Great-grandchildren to a lumber baron

Before coming to Fort Frances last Friday, all Carol Pirie of North Carolina knew about her great-grandfather, Edward Wellington Backus, was that she had “missed out.”
“My sister had told me he was a lumber baron,” Pirie said, adding her sibling then would go on and tell her about the fortune Backus amassed and Pirie didn’t have.
“So I grew up knowing I missed out,” she laughed.
Pirie was one of Backus’ three great-grandchildren who made it to the unveiling of the town’s first heritage mural on the west wall of the CIBC, which honoured the role Backus played in establishing the mills in International Falls and Fort Frances.
Mark Cumming from Arizona and his sister, Lynne, from Colorado also were on hand for the unveiling. And all three mingled with people from both sides at a welcome home dinner for the Backus family in Ranier, Mn. on Friday night.
None of them ever met their great-grandfather. The closest is Lynne, who spent a lot of time with Backus’ wife, Elizabeth (her great-grandmother), as a child.
“I feel close to him because I know her so well,” she said.
“I knew a few things about E.W.,” echoed Mark Cumming. “All the history work put together by these people have expanded my knowledge quite a bit.”
He appreciated what E.W. Backus did in his lifetime, and it’s no wonder. Just like his great-grandfather, Mark Cumming is an entrepreneur and a business owner. He also is proud Backus realized the full potential of the community here, noting, “The community supported E.W. as much as E.W. supported the community.”
“Someone had to do it,” he added. “E.W. decided to be the original one to do that.”
Meanwhile, Lynne Cumming was amazed at the amount of work that had been done in researching Backus’ history, noting it gave the family and the community a chance to study their roots.
“I loved the fact both countries were coming together,” she said, noting she “immediately desired to be here” once she heard about the mural dedicated to her great-grandfather.
The history aspect was what really hit Pirie. She said when she was growing up, she felt like something was missing in her life. But after the mural unveiling, the dinner, and the chance to talk with people on both sides of the border, she believes she’s found it.
“Now I feel like I’m connected,” she remarked. “To know my family had done so much for this area and went to such lengths for this community. It just helped me connect more with my past.”
The Backus descendants left the area earlier this week. But the great-grandchildren didn’t leave empty-handed–they have a whole slew of memories to take home with them.
“This has just been a wonderful reviewing of old friendship, and the joy of making new friends,” Lynne Cumming said.
“I see the dynamics of this community,” Mark Cumming added. “It’s a community looking to the future.”
As for Pirie, she’s already looking forward to coming back to the area.
“My son and I already [are] planning to bring the rest of the children up here so we can have this enriching experience,” she said. “The people I just met here, I feel they are my family.
“You don’t get that many times in life,” she reasoned.