Cyril and Marion Fry ‘certainly deserve’ Lifetime Achievement Awards

Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Cyril Fry admits he’s frugal.

Yet you won’t find any cash tucked under his mattress.

What you may find is something of far more value tucked under the bed he’s shared with his wife Marion the past 70 years.

Remnants of a lifetime of history on Gravenhurst, which they’ve helped preserve through the Gravenhurst Archives.

And which is why the lovely couple, who are both 93 (“I’m seven weeks older than him,” says Marion; “He says he ‘married an older woman.’), were among four awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Ontario Heritage Trust.

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell made the presentation at Queen’s Park Feb. 22.

It was all hush-hush until the presentation in the historic lobby of Ontario’s capital city building, the seat of the provincial government. In the ornate lobby where Frank Miller, the Frys’ old friend from their early days in Gravenhurst, once ruled the roost as premier.

Cyril and Frank go a long way back to the 1950s when they worked at Rubberset; and it was Miller who later brought Fry into GHS where they both taught science.

Miller would no doubt have been proud looking down on the proceedings from his large portrait hanging in the nearby QP hallway.

Which would have been a bit much for Marion, who eschews the limelight and only a bit reluctantly attended the ceremony.

“I didn’t expect it or want it,” she said. “I’m glad it’s over.”

However, “It was a very nice ceremony, nicely done,” she admitted.

“She’s a lovely lady, but you know, she’s old” Marion joked of Dowdeswell, who is 74.

Marion did say she was “very proud — and glad we got them.”

Cyril and Marion Fry accept Lifetime Achievement Awards from Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell Feb. 22 at Queen’s Park. (Ontario Heritage Trust photo)

But don’t expect the framed plaques they each received — for two separate nominations — to be prominently on display for long in the Fry family on the Beach Road.

“I’ll have to get another look at them before Mom hides them away under the bed,” daughter Jill Fry said joked.

Jill and her partner, Jim Nantais, who timed one of their visits home from Calgary — where they’ve been the costume dressers for the cast of CBC’s Heartland TV series the past 12 seasons — said that’s where the family archives are housed.

Cyril and Marion, who weren’t aware of the honour that has garnered them plenty of praise from townspeople young and old, including many of his former students, only learned of it themselves the first of February.

“It was a real surprise,” said Cyril, adding they wished many others from the archives, the Segwun museum, the local arthritis and cancer society, to name a few, could have joined them.

The couple was nominated by the Gravenhurst Heritage Committee, which had been working on it for three years.

The Frys, who were among several recipients for related heritage awards, couldn’t understand why they were first on the program.

Here’s why.

The commendation read: “For over 60 years, Cyril and Marion Fry have contributed significantly to the heritage of the Town of Gravenhurst. They have dedicated significant amounts of time and resources to heritage conservation in Gravenhurst as leaders and volunteers who are always willing to contribute. Their mutual passion for heritage conservation dates back to the late 1950s.

“Over the decades since, they successfully inspired and recruited passionate, likeminded people who were interested in heritage preservation, and have been involved in countless local initiatives and heritage projects. Examples of their achievements are the creation of the Gravenhurst Archives in 1978, and their instrumental roles in the preservation and operation of the Segwun Steamship Museum.

“The legacy of the Gravenhurst Archives will continue to impact future generations for years to come.”

Dowdeswell added: “The efforts of these recipients have conserved vital pieces of our heritage from which we may learn and mature. I thank them for their championing of our past, and their work to shape our future.”

“Marion and I didn’t have to do anything,” Cyril told

The Gravenhurst Heritage Committee arranged everything, including inviting the Fry family. Only their daughter Gretta, from Australia, couldn’t make it.

“Jill and Jim drove us to Aurora, where (son) Allastair and his wife Joanne met us and we went to Queen’s Park, where we got to park right in front.”

Said Allastair: “The event itself was quite formal, but the large group of Gravenhurst fans helped to relax the atmosphere.

“Working on the archives has probably added a few years to Marion and Cyril’s lives, as it has provided some purpose and also kept their minds active.”

Light of the Other Days, the first book on Gravenhurst for the town’s Centennial in 1977.

Cyril said there were “an astonishing variety” of other recipients, including some who saved a railway station, which the Frys could relate to here in town. And many young people and Indigenous honorees.

There were 120 recipients and about 200 people in attendance, said Cyril. Each nominee or group could each invite five guests. The Gravenhurst contingent of 11 was one of the largest groups.

“Why were Marion and Cyril first on the program? Probably because we were the oldest,” said Cyril, who is renowned for his sense of humour.

“And I’m sure we were.”

Still, he insisted they felt it was an opportunity to recognize others.

“It makes me feel others should get a bit of publicity,” he said, noting Cec Porter, among many who contributed greatly to four books on Gravenhurst.

Hank Smith, the immediate past chair of the local heritage committee, said it was hard for him “to keep quiet” about the award.

He said Cyril is “the indentured servant to Marion” and her initiatives — “except in public he’s the opposite.”

“Marion is modest, I’m enough the other way to balance it out,” said Cyril.

“I was little fuzzy about it before,” he said about the Heritage Trust, which is an agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

He said most of the presenters were volunteers, some who wore their own uniforms to make it look more formal.

He said the legislature lobby had chairs on both sides facing the impressive foyer’s front stairs. Chairs on the left were for the recipients and ones on the right for their guests.

The ceremony was efficiently quick — lasting about 40 minutes.

And being first up allowed the Gravenhurst contingent to start off with a loud standing ovation, which Fry said got the attention of everyone.

Cyril came prepared with an acceptance speech, but didn’t get a chance to say thank you.

His fans there and at home would love to have heard them.

He said he would have thanked several people.

“There’s a team of people, we couldn’t do it without them.”

The archives and the Gravenhurst Book Committee of the library produced their first book on Gravenhurst.

Like Porter and Shirley Barlow, another original archivist. And Robena Kirton, who while head librarian “greased the wheel” to get money from the library board for an archives room in the new library.

Cyril said that later at a wine and cheese reception in the Lt.-Gov.’s apartment suite: “A lot of people came and spoke to me after. It was a kind of camaraderie I hadn’t expected.

“I have to confess I quite enjoyed it.”

But it’s not over, while the Frys have stepped back, they are still active when called upon.

Judy Humphries, the head archivist now, says she still consults them while doing research or when she receives no collections. Which pleases the Frys.

“There’s no doubt she has a great grip” on local history and has brought in new and younger people, said Cyril.

But he still harkens back to some original archives members Barlow and Porter, who were both born in Gravenhurst and worked tirelessly.

Barlow, 91, said: “Isn’t it great, they certainly deserve it.”

“Isn’t it great,” said Barlow, 91, “who worked a good many years” on the archives. “They really deserve it.”

She said “Marion did a tremendous amount of work. She was really dedicated.”

Together with Porter, they four of them worked on four outstanding books on the town, which are now the definitive textbooks on the town’s history.

Porter, who helped with the first book on Gravenhurst, Light of the Other Days (a 1978 town Centennial celebration project), also wrote Gravenhurst: An Album of Memories and Mysteries in 1993, two books on Camp 20 (1999, 2003), also wrote Gravenhurst: Early Days, Early Ways (2011).

The first book was published by the Centennial committee and the last three were published by the The Book Committee of the library.

What the town needs now, said Fry, is someone to write a follow-up to where Early Days left off.

Cec Porter’s fascination with the German PoW Camp 20 made for the archives’ second book about Gravenhurst in 1999.

Fry explained how the archives and Light of the Other Days came about.

He said that in 1976 Gordon Sloan was asked to chair the 100th anniversary of the town’s incorporation, but he died that October. So mayor Alan Sander asked Cyril to step.

Fry was also co-owner of the Gravenhurst News, with John Christensen. So he began a newspaper column (in addition to his Ivory Tower column) about local history. He solicited photos and wrote about them in what became a popular full page feature each week.

A former resident from Windsor contributed greatly and her contributions became the “bedrock” of the archives.

Fry would reply to each letter and in return was often told to “keep the photos, our kids don’t want them.”

So a lot got tucked under a bed in the Fry house, kids and parents.

By 1977 the province had given the Centennial committee $5,000 for its celebration initiatives.

The archives committee emerged in 1978 with $1,200 left from celebration funds. The committee contacted the Ontario Archive Association and also got a pamphlet from the U.S. Library of Congress on how to set up archives.

Joyce Schell, out in West Gravenhurst, had a lot of information from a small Barlochan museum she operated.

The archives committee bought a fireproof filing cabinet (which Fry said proved to be not all that necessary) for the old library, next to the Opera House. But for the longest time most material collected was in boxes or filing cabinets under the stairs at the library or stuffed away in its various closets.

Cyril said when they were a little worried when in 1978 they learned town clerk Ted Soucie had not filed the paperwork for the $5,000 grant; he said the town had paid the bills. Luckily, MPP Frank Miller got the province to pay up.

Since then historical items have trickled in from townspeople and families when cleaning out estates they offered photos, clippings, old bills from stores etc. But, laments Fry, a lot probably went to the dump.

He said a town fire in 1922 destroyed a lot of Gravenhurst’s history collection.

When Humphries took over around 2010, after retiring from the Ontario Fire College where as librarian she set up their archives, the committee had $14,000. They used most of it to buy new micro fiche machine for library use and OCR software to scan their documents.

Humphries has collected a ton more, “a lot of it in our house, too,” laughs her husband, Hal, a geography-teaching colleague of Fry.

A sequel on Camp 20 included new information in 2003.

As for a sequel to the town books, some suggest Andrea Baston, who grew up here and whose books on and the Muskoka Sanatorium and Little Norway were locally acclaimed for their detail could be the author.

Or maybe Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, another former local, who has written several books. Or even Humphries and the library committee.

What about historian and author Patrick Boyer, of Bracebridge, who is now temporarily residing at the Marriott Hotel after an explosion displaced him from his home up north. He praises Gravenhurst for its archives initiatives, which he deplores Bracebridge for not having to the same degree — save a book collection at its library. He also likes Woodchester Villa there as a possible archives site.

As for Gravenhurst, Humphries would like to see its library expanded to include more archives space than the large closet it has now. New chief librarian Julia Reinhart is on board with that.

Cyril Fry grew up in Brantford, spent a few years in Toronto till age 10, then he went back to Brantford. Marion was from Hamilton and became an occupational therapist in Toronto. They wed in 1948, first moving to Kingston, then Welland where he worked for a rubber company. In the late 1950s Cyril found work with Miller at Rubberset as a chemist, then spent 30 years teaching at GHS.

(They also lived in England for a year in the late 1960s; and in 1990 they spent six month in China, through the Rotary Club, where he taught at a university near where Dr. Norman Bethune became a war martyr.)

Fry said: “The other thing that astounded me, was the staggering number of people who have called or emailed” them the past week or so.

“I’m not sure I would have called an old teacher to congratulate them on an award,” he said with a laugh, calling it “impressive.”

Cyril Fry would like to see a follow-up to Gravenhurst: Early Days, Early Ways. Who should write it?

Humphries had more praise for the Frys: “I don’t think we would have had the (archives) and history preserved if it wasn’t for them. What they saved is amazing. It’s a huge thing that they have done.”

The archives now has 500 collections, says Humphries.

And much of Gravenhurst’s history is now searchable by date, name and location on the archives’ dedicated public library computers.

Thanks largely to project Jack Cline, who came on in recent years bringing with him computer skills to digitalize more than 100,000 pages of historical documents.

“We couldn’t have done it without him,” said Fry.

“Hell’s bells, that’s what communities are about, not people like Trump and Ford.”

Humphries concluded: “At 93, I can’t imagine all the things they have in their memory.

They’re very deserving. We’re very proud.”

Mark Clairmont is a former town councillor and adviser to the Gravenhurst Heritage Committee; and is a contributor to the Gravenhurst Archives through his family’s Clairmont Collection.


Read the backgrounder about the 2018 Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award Recipients

Four individuals – from Waterloo, King Township and Gravenhurst – also received Lifetime Achievement awards for volunteer contributions to the conservation of community heritage over a period of 25 years or more.

The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. The Trust identifies, protects, promotes and conserves Ontario’s heritage in all of its forms. The Trust is empowered to conserve provincially significant cultural and natural heritage, to interpret Ontario’s history, to educate Ontarians of its importance in our society, and to celebrate the province’s diversity. The Trust envisions an Ontario where the places, landscapes, traditions and stories that embody our heritage are reflected, valued and conserved for future generations.