FACS celebrates 75 years of care

Peggy Revell

In the closing chapter before amalgamation, Family & Children’s Services of Rainy River District commemorated 75 years of incorporation last week.
Having the agency celebrate its 75th anniversary is “somewhat fitting” given it will be merged with the Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services this coming spring, noted FACS executive director Vik Nowak.
“It’s a nice way to send things off,” he remarked during last Wednesday’s open house to mark the occasion.
“It’s an end of an era—there’s a lot of water under the bridge in the 75 years.”
Nowak also noted most Children’s Aid Societies in the province only are around 30-40 years old, so FACS reaching 75 is a landmark.
One of the other oldest in the province—Timiskaming—is celebrating its 100th year but also will be amalgamating, he added.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet celebration,” echoed Wendy Brunetta, who has been with FACS for 26 years.
“We’re celebrating 75 years of incorporation, but it’s also an end of the corporation because we’re merging with Kenora in April of next year.
“So it’s a good time to celebrate,” she reasoned.
Besides the open house, FACS also marked the anniversary by hosting a reunion for staff, former staff, volunteers, and board members Thursday evening.
One bright spot at last Wednesday’s open house was a visit from Dale and Tina Mills who, on a whim, drove all the way from Toronto for the event.
“It was really worth the trip,” he said, explaining his father (Fred Mills) actually had worked at FACS back in the early 1940s.
Their family lived in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) at the time and he was only five, Mills noted, but he still remembers his father often being gone and travelling as part of the job.
Years later and now living in Toronto, the couple has an interest in native issues, which led him to read about the plight of Pikangikum First Nation just a few weeks ago—which, in turn, led him to hear about how FACS and the region pulled together last winter to collect an estimated four-five tons of emergency relief supplies of food, clothing, and other items which then were delivered to the remote northern community.
“I said, ‘Look at what these people have done!’” Mills recalled.
Then he realized the connection that this was the same agency his father had worked for decades ago.
Discovering that FACS was marking its 75th anniversary in 2010, Mills and his wife promptly decided to come up for a visit to the area and say thank you.
“My dad would love it if I could pull him out of the grave to come,” Mills said.
“He had a heart for people.”
When it comes to FACS, one important historical figure is that of Ron King, who was executive director from the early 1970s until his retirement and was the longest-running ED of the agency.
“He was instrumental in really charting the course for [the organization],” Nowak stressed, also pointing to King’s work to help establish Weechi-it-te-win Family Services here.
“He was also instrumental in our current integrated services,” noted Brunetta, saying that in 1984, FACS became not just a Children’s Aid Society but also started delivering children’s mental health and child development services, as well as other services that were considered “non-mandated” by the province.
“That, I think, was very new to the entire province, and something that people were really not sure would work,” admitted Brunetta, who has become a bit of a historian in her time with the agency, keeping track of various milestones.
“And I guess we’re still here today saying it does work, and we think that having all of those services together is very beneficial to the families and children that we serve,” she remarked.
Also important to the development of the local CAS was Florence Tibbetts who was appointed as the local superintendent on March 1, 1937.
Following her death in 1954, the society’s then president, A.D. McLennan, stated at the annual meeting:
“For many years she laboured with most unselfish devotion for the protection and care of the unfortunate children of this district.
“The splendid work done by Mrs. Tibbetts has not only prepared a sound foundation for this society, but has reaped a harvest of good citizens for this community.
“She was, indeed, a most wonderful woman. We owe a debt to her that is beyond reckoning and without equal.”
Historically, it’s interesting how the Cruelty to Animals Act actually come out before child and family services’ legislation, Brunetta noted.
“So they were actually more worried about harming animals than humans,” she said.
“It was kind of strange.”
Funding also has evolved over the 75 years, with municipalities once being responsible for paying for a child from their community in care until the province took over funding 100 percent back in the 1990s, Brunetta noted.
Other interesting historical points in the history of FACS include:
•According to an 1961 issue of the Fort Frances Times, the Children’s Aid Society was operating as early as 1914 in the district, although the earliest Children’s Aid Society record is a letter from 1924.
•In 1924, Mr. Alexander MacKenzie was appointed as local superintendent for the CAS, marking the first time any person was paid to do children’s aid work in the district.
•Up until its incorporation in 1935, the agency operated mainly on a volunteer basis.
•Following MacKenzie’s death, Mrs. Florence Tibbetts was appointed as local superintendent on March 1, 1937 and the office of the Children’s Aid Society was established in her home on Nelson Street.
•The society received its first grant of $1,000 in 1937 from the province.
•To raise money for the society, amateur concert nights and fundraising campaigns, including house-to-house campaigns, canvassing businesses, and one-day tag sales, were used to fund it.
•By 1943, funding had shifted, with roughly 80 percent coming from municipalities and 20 percent from private sources.
•In the society’s fiscal year of March 31, 1946 to March 31, 1947, Tibbetts handled 200 cases and there were more than 100 children in care.
•An amendment to the Child Protection Act in 1949 meant the province reimbursed local municipalities 25 percent of their maintenance expenditures.
•In January, 1954, Tibbetts passed away and Mr. C.E.P. Thompson became the local director, followed by Rene Charbonneau and then G.H. Antram.
•In April, 1957, an agreement was signed with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration which allowed for the society to give the same service to the treaty Indians as to other citizens.
•An office in Atikokan was established in 1958.
•In 1973, the agency began having a social worker available 24 hours a day through the La Verendrye Hospital answering service.
•In January, 1975, Ron King became local director.
•In 1977, the society changed its name to Family & Children Services of the District of Rainy River.
•In 1987, Weechi-it-te-win Family Services received its charter as a mandated child welfare agency.
•1991 saw the Supervised Access Program added to the agency’s services.
•In 1993, the Rainy River office opened.
­Excerpts from the pieces of this gathered history also are available online at www.facsrr.ca