondary education.
The construction of the causeway meant changes for residents and businesses. The kraft mill was built in the early 1970s and commerce rapidly was shifting to the east.
The tourist industry also began to change. Fort Frances used to have three large float plane bases. In the summertime, it was hard to find a parking spot and the downtown used to have many businesses catering strictly to tourists.
And after the causeway was built, many town residents migrated to Halkirk and Watten townships to take up permanent residence, Mayor Avis added.
“For less than $1,000, you could purchase from the Crown a lot of your choice,” he noted. “This continued until 1967.”
Attending last Wednesday’s reception from the other end of Highway 11 was Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown.
He said that even now, 50 years after the causeway was built, he still is in awe of “the bridge which has helped nurture and build Atikokan’s community relationships with Fort Frances and Rainy River Valley, as well as our American friends in Minnesota.”
“Millions of dollars have been invested in the bridge but there’s even more priceless benefits which the bridge has brought—the social, cultural, political, and economic bindings of our communities,” Mayor Brown remarked.
“And I think, as we all know, the drive over the top of that Noden Causeway is certainly a majestic view for anyone that travels over.”
The Noden Causeway truly is appreciated by Atikokan residents, he added, noting it not only has helped the economy but brought together boards and committees.
Looking ahead, Mayor Brown said Atikokan will participate in building even more bridges—over water, land, air, and virtually—to build bridges socially, culturally, economically, and politically “so the entire Rainy River District continues to be the great place we know it is.”
He also gave George a certificate of appreciation on behalf of Atikokan town council.
Matt Soprovich, constituency assistant for local MPP Sarah Campbell, noted he drives over the causeway every day on his motorcycle.
And while taking in the view, he said it’s clear Northwestern Ontario is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Soprovich also led event-goers in a round of “Happy Birthday,” sung in honour of the Noden Causeway’s 50th anniversary.
One local resident attended last Wednesday’s reception not so much to pay tribute to the causeway but to honour William Noden, the local businessman and MPP who spearheaded lobbying efforts to get it built.
Back in the 1950s, Marj Holland-Katerick worked at Gilmore & Noden Hardware, located on the northeast corner of Scott Street and Portage Avenue and owned by Ralph Gilmore and William Noden.
“One was Conservative and one was Liberal,” she recalled.
“They were both very, very good at their jobs,” she added. “But the day when the election was over, one would be smiling and the other would be very, very serious.”
Noden would “be proud to know I was here,” said Holland-Katerick.
The causeway exhibit features a wealth of newspaper clippings and photos from over the years.
The photos are from a number of sources, including many from the collection of George Armstrong Co., the well-known local contractor which played an integral role in the building of the causeway, and George Howard, who worked at the site 50 years ago.
In addition, the exhibit outlines the events leading up to, and including, construction, as documented by the Fort Frances Times and other sources.
George gave special thanks to George Armstrong Co., which sponsored the reception along with the Town of Fort Frances,
Construction on the causeway began in 1958. By the time of its completion, it cost $6.5 million—equivalent to $200 million in today’s dollars.
The exhibit will run through August on the main floor gallery at the museum, which is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and children (aged five-12), and $12 for families.
Admission also includes passes to museum, as well as the Hallett and lookout tower sites along the riverfront.