You are here

Doris, 92, and Clinton Park, 100, reflect on their lives in Rainy River

Ken Johnston

From horse and buggy to space travel. Clinton and Doris Park of Rainy River have seen it all in his 100 and her 92 years of living.
Clinton was born March 26, 1904, the same year Rainy River was incorporated and Doris (Williscraft) was born March 1, 1912.
Doris’s dad was a pioneer, coming here in 1906 or 1907 a year ahead of the family. His brother was here and had built several houses in Rainy River, some of which are still around today. “He also built the Anglican Church,” said Doris.
The couple still lives in their own home on Second St. and Clinton can occasionally be seen climbing the ladder to clean out rain gutters or put up Christmas lights. They still garden and Doris is still actively quilting.
“Working hard and honest is the secret to staying young,” said Doris.
Clinton worked 14 years as a CNR trackman planting ties. It was hard work that has kept him in good shape today. “There was a bunch of heavy Ukrainian boys on the gang and he had to work hard to keep up with them, being that he was so much smaller than them,” said Doris.
“My joints are getting pretty tired now,” said Clinton.
Clinton said that in the early days he remembers his dad had a team of horses and that he used to do a lot of different jobs, including farming a bit. His dad also helped build the railway bridge in 1900-01.
Clinton and Doris were married in Oct. of 1938. After working on the gang for 14 years Clinton was working in the Sapawe area and he and Doris had children that were of school age. “We decided to move home to get the kids into school. We only got a school car (on the rails) once a month for a week,” said Clinton.
Upon returning to Rainy River he resigned from the tracks in 1941 and was trying to build up a cattle farm, but the investment was too much and quit farming. He then had a chance to go and work in the CNR shops for Bob Hagarty as a machinist helper. However, that career was short lived as the latest innovation in rail travel, the diesel locomotive came in and the shops in Rainy River were closed two years after he started there.
Clinton eventually found his way back to the B&B gang where he remained until he retired in 1979.
“And he has been working harder than ever since he retired,” said Doris.
“I don’t know if you work harder or just think you do,” replied Clinton.
Doris could have been a teacher like her daughter Carolee, but chose to stay at home and help on the family farm just west of where the Pines Park is today. She attended Sleeman School until grade 9 and then high schooled at Alexandra School in Rainy River. “I could have went to teachers’ college but stayed home to help out.” Her dad was also the clerk of Atwood Township for a number of years.
Clinton remembers clearly that most of the traffic came in by rail and by boat. “Parks came to Rainy River by boat from Keewatin. Boats like the Keenora travelled from Kenora to Fort Frances well into the 1930s.”
In the 1930s the Kenora highway was built, mostly by hand. “When they built roads they dug ditches by hand power or teams of horses and scrapers,” explained Clinton. “Harvey Cottam had a camp for the workers who made $8 per month.”
With the great depression in the 1930s, Clinton remembers there was always a lot of men that looked forward to the fall. “Many guys worked on farms to help with the harvest and then picked up a few runs on the trains in the Great Wheat Rush.”
Clinton said that he remembers his first car. “It was a 1928 Ford sedan. Four doors with roll up windows.”
Doris said she recalls her dad’s first car. “It was a 1918 Ford Model T. After a couple of years we were travelling out back of Stratton and the tires were caught in some frozen ruts and we rolled it.” Luckily none of them received more than a few bumps and bruises. She said dad was used to horses and, “often said ‘Whoa’ to get the car to stop.”
Both remember the area booming in the early 1900s. “Many Americans came here to find work,” said Doris. She remembers the cedar mills just north of her parents farm. “They pulled the cedar out with four teams of horses and hauled the lumber across the ice to the mill in Spooner.”
Clinton said there was also a stave mill near where the bridge is today. “They made shingles there too.” The foundation for the mill is still there, just east of the bridge.
Doris said that the town used to have many boarding houses and hotels. However, with all of them being wood buildings and heated by wood, fires were quite common. “A lot of them burned down. In fact there is hardly a building left from those early days.”
“I remember when the post office burned down. Jessie Costello was living in the side of the building (which was located where Pat Giles office is today). She saved the mail.”
Other buildings that the couple remember that burned down include a lodge building on 2nd St., Tynes store south of CIBC and Greens Pool parlour which was also a barber shop.
Clinton remembers the Rat Portage Company having a big store on the river. “They had a cashier up in a booth. The clerk would send your stuff up to the cashier in a container on a wire. The cash would go up and your change would come back down.”
The old legion, which is now an apartment building on Third St. and home to the Record Office, was the Davy Boarding House. It is one of the few remaining ones today. Of the original hotels, only the Canadian Northern is still operating as such.
Doris said that Americans were key in opening up the tourist trade. Ernie Calvert operated out of Rainy River having tourists come in via train from Chicago and then boated them out to his camp on Lake of the Woods. Greens of Nestor Falls also picked up tourists at the waterfront in Rainy River.
“I remember the school boys running up to the station to carry bags for tourists at 4 p.m. every day to the river. They would get 50¢ to do that.”
Doris said the railway was always so exciting and so was the first time an airplane came in. “It was fair time and it landed on a farm north of town. They then brought it into town for all to see.”
When asked what they think of the world today, especially with events like 911 happening they said:
Doris thinks, “The world is going nuts.”
Clinton thinks, “Seems to be going for the worst. Don’t know where it is going.”
As for the future of Rainy River, “If we don’t get some more work all the young people will be gone,” said Doris. “The schools are going down. At one time we had 500 kids in Alexandra.”
“We need some kind of industry. Everything we start seems to get stalled or comes to a dead end,” said Clinton.
They have witnessed many technological changes in their lives. Doris remembers her father signing the debentures for the phone line out to their place. Clinton remembers the old crank phones and how if you wanted to hear the gossip you would just pick up the phone and listen on the old party lines.
A very casual laid back guy, Clinton said that man landing the moon really was not a big deal for him. In fact he takes everything in stride like that, saying, “Be satisfied in the same old world and take it as it comes.”
The couple says they are not really looking forward to the centennial celebrations. “It is just another July 1st celebration,” said Clinton who added, “July 12th used to be a bigger deal in town.” That was Orange day, symbolizing the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. “They seem to get along better today,” said Clinton.
Taking each day as it comes has Clinton walking up town daily to pick up the mail for him and Doris and their daughter and son-in-law Carolee and René Hogue. At 100 he is still active but says his body is getting tired.