Farewell to a Dear Friend
By Stéphane Comeault
What do a job in highway construction, two historic sites, a 30-year career with Parks Canada, countless friends and colleagues and the love of a northern Ontario island and its people have in common? One amazing woman, friend and colleague: Ms. Frances Power Robb.
Fran’s northern Ontario debut came when her employer at the time, a highway construction company, accepted a contract and sent her “up north”. It didn’t take long for Fran to fall in love with the tranquil lifestyle the area offered. Wanting to remain in the area following the end of the construction season, Fran accepted a job at Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site on St. Joseph Island, where she developed an incredible passion for the history and characters associated with this unique War of 1812 outpost. Fran settled in for a long, successful and fulfilling career in her chosen home. What sealed the deal however, was getting the chance to own a little historic site of her own; a quaint little school house at the heart of St. Joseph Island.
Fran’s wealth of knowledge at Fort St. Joseph soon made her a legend. Her Parks Canada career spanned decades, and she watched as superintendents, supervisors, co-workers, and innumerable volunteers came and went. Fran created and spearheaded numerous events for which she will forever be remembered, such as the annual Ghost and Medicine Walks. She became the main trainer at Fort St. Joseph, and developed close relationships with numerous local Métis and First Nations. Fran has been responsible for the fort winning “best float” titles in both the Richards Landing and Hilton Beach Community Day parades year after year with the prize monies going to Matthews Memorial Hospital in Richards Landing.
When she isn’t giving a tour of the site to a local family’s relatives or entertaining visitors with her tales of Indigenous warriors, British soldiers and good-spirited, hardworking folk that called the ol’ fort home at the turn of the 19th century, Fran is conducting research for universities, collaborating with Indigenous groups, recruiting new volunteers, writing scripts and drawing maps for the upcoming season’s events or passing her knowledge on to the next cohort of workers at Fort St. Joseph.
When she isn’t at the fort, Fran can be found at home stacking firewood for the coming winter, spending quality time with Cricket, her best friend and four-legged partner in crime, caring for her countless furry friends (both domesticated and wild) who cherish her friendship, or engaging in all sorts of community events.
Fran is one of the best people we have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She is a true icon of Fort St. Joseph and will go down in the history of the site along with individuals such as Lieutenant Landmann, John Askin Jr. and Mary McCauley. A celebration of Fran’s career is planned for Friday, May 31, 2019 at the Fort St. Joseph Visitor Centre from 3 to 5 pm. Friends and colleagues are invited to drop by and share in the walk down memory lane!
All the best in your retirement, Fran! You will be dearly missed.