With a population of 8,000, it is the largest town in the Rainy District. Fort Frances is located where the Rainy River flows into sprawling Rainy Lake, one of North America’s cleanest bodies of water. It is also at the junction of Northern Route of the Trans-Canada Highway #11, and Highway 71 up to the Main Trans-Canada Route #17. Fort Frances is 215 km S of Kenora, and 350 km W of Thunder Bay. The town is the oldest settled community west of Lake Superior.
Once an important community of trade and commerce, Fort Frances is now a booming paper townFort Frances is connected by bridge to International Falls, Minnesota, making it the “Gateway to Northwestern Ontario”, and a busy tourist crossing
The town provides a variety of historic pioneer and aboriginal culture as well as local art found at the Fort Frances Museum. Other attractions include the Rainy Rapids, the retired logging boat Hallett, Fort St. Pierre, Lookout Tower Museum.
Fort Frances History
The region around Fort Frances was inhabited by the Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) Nation. These Indigenous communities relied on the abundant natural on land and in the water for their livelihood and trade.
European fur traders established trading posts in the late 17th century to facilitate the exchange of furs with the Indigenous peoples. The “Fort” was begun as a trading post in 1688, and was first named Fort St. Pierre. In 1831(after the Hudson’s Bay Company and Northwest Company merged), the name was changed in honor of Lady Frances Simpson (1812-1853), the first wife of Sir George Simpson, and the cousin of Sir George, the governor in chief of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1820-1860.
With the fur trade, a permanent settlement began to take shape. The town of Fort Frances was officially established in 1903. Its strategic location along the Rainy River and area natural resources made it a trading and transportation hub.
The abundance of the surrounding forests led to the rise of the logging and lumber industry. Sawmills and wood processing facilities were established, creating jobs and shaping the town’s economy. Timber products were transported along the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods.
In 1912, the Fort Frances–International Falls International Bridge was built to add a road and rail connection between the towns of Fort Frances, Ontario, and International Falls, Minnesota, across the Rainy River.
In the early 20th century, the development of hydroelectric power became a significant factor in Fort Frances’ history. The Rainy River was harnessed for its hydroelectric potential, leading to the establishment of the Fort Frances Power Corporation. Hydroelectric power generated in the area contributed to industrial growth and electrification.
Boundary Waters Treaty: Fort Frances played a role in international diplomacy with the signing of the Boundary Waters Treaty in 1909. The treaty aimed to resolve disputes over the shared use of waters along the Canada-U.S. border, particularly the management of water levels on the Rainy Lake and River system.
Economic Evolution: Over the years, Fort Frances underwent economic changes, including shifts in the forestry and manufacturing industries. The town continued to adapt and diversify its economy to address changing market conditions and industrial demands.
Fort Frances Attractions
Voyageur Statue and Lookout
Victoria Avenue, Fort Frances, ON P9A 1K2
A monument and viewpoint honoring the fur traders who explored the area’s waterways.
Point Park and Rainy River
Between Scott Street and Portage Avenue, Fort Frances, ON P9A 1P1
A picturesque park along the Rainy River offering scenic views, picnicking, and walking trails.
The Fort Frances Museum
259 Scott Street, Fort Frances, ON P9A 1G7
Located in the historic CPR Station, the Fort Frances Museum showcases the history of the town and its people. Exhibits include artifacts and photographs from the early 1900s, including the logging and fishing industries that helped to build the town.
Fort Frances Public Library
This modern library is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. The library features a variety of resources including books, audiobooks, magazines, and digital media.
Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre
This First Nations cultural center features exhibits that explore the history and culture of the Ojibway people. The center is situated on the banks of the Rainy River and includes a reconstructed longhouse, nature trails, and a gift shop.
This beautiful lake is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and water sports. Visitors can rent boats and kayaks, or simply enjoy the scenery from the shore.
Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club
This local club offers a range of outdoor activities, including trap shooting, archery, and fishing. The club also hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
The Sorting Gap Marina
1055 Front Street, Fort Frances, ON P9A 3M5
Sorting Gap Marina
A marina offering boat launches, docking, and access to Rainy Lake.
Couchiching Pow Wow Grounds
Onigaming Drive, Fort Frances, ON P9A 3M3|
Couchiching First Nation, Rainy River, ON
Experience Indigenous culture and traditions at the annual Couchiching Pow Wow. The beauty of these traditions is shared through music, dance, regalia. There is also usually food and sometimes other vendors at these events.
Boise Cascade Canada Ltd.
Scott and Central Ave.
(807) 274 – 8878
Tour this paper manufacturing plant and see the entire process of how pulp ends up as its finished product. Open June – Aug; Mon – Fri; Closed Holidays;
Must be 12 years of age; Reservations are required. This company also offers self-guided forest tours on the road between Fort Frances and Atikokan.
Fort St. Pierre
Calder Drive, Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada
3 km east on Hwy 11 in Pithers Point Park
Walk through a model of the original fort built in 1731. Fort Saint Pierre on Rainy Lake was the first French fort built west of Lake Superior.Watch displays of early fur trading.
1011 Front St, Fort Frances, ON P9A 1C1
In Pithers Point Park
A 18 metre (60 ft) tugboat, the biggest logging boat on Rainy Lake until it retired in 1974.
Lookout Tower Museum
1011 Front St, Fort Frances, ON P9A 1C1
In Pithers Point Park
See the showcase of displays on the lower levels then head to the top for the extraordinary scenic view of Fort Frances and Rainy Lake.