Community turns out for mural unveiling

It may have been finished just the day before, and it still needed some touch-ups afterwards, but that didn’t take anything away from the eagerly-anticipated unveiling of the town’s first heritage mural Friday morning.
Residents from both sides of the border crowded on Mowat Avenue as they waited for the large orange tarp draped over the west side of the CIBC building to be dropped, revealing the portrait of industrialist Edward Wellington Backus.
A round of applause erupted as 12 of Backus’ descendants, including granddaughter Bette Cumming and nephew Ed Kingport Sr., were piped in by Fort Frances Highlander Dr. Bruce Lidkea.
Both Kingport and Cumming extended thanks from the family for choosing to honour her grandfather, who was responsible for establishing the mills in International Falls and Fort Frances.
“He was a fantastic personality who brought modern engineering to this community,” Kingport Sr. said as his remembered his uncle.
After the unveiling, Cumming said she was quite pleased with how the mural of her grandfather turned out.
She laughed that her son, Mark, thought Backus needed a mustache.
“But my grandfather was a very clean shaven man,” she noted. “I can still remember the feel of his cheek when he kissed me.”
Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, who was on hand for the ceremony along with local MP Robert Nault, helped Cumming and Kingport pull the rope to unveil the mural. Gray said the federal government was proud to be a part of this project, having given $20,000 in FedNor funding for this and two more murals still to come.
“What better person to be honoured first with the first mural, whose vision brought alive this wonderful community,” Gray said.
“Edward Wellington had a vision. This vision is reflected not only [in the two mills he established] but in the friendly relations between these two areas,” he added.
Gray noted this mural–and those to follow–will be a benefit not only to Fort Frances but to the Borderland community as a whole as it attracts visitors to the area.
“In a global market, Fort Frances and International Falls don’t compete against each other, they compete against other parts of the world,” noted Nault.
“We can be successful if we keep working as neighbours,” he stressed.
For artist Brian Romagnoli, Friday’s unveiling meant the end of the mad rush to get his work finished. Plagued by bad weather during much of September and October, he spent many nights burning the midnight oil under a layer of hoarding to complete the northern half of the mural.
But it’s a project he enjoyed doing.
“All the people here have been great,” he said, noting he got some help near the end from Vi Plumridge and Kari-Ann Anderson to fill in some of the mural.
“I never heard about E.W. Backus until I came here,” Romagnoli remarked, noting he was quite impressed with Backus’ history. “We’ve come here to honour this great man.
“I hope I have done him justice.”
International Falls Coun. Terry Carew joined Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon in congratulating the Business Improvement Area on a job well done, along with Abitibi-Consolidated mill manager Jim Gartshore.
Julian Morelli, co-chair of the BIA’s “Paint the Town” committee with Cheryl Behan, said the key to getting the mural off the ground was co-operation by different parties from both sides of the border–from Ranier resident Sam Woods (who compiled a history on Backus) to Gord Winik and Gartshore at Abitibi-Consolidated (for providing the scaffolding and hoarding when the project ran long).
“This is an international celebration,” said Morelli, noting Backus played a large part in the history of both International Falls and Fort Frances.
“We’re glad it’s been a success so far,” he added.