Mill Alumni dinner welcomes back employees and caregivers on May 31

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Those who used to work at the Fort Frances Mill, surrounding forests and wetlands, and now their caregivers are invited to the Fort Frances Legion on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, for the 11th annual Mill Alumni Banquet and Reception.

Committee members and banquet organizers Bill Morrison, Herman Pruys and John Brunetta shared that the annual event is a welcome opportunity to reunite and spend time with former friends and coworkers, all in the name of expanding on a regular tradition from the days the mill puffed steam into the Fort Frances sky.

“As the company was in the stages of shutting down, they stopped doing the Quarter-Century Banquet,” Pruys explained.

“Anyone who had 25 years of service, they were honoured at this banquet and the company used to pay for the whole thing. So then when they started to downsize, the company stopped doing that. Then we turned it into ‘mill alumni’ because people weren’t going to achieve 25 years anymore, anybody that was younger. So now it’s for anyone who worked in the mill.”

“Regardless of how many years you worked, you were included in this banquet,” Brunetta added.

Pruys and Brunetta both stressed that Morrison was the driving force behind first organizing the mill alumni committee and still does the “lion’s share” of organizing work each year, and now the banquet has achieved a significant milestone in its 11th annual event.

The banquet traditionally features a two course meal for those attending and brings together about 100 people on average, the men explained. In order to ensure that all those who used to work at the mill can attend, the committee makes sure that rides are arranged for those who may not have their own transportation due to living arrangements or living in a place like Rainycrest, and that those caregivers who might look after former mill employees can also purchase a ticket to attend the banquet as well.

“What we’ve done now is that if a mill worker cannot drive, or they’re too elderly or infirm, a caregiver can attend with them, whether they worked in the mill or not, as long as they buy a ticket,” Pruys said.

“We have people who are in wheelchairs, or they walk with a walker, so they can drive. Some of them no longer have a license, so it was just an idea that came up.”

The organizing committee also decorates the legion hall each banquet night with old newspaper clippings and photos documenting the history and employees of the century-old mill so employees from across the different offices and divisions can reminisce about their working days.

The Alumni Dinner was really born from the hole left behind by the cancellation of the Quarter-Century Banquet, and these days many of those who buy tickets do so to spend time with those they used to see almost every day at work.

“I think the reason it’s still running is because these guys that are buying ticket,s if they didn’t go to this, they wouldn’t see a lot of these guys,” Brunetta said.

“So it’s a chance for them to reconnect with people they worked with.”

“What I like about it is that you see people once a year that you don’t normally see,” Pruys added.

Ticket for the event have been printed and cost $30, and while they can be purchased from alumni committee members, they will also be available at the Fort Frances Senior Centre as well as at the Fort Frances Times office.