Plaques listing FFHS veterans finally up again

Duane Hicks

FORT FRANCES—Two plaques listing Fort Frances High School alumni who served in Word War II—once a fixture in the halls of the old high school on First Street East—finally have found a place at the new Fort High.
Along with a portrait of former FFHS principal Capt. J.R. Townshend, the large framed lists now hang outside the Townshend Theatre for both students and the visiting public to see, reminding them of all of the local men and women who served (some of whom are still alive).
Retired FFHS teachers Mark Kowalchuk and Andrew Hallikas, who were in charge of organizing Remembrance Day ceremonies at Fort High until the early 2000s, have been trying to get the school to locate the lists and find a place for them since it moved to the former Westfort location more than a decade ago.
Kowalchuk said the plaques date back to the early 1950s and, along with Townshend’s portrait, used to hang in the main hall of the old high school.
They also were part of Remembrance Day ceremonies at the school for years.
“When we were moving from the old high school, Andrew and I made sure that we had our hands on those plaques so they wouldn’t disappear,” Kowalchuk recalled.
“And for a while in the new location, they did disappear. We didn’t know where they were.
“But between Andrew and myself and Keith [Gilbert], we were able to track them down again,” he noted.
“Andrew and I were always concerned because they were in the building someplace, but none of the kids were able to see those names and find grandparents’ names on there,” added Kowalchuk.
“We always wanted to get them up around the Townshend Theatre, but there was a bit of a delay because of some other things going on.
“[Then] this past spring, we spoke to George Bell, told him what we wanted to do, and he okayed it.”
The plaques list upwards of 600 names of men and women who served in the war, with silver stars placed beside the ones who died in service to their country, including Townshend and Kowalchuk’s uncle, John Ossachuk.
Kowalchuk is satisfied Fort High students, and members of the public, again will be able to see these pieces of history placed outside the theatre dedicated to Townshend, who was lost at sea when his troopship was sunk by a German U-boat as it approached the coast of Ireland.
“Even at the old high school, these plaques and Mr. Townshend’s picture were part of the history of the building and certainly the high school community,” he remarked.
“Then they kind of disappeared and were put into storage.
“Now that they’re back up, this generation and future generations will look for their family names on the plaques.
“Even though their grandparents or uncles or aunts have passed away, they will still be able to reflect and say, ‘Oh look, one of my relatives made a contribution to the war effort, and that contribution has been honoured on these plaques outside the Townshend Theatre,’” Kowalchuk reasoned.
“And I think now that they’re up, when they [students] come through these [theatre] doors for assemblies and so on, they can look up and see why it was named after Mr. Townshend and what his contribution was to each of the individuals that’s shown on these plaques.
“Every one of these folks would have known Mr. Townshend before he went off to war and lost his life,” Kowalchuk noted.
Local Legion member Noris Piccinato was glad to see the plaques go back up for a new generation to see.
“Nowadays, I think the teachers are getting a lot better educating the students about Remembrance Day,” he said. “I think it’s coming along really good now.
“I noticed at the cenotaph [on Remembrance Day] that the crowds are getting better, a lot better,” Piccinato added.
Kowalchuk admitted he only could find out a little about the origins of the plaques, in that they initially were worked on by a FFHS art teacher named Mrs. Lichtenstein and that they were started in the early 1950s (although a closer look at the calligraphy on the lists indicate several different people’s handwriting, and it’s possible it was added to over time).
“These lists, I think, are unique in Ontario, if not all of Canada,” said Kowalchuk, adding that years ago, back at the old high school, he brought them in to Connie Cuthbertson to replace the glass, seal the backs, and generally “bring them into better repair.”
“They’re going to be good for the long-term now,” he enthused.
(Fort Frances Times)

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