Cridland remembered as a fiercely dedicated community servant and friend

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Following the passing of a significant figure in the community, his friends, former colleagues and others reflected on the life, compassion and legacy of Duane Cridland.

Cridland passed away in late January 2024 following years of living with prostate cancer, and was a titan within the community when it came to his generosity, community spirit and business endeavours. From the insurance industry to restaurants and beyond, Cridland’s name and efforts were never far away from myriad events and benefits, and according to those who knew him, he was always looking to give back to the community that had given him and his family so much.

“I went to work with him at Gillon’s in 2007, and that was the first I knew him,” said John Homer, managing partner of Causeway Insurance.

“He was my boss until 2015 when I left Gillon’s, actually he retired the same year, and then not only was he my boss, but he became one of my personal friends and a mentor for me in the business.”

Homer, who said that he likely would never have come to own his own business were it not for Cridland’s friendship, advice and mentorship, shared that Cridland was the type of person who made others better simply by association.

Ed Gackley, a friend and business partner of Cridland’s, shared that this sign at the Memorial Sports Centre was one that Cridland knew word for word and is an accurate representation of how he felt about giving back to the community that had also supported him and his family. – Ken Kellar photo

“You see me and my wife out in the community a lot, we give to the community, corporate money-wise, but also our personal money and time, that was instilled in my by Duane and Grace, and my wife,” he said.

“And I’m not special when it comes to this. There’s tons of people that he’s rubbed off on in the insurance industry, not just in Fort Frances, but in Southern Ontario. Anybody he touched. That’s just who he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if it meant that he would freeze.”

John Homer, one of the ‘Zambroni’s’ who recently purchased a used Olympia ice resurfacer at auction, and a friend of Cridland’s, said that Cridland got a kick out of the Toronto Maple Leafs-painted machine and took it for a spin on several occasions, and it was even lent to The Flint House for use in the 2023 Canada Day Parade. – John Homer photo

Homer pointed to his time organizing the Relay for Life, while he still worked at Gillon’s, as the period in time in which he and Cridland really became friends. He recalled Cridland not only helping to organize the event, but also taking on other tasks in order to keep the event running smoothly, but also to help keep the spirits of volunteers and walkers up as well.

“Duane was co-chair with my wife Cindy, and he’d be the first one to say Cindy did all the work,” Homer said.

“He was just there for his influence, whatever we needed. If we needed to do something, he was the one who deep-fried the turkey in the middle of the night so everybody could eat. No matter what, he was there.”

Keith Knapp is another individual who first came to know Cridland through the world of insurance, and afterwards became a close friend. Knapp shared that Cridland also helped him get his own business running when he first came to the area.

“He always found time for anyone that wanted help with business,” Knapp said.

“He was a mentor for a lot of the younger guys.”

That helpful nature and willingness to help get others on their feet was not a rare thing with Cridland, Knapp said.

“He was the kind of person, like for me, he was a reliable friend that you could count on if you were in a jackpot,” Knapp said.

“If you needed help, you just needed to reach out and he was always there for you, and I can speak for a lot of his other friends, he was there for a lot of his friends. He was always available to listen to or help you through a problem and look for a solution, and he was always giving to his friends as well.”

If insurance was only part of Cridland’s life, then his work opening up The Flint House and stepping into the world of restaurants was just another, and true to form, Cridland didn’t hesitate to turn a solid working relationship into another fast friendship. Ed Gackley comes from the world of restaurants, helping to open and manage the Original Joe’s chain from 1998 until he came aboard with the Cridlands to get The Flint House up and running in 2015. Now a part-time radio personality, but still helping out at the restaurant, Gackley said Cridland’s passion for his community was evident from the very beginning.

“From the moment I met him I could tell he was very community focused,” Gackley recalled.

“With my previous company, Original Joe’s, we did, we called it the ‘community pint,’ where we had 50 cents from every pint went to someone within 10 miles of us, whether it be a family or community centre or something along those lines. Immediately, when I met him, we bought the bikes for the Kiwanis Club Easter Scavenger Hunt. A lady approached me and wanted to know if we would buy a bike, and he said ‘tell her we’ll buy two!’ He was extremely driven and extremely community-focused, and that just really aligned with what I like and care about.”

Homer, Knapp and Gackley all stressed that Cridland was fiercely dedicated to giving back to the community that had helped support his family’s businesses over the years, be it with his time, his money, or something else. But that giving nature was just a part of him.

“He was a lucky guy, he had lots,” homer said.

“He was a very successful business person, he had a very successful family, and he knew the importance of the community and the people in it. If you didn’t have the people, you didn’t have the business. But that’s only half of it with Duane. The other half is he just genuinely liked to help people. He liked to do things. I can remember him buying a Wii for Rainycrest just to help keep the seniors active, keep their minds going, keep their joints moving.”

“I think he felt blessed that the family business provided him with that opportunity to give back,” Knapp said.

“Like you’re not just taking as a business owner, you’re actually giving back and supporting. He was always giving to the community. It didn’t matter if it was a sports team or if it was an individual player that needed sponsorship, he was always there for everyone.”

“He was a house of second chances,” Gackley said.

“If people made a mistake, he was willing to work through that and to give them that second chance. There were several kids in town where they came from underprivileged homes and we got them in [the Flint House] and he wanted to make sure they were mentored and they had good guidance and leadership. And I know he’s done that with people that didn’t even work for us.”

For all of the work and time and volunteering and giving Duane and his wife Grace did for the Town of Fort Frances and beyond, their peers saw fit to nominate them for the 2023 Fort Frances Citizen of the Year award, which they did receive on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. Mayor Andrew Hallikas, who presented the award to the Cridlands on behalf of the town, noted that, while he didn’t personally know Duane very well, he knows the impact he has left on the community is immense and will last for a long time.

“I didn’t know Duane well, but I knew of him and of his family through his actions, and those actions, they speak volumes,” Hallikas said.

“I was reflecting on it and the first thing that popped into my mind is John Donne’s poem, ‘No Man is an Island, Entire of Itself.” There’s a line in there that resonated with me, which was ‘every man’s death diminishes me,’ and when I thought of when he passed away, it didn’t just diminish me, it diminished our community. It lessened our community because of his lifelong legacy and his family’s lifelong legacy of giving, and the example he set. I was really excited when he and his wife were very appropriately selected to be Citizens of the Year, it was a richly deserved honour. Duane was a man who spent so much of his life giving of himself, what he had, his time, his talents, and I think because of that, he set an example for all of us, and he set the bar very high.”

It is possible to measure a legacy in dollars and cents alone, but an individual like Cridland leaves behind a legacy much harder to quantify, if only because so much of his work wasn’t necessarily visible in material goods, but instead in the ways where he helped out with a cause, or someone in need.

“It;s one thing to have money and be a successful business person, but for him it was a three-pronged approach,” Homer said.

“He gave where he could financially, but he also would be the one to roll up his shirt sleeves and be at the Relay for 12 hours that night and the day before. He’d be right in the trenches. He’d be there filling sandbags when sandbags needed to be filled, instead of just throwing money at it. His legacy is still going, because you look at the family and they want to carry that on, and they do.”

“He wasn’t one of those people that just took,” Knapp said.

“He felt that there was a need for him to give back, and he definitely gave back in many, many different ways, from day one that I met him. I got a lot of fond memories of us out and about and doing things. He was a fighter. He fought it for a long time. He wasn’t going to give up. He didn’t give up. Right to the day, he did not give up.”

“The money that he raised for cancer was incredible,” Gackley said.

“What was it, over half a million dollars? I know he built one of the hospice rooms over at the hospital as well, but the giving back and the fight for cancer and to help other people, I think would be top of his list. He cared a lot about that cause.”

Duane Cridland was a longtime volunteer and supporter of many different causes within the region and is remembered by his friends as a caring, supportive and community and family-oriented individual, as well as a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan. – File photo

“Duane set an example, and I think, through his example, positively influences people to give, to volunteer,” Hallikas said.

“To me, it’s not just the things he did, and they were legion, but it’s the legacy that he leaves; that giving, that example of volunteerism. He was a lifelong volunteer and he never had to be asked. I know he would often see a need and just step in. Those types of things are inspiring to everyone, and inspiring to myself. He dedicated himself to making his community a better place for everybody. I think I can probably, as mayor, speak for all of us when I say that we’re immensely grateful for having had Duane in our lives in whatever capacity, whether as a friend or a neighbour, an employer, a family member or a fellow citizen. Duane was an inspiration to all of us.”