‘Border Sister City’ agreement lauded

With Fort Frances and International Falls now officially “Border Sister Cities” following a signing ceremony here and then across the river last Thursday afternoon, Mayors Glenn Witherspoon and Harry Swendsen both pledged to work together more on cross-border initiatives.
And a few of the 30 or so people on hand for the signing outside the Civic Centre here clearly gave the deal a “thumbs up.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” said local resident Jim Ryan. “It’ll improve our relationship in many ways. For instance, [Harry Vandetti] said in his column [last Wednesday], ‘Where’s Labour Day?’
“Maybe we could do something together. I’d like to see something happen, like free telephone service between Fort Frances and the Falls, like they have in Rainy River and Baudette,” he added.
“I wish them well.”
“I think it’s great,” echoed Fort Frances Coun. Struchan Gilson. “We should see more co-operation with communities close to us.
“We’re not a closed community here. What’s good for International Falls is good for Fort Frances,” he stressed.
“Considering our proximity, it’s probably something we’ve taken for granted in the past,” said Janis Lesko, chair of the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee.
“We may be naming it now but we’ve always worked together, in a way,” she added. “It’s long overdue. Hopefully, this means working together even more in the future.”
Roberta Oliver, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, was thrilled at the prospect of “twinning” with the Falls Chamber.
“As one Chamber of Commerce, we work for our community. As two, we could do so much more,” she remarked at the signing ceremony.
And each mayor had nothing but positive thoughts on both the history of the two communities’ pasts—and their hopefully bright future.
“We’re becoming sister cities so we can share each other’s clothes,” joked Mayor Swendsen. “I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, I can’t think of a better one.”
Mayor Swendsen noted the significance of having the signing ceremony the day after the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. was to look forward to new beginnings.
“Today, we recognize our heritage and look forward to a future of cop-operation,” he said, recalling the history of the area and our continual sharing of border waters as well as the tourism and pulp and paper industries.
“For some, international relations are something people discuss. For us, it’s an everyday occurrence,” Mayor Swendsen remarked. “We need to create an atmosphere where culturally and economically, we can thrive.
“Let’s strengthen this partnership, starting today, so that others can follow our example.”
Citing current cross-border co-operation between the fire and police departments, as well as service clubs like the Rotary Club and Shriners, Mayor Swendsen challenged any other clubs out there to try and plan cross-border celebrations and events.
“Some countries have walls between them, we’re connected by a bridge. Let’s use that to develop a strong future,” said Mayor Witherspoon.
“We have so much in common. I think Sept. 11 made me realize that,” he noted. “Terrorists try to destroy Western culture, and here were are, looking to build something our communities will be proud of in the future.”
Mayor Witherspoon added he thought both communities were “second to none.” And he said he was sure that when Backus established the pulp and paper industry here at the turn of the century, “I’m sure he didn’t he didn’t think it would take 100 years to become sister cities.”
The agreement was signed by Mayors Swendsen and Witherspoon, and town administrators Bill Naturkach and Dave Richards.
The ceremony here, which was emceed by Naturkach, also featured a minute of silence to remember Sept. 11, music by Fort Frances Highlander Ilke Milne, local resident Marc Desforges singing both national anthems, and the reading of the “Sister Cities” proclamation by town crier Brian Hagarty.
Desforges said it was “an honour” to be asked to sing the anthems.
And finally, Fr. Rey Ronquillo—the first non-member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) priest at St. Mary’s Church here, gave the “marriage” of the two communities his blessing after a few good-humoured remarks.
“When I came here, I was told by Thunder Bay Mayor Ken Boshcoff that I would be coming to a great town and meet a nice mayor [Witherspoon],” he remarked.
“And then when we did meet, I thought, I kind of like this guy. We can talk eye to eye,” chuckled Fr. Ronquillo. “And he has more hair than me.”
A second signing ceremony was held in at Smokey Bear Park in International Falls later Thursday afternoon. That ceremony was included on a KDLH television special, “Our Border,” during that evening’s newscast.