‘Kraft’ tour ends with bang

Duane Hicks
Joey Payeur

The final stop of this year’s “Kraft Celebration Tour” was such an attraction that people were spilling into Fort Frances from out of town, out of province—and even from across the Atlantic.
Fort Frances earned the honour after amassing 518,082 online votes to defeat Dryden in a head-to-head showdown—more than double of any of the other winning communities on this year’s “Tour.”
The prestigious event culminated Sunday with a free community barbecue hosted by Kraft at the Sorting Gap Marina and a live broadcast of TSN’s SportsCentre, co-anchored by Darren Dutchyshen and Jennifer Hedger.
The pair also took part in a street curling exhibition on Saturday, then headlined an autograph session Sunday afternoon at Safeway and another one at the marina following the broadcast.
Among those who came out to the Safeway session were 14-year-olds Saphia Khalfa and Renae Peachey from London, England, who have been in town since Aug. 5 visiting Khalfa’s grandfather, local resident Bob Pollard.
The teens were visibly excited to meet the TV personalities and heaped praise upon Fort Frances as a whole.
“It’s so nice and peaceful here compared to London,” said Khalfa, who visits here every other summer.
“It’s nice to get away from there once in a while.”
The pair brandished their autographed publicity cards from Dutchyshen and Hedger with pride even while Peachey—a first-time visitor to Canada—needled her friend about being the only one of the two to reel in a fish during a recent outing on Rainy Lake.
“It was my first time fishing,” beamed Peachey. “I caught a bass, a really big one.”
Hedger said Fort Frances should be extremely proud for the work it put in to land the event and the job the community did in hosting it.
“Everywhere we go, it’s always the people that stand out for us,” she remarked. “And it couldn’t have been a more beautiful setting to relax.
“For a bunch of city people, that lake is like manna to us.”
Dutchyshen agreed with his co-host on the scenic attributes of the area.
“We get into our hotel at 7 a.m. . . . and they hand me the key to the hotel room,” he recalled.
“The way my room was facing, I open the back door and it blew me away. It was, bang, there’s this beautiful lake, this quiet shoreline.
“It was just gorgeous.”
As for being on the road for almost two weeks, Dutchyshen admitted, “It’s taxing . . . at the end of a tour, we’re spent.
“But then we’ll be back home and after three shows, we’ll look at each other and wonder when can we back on the road again?” he added.
“It’s just so much fun and so different from anything we normally do.”
Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis, meanwhile, said the whole experience was “phenomenal.”
“We really, really have to thank TSN and Kraft for having this program, and the Fort Frances Curling Club for taking on this challenge,” he remarked.
“From the time [the curling club volunteers] came out of the gate until yesterday, it was phenomenal.
“They were well-organized, they had a machine going,” the mayor said. “When the voting came down, they had people from coast to coast voting.
“They even had people from abroad voting for the town, and it showed,” he added, noting Fort Frances got the most votes in this year’s contest.
Mayor Avis also said the enthusiasm evoked was just what the town needed.
“One thing it did was it brought the spirit of the community back,” he reasoned. “People got very enthusiastic about it, everybody participated, from businesses to individual people.
“The enthusiasm was there,” he remarked. “We’ve had so many negative things happen to the community in the last 12 months, this was a real plus.
“It brings us into more of an upbeat mode.”
Curling club president Ron Silver, who headed the local organizing committee, was generous with his compliments to all those involved with making the weekend come together smoothly.
“The organizing committee worked tirelessly,” he stressed. “Anything that needed to be done, it was easy to find someone to step up to the plate.
“I talked to the TSN executive director after and his quote was, ‘Fort Frances has raised the bar for the Kraft Celebration Tour.’
“In some of the crew’s minds, it was the best stop ever and for the rest, at least in the top three out of the 50 places they have visited,” Silver noted.
“It’s a little sad that it’s over,” he added. “One of our committee members said [Sunday] night we’re all going to suffer from meeting withdrawal.”
Silver also received a surprise honour during Sunday’s festivities.
For his work in guiding the team skipped by his son, Chris, to the Northern Ontario Bantam boys’ provincial playdowns this past season, Silver was presented with the Pat “O” Reid Coaching Award on stage at the Sorting Gap Marina by Northern Ontario Curling Association past-president Muriel Anderson.
“I knew I’d been nominated in April but having not heard anything since then, I thought, ‘Oh, well, it was nice to be nominated,’” Silver said about the award, which is presented annually to one coach in each of Northern Ontario and southern Ontario.
“It’s a great honour,” he added. “But I told all my team when they came up to me after I won the award [that] I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Silver also has been a coach in the club’s “Li’l Rockers” junior curling program, as well as helped organized numerous regional and provincial bonspiels here.
“I want to make a difference with kids,” he stressed. “My mother was a schoolteacher and she was a big influence on me in that regard.
“She taught me a lot about teaching and caring for other people.
“I want to be an inspiration to Chris for him to want to do better,” Silver added.
Saturday’s street curling event drew about 200 spectators to the marina. Dutchyshen and renowned local curler Kathie Jackson teamed up to win the competition over Hedger and Gillons’ Insurance owner Duane Cridland, which sponsored the exhibition.
The other twosomes taking part included former NHL’er Neil Sheehy partnered with Devlin native and former provincial women’s champion second Jenna Enge while former Muskie hockey star Joe Basaraba, a Florida Panthers’ draft pick, was paired with Brandon Sinclair of the Fort Frances Lakers.
Sunday festivities at the Sorting Gap opened with performances by First Nations’ dancers and drummers from Northwest Bay, followed by the dancers, drummers, and bagpipers of the Fort Frances Highlanders.
The official cheque presentation of $25,000 from Kraft to the curling club then took place, with Mayor Avis and local MPP Sarah Campbell addressing the crowd afterwards.
The money will go towards paying off the club’s recently-installed geothermal heating and cooling system.
“We wanted to get away from the old freon system, which was not environmentally friendly and very costly,” noted Silver.