Avis remembered as hard-working, passionate mayor

By Ken Kellar
Staff Writer

Former Fort Frances mayor Roy Avis is being remembered by some of those who served with him as an individual who wanted the best for the town and worked hard to see it done.

Avis passed away on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at the age of 75, and was a well-known figure in local business, having been at the helm of West End Motors for decades. Avis was perhaps equally known for his lengthy tenure as a councillor and mayor, serving in some capacity in local government for 21 years. Avis’s years of service stretched from his time as a councillor until he was elected mayor in 2006, a position he held for over a decade until the 2018 election.

Over that time, Avis dedicated himself to bettering the town in many capacities. He was a figure involved in myriad projects like the new Ice for Kids Arena, the Townshend Theatre, the development of the waterfront, the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre and the Rainy Lake Square, among many others. Avis was also at the helm when Resolute shut down the mill in 2014, and worked to try and save the mill, though it was ultimately to no avail.

Those currently sitting members of council who served with Avis over his time in municipal politics unanimously described him as kind and quiet, but fiercely dedicated to the town. They celebrated how he worked together with his fellow councillors in his capacity to help make the town, and the district, a better place.

“There wasn’t much difference between the way he acted as a councillor and the way he acted as mayor,” said Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who served as a councillor with Avis under late mayor Dan Onichuk, and then served eight years with Avis while he was mayor.

“He just had an easy-going nature about him, but he really loved the town of Fort Frances and really wanted to do what was best for the town, no matter if he was a councillor or mayor. He just had a sincere desire to make the town better.”

Wiedenhoeft reflected on the struggles the mill had during their time together on council, and noted that Avis and the rest of council had fought hard to try and save the town’s livelihood.

“We worked very hard to try to save the mill at that time,” he said.

“There wasn’t a lot we could do but we did what we could to save the mill.”

The Fort Frances Times was on hand in December 2006 as newly-elected mayor Roy Avis, right, took his oath of allegiance in front of Justice Thomas McKay. Avis served as mayor of Fort Frances until 2018, and was involved in countless projects aimed at making the town and district better places to live. – file photo

Coun. Andrew Hallikas served two terms on town council with Avis and he again stressed that the mayor was a fierce proponent of the town.

“I enjoyed all eight years that I worked with Roy,” he said.

“One thing I can say about him is that he strongly believed in the town of Fort Frances. He worked tirelessly to improve living conditions, to attract business, and in general to make conditions better for people who lived in the town of Fort Frances. He was a very, very dedicated public servant.”

Coun. Wendy Brunetta also served as a councillor under Avis as mayor, and she remembered him as a great mentor during her first term on council, which coincided with his final term as mayor.

“With it being my first year on council, and with all of his experience, we had great conversations where he would guide me,” she recalled.

“I think I’m so fortunate to have learned from his experience, and I really enjoyed working with him.”

Fort Frances mayor June Caul also served a term as councillor while Avis was mayor and succeeded him in the position following the 2018 election. Caul backed up what others said about Avis, noting he was a quiet man who cared a great deal about the town.

“He was very quiet and compassionate and caring,” Caul said.

“That’s the big thing, he was so caring about the community for so many many years. That’s what I think of when I think of him. He never went off and did things on his own, he worked with the team, and we all worked pretty well together.”

Caul shared that Avis was also a mentor to her, and noted she went to him when she decided to run for mayor.

“I went and spoke to him to get some advice, and he was very very good about that,” she said.

“Any questions I had, he answered.”

Caul said she had known Avis for a long time outside of municipal politics, and shared that Avis was just as hardworking in his business life as he was in his political one.

“He really worked hard for this community,” Caul said.

“I don’t know if anyone else realizes it, but in talking to Chad last week, I stopped in to visit with the family, and right up until he was in the hospital, he was still going into the office, pretty much every day. He’d go to the office in the morning and then go for coffee and come back in the afternoon for a while. He still had his office there and he was still busy there.”

The mayor extended her condolences to the family and gave her thanks to Avis for the time he dedicated to Fort Frances over his life.

“The town has lost a very compassionate, hardworking individual who gave everything he had to the town for all his adult life,” she said.