Rainy River turns 100

On Jan. 1, 1904, the hamlet of Beaver Mills, Ont. became incorporated as the Town of Rainy River.
Last Thursday (Jan. 1, 2004), about 120 town residents gathered for a New Year’s levee to celebrate the 100th birthday of the community.
Town crier Doug Giles started the festivities by ringing an old school bell from the former Rainy River Alexandra School. “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” yelled Giles as he rang his way through the packed Legion Hall to the podium where he welcomed everyone.
Gord Armstrong, chairman of the centennial committee, then made note of the year ahead. “This is a special day and it will be a busy year ahead with many activities planned to mark the centennial,” he noted.
Long-time resident Gill Stamler, accompanied by Grandma Jean Heard, led everyone in the singing of the national anthem. Fr. James Panikulam of the local and Pinewood Catholic churches then led everyone in prayer.
He thanked God for all those who have worked hard to make the community what it is over the past 100 years—and asked God to bless Rainy River over the next 100.
Jack Elliott, publicity chair for the centennial committee, then took to the podium and spoke about the now famous “Great Beaver.”
“Thanks to Wayne McCarthy for dreaming up and finding this beaver for us,” said Elliott, who also saluted Jordan Beller, Doug Giles, Don Beyak, and Rene Hogue for helping keep the “Beaver Fever” alive.
The committee used the myth of a great beaver being alive in and around Rainy River as a promotional tool to get people interested in the centennial.
Thanks to newspapers across the district, the story was well-received and anticipated by both current and former Rainy River residents alike.
To cap off the “Great Beaver” legacy, Elliott called upon Mayor Glen Armstrong and Legion president Gerry Marchuk to unveil a newly-built statute of the “Great Beaver” in front of the crowd last Thursday.
The Rainy River Legion kicked in $5,000 to have the statue built, which eventually will be placed in Heritage Square somewhere near the 4008 steam engine as a photo op.
Elliott said they plan to build a stand for it that resembles a beaver lodge.
After it was unveiled, Elliott announced the contest held to name the beaver was met with great enthusiasm from people. Several came up with the winning name and there was a prize for the winner.
The committee chose to draw from all those who came up with the name, with the winners being Corrie and Janice Wiersema. The winning name was “Millie.”
Not long after the name was announced, some of those on hand were calling her “Beaver Millie,” which seemed fitting as the town originally was called Beaver Mills.
With Baudette having “Willie Walleye” and Kenora boasting “Huskie the Muskie,” and Rainy River now having a female mascot, Elliott said there are rumours abound across the region that their may be offspring in the area.
For instance, it is thought that Li’l Amik in Fort Frances could be one of Beaver Millie’s.
The next order of business at the levee last Thursday was to honour the town’s centenarians and former mayors. Clinton Park, who’s lived in Rainy River almost his entire life, turns 100 on March 26.
To honour him, Park was announced as the first inductee into the Order of the Great Beaver—created to salute citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the community.
Emma Friesting, who could not attend the levee, also was honoured as a centenarian. Jordan Beller, Wayne McCarthy, Doug Giles, Jack Elliott, and Gord Armstrong similarly were all inducted into the Order.
Mayor Armstrong also gave a speech, thanking Gord Armstrong and his centennial committee for all their hard work preparing for “this special year.”
“Today we unveiled ‘Millie’ the beaver who will be forever a reminder of this important event,” said the mayor.
“This year we will have the opportunity to extend a welcome to visitors and old friends,” he added. “We will celebrate the strength, courage, and passion of our ancestors.”
After a few more remarks, Mayor Armstrong honoured previous mayors still living in Rainy River, two of which were on hand—Gord Armstrong and Don Budreau.
He noted three who were absent, Lou Nicholson, Gordon Prost, and Clarence Olinyk. Each of them received a town flag and a centennial pin.
Dignitaries from several district communities then congratulated Rainy River and presented the community with gifts. Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown, Emo Reeve Russ Fortier, Morley Reeve Gary Gamsby, and Dawson Reeve John Amundsen all addressed the crowd.
Reeve Fortier told a story of the Fisher family in Emo whose ancestors came to the area in the late 1800s, arriving at Beaver Mills. They took a boat east and ran into trouble at the Manitou Rapids.
“It took them five days to make the journey. Today it took me thirty minutes.”
“Yesterday our centennial year ended, today yours begins!” noted Reeve Gamsby. “You will need many hard-working people to make it a success. If everyone helps a little, a lot will get done.”
Mayor Brown noted he has worked with many Rainy River politicians and town staff over the many years he has been in municipal politics.
“Not only did they always look out for what was best for Rainy River, but always worked for the betterment of the Rainy River District,” he remarked.
Just before the giant-sized birthday cake—made and decorated by Lisa Fraser—was cut by town council, special note was made of all the committee members.
They also included Susan Douglas (vice-chair), Marlene McNally (town beautification), Melanie Murray (homecoming), Norma Elliott (events), Don Ricci (website), Pat Berg, Gill Stamler, Heidi Ivall, Bunnie Atkin, John Trenchard, and Harry Arnould (parade), and Marjorie Stintzi (history).
The cake was cut and Grandma Jean led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to Rainy River.
Mayor Armstrong then led everyone in a toast to Rainy River—her past, present, and future—to conclude the levee.