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Women and Girls: Mayor June Caul has true grit

Being the first female Mayor of Fort Frances hasn’t been easy, but June Caul is a shining example for women everywhere.
June Caul

FORT FRANCES -- Born and raised on the outskirt of Fort Frances, Caul grew up with her hand and feet deeply rooted in Fort France. Her parents ran a local farm. This would be the start of Caul’s learned experience: hard work takes true grit.    

“I’m a farm girl at heart,” Caul recalls. “It was a pretty tough, strict life that we led. We were busy on the farm all-time as little kids. I’ve learned to work hard because of that. I’ve learned to respect the earth and everybody that I meet because that’s the way my mom and dad tough us.”

Outside of the farm, Caul attended school when she was of age. The only time she travels outside of Fort Frances was to go to the teachers’ college. Although her mind went off to secure a career, her heart remained inside the boundaries of her hometown of Fort Frances.

“I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else,” Caul said. “I have never had a moment where I thought my life isn’t complete with what this town offers me. I am quite content and happy with the life I’ve had here.”

Some of those teachings bestowed by Caul’s father was politics. Caul recalls sitting with her dad and conversing about how a person should commit to their beliefs and get involved with the community.

“My dad was very involved with agricultural groups, and I also remember him being very involved in writing letters to the editor about some kind of political issue that he was concerned about or he was hoping that town council would look into,” Caul remarked. “I never ever thought that I would even sort of following in his footsteps a little bit.”

Life has a strange way of leading a person down an unlikely path. In the mid-70s, Caul was elected as a councillor for the Township of Alberton, which was named Crozer at the time. This is Caul’s first stint in politics. She doesn’t remember the exact reason why she decided to run for council, but she does remember the feeling of wanting to do something good.

After serving one term, Caul set her sights on teaching, her children and her volunteer work. “When I become a member of a group, I am a working member. I don’t just pay my dues,” said Caul, “if I’m going to join anything, I’m going to make myself appear worth it while I am a part of that group.”

Caul held onto the spirit while running for municipal council. First as councillor and then as mayor. However, part of holding the highest chair in office comes with legions of critics. Anyone who thinks they are impervious to the constant bereavement of bullies while in the limelight, they wouldn’t be human.

Caul recalls an incident on the day she was elected as the mayor of Fort France when an anonymous letter was sliding underneath doors in the community. “It was the most heinous letter about me,” Caul pauses. “I just about broke me.” Caul didn’t go into details about the letter but from the sound of the cracking in her voice, the letter has left a lasting imprint.

However, Caul wouldn’t allow some personal opinions to define her and her role as mayor.

When Resolute effectively shut down the mill in Fort Frances, leaving the town to face an economic disaster, immediately some of the public’s touches were set on the town hall.

“I have received many letters, some signed, some anonymous, from people who are angry about something council, has done,” Caul explains. “That’s the hard part of all for this job. You have to have such a strong backbone. And if it wasn’t for my faith and my family, and my very close friends, I could never have survived the last four years.”

The constant strain on her mental health is one of the reasons Caul won’t run again for town council. That isn’t to say that Caul doesn’t love her home or want to see future generations succeed where she left off. She has not lost her true grit. However, as a human being, the weight of the constant bombardment of anger and resentment is draining.

Especially, over the last couple of years through the pandemic, the political spectrum became considerably divided by lockdowns and vaccinations. Councils’ economic priories and infrastructure projects were hauled. Instead, they had to ensure their constituents were following the mandates handed down by the country’s highest authorities. The backlash over the lockdown mandates was felt throughout the council chambers.

“If I didn’t have the great administrative staff working for the corporation, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make the right decisions,” Caul said. “They have been critical in helping me and I can never say enough about any of the administration that has been at the Civic Centre since I’ve been mayor.”

The Township of Fort Frances takes pride in every acre of land, feeling that even their eternally resting citizens deserved a groomed plot. The stay-at-home order meant that staff couldn’t work nor could they hire volunteers, therefore, certain grounds had to be let go for a time. Caul took it upon herself to go out and weed the plots. “People were mad because the cemeteries were closed,” Caul explains. “I was hoping that if people saw me doing it, they would go out there and start doing it.”

Caul said, “That was something I did that day. I felt really good about it. I had lots of different areas cleaned up out there. I felt I was doing a civic duty by doing that.” 

Nearing the end of her term, Caul was put through an internal investigation into a classified document which she had leaked to the public. This would be the fourth integrity commission against her since starting her role as Mayor. Certain members of the public were outraged by the sale, and to help mitigate some of the public outcries, Caul took it upon herself to reveal that there was nothing that could be done to save Fort Frances Paper Mill.

“We’ve made decisions,” Caul said, speck about herself and her council. “Were they the right decision, we felt they were the right decision at the time. Could we have done a better job? Yeah, we always could do a better job. You can always make a better decision. But you can do what you can do at that moment.”

The commission found that Caul didn’t intend any malicious action by leaking the document. She was just trying to do her civic duty for the good of the people of Fort Frances. In doing so, she violated the trust of her council. After she was found guilty, Caul was ordered to issue a public apology. 

Caul often wonders, as mayor of Fort Frances and even in her time-serving on councils, what her father would be thinking. It is those kinds of influences, good or bad, that channel action.

“I think my dad would be very proud of me,” Caul said with gravitas. “My dad tough me to speak up for myself. He taught me to do the right thing. He taught me that even if I might be wrong, to always admit when I am wrong but also to voice my opinion and respect others’ opinions.”

For Caul, positive communication is part of her success. The stream of negative communication between people doesn’t do anything. It only creates a stale relationship between yourself and your colleagues.  

For those women out there looking at those politics as a potential career, Caul’s history on council is an example of the hardships and successes of the position. Sure, she has made mistakes, nobody's perfect. To say that she violated the integrity of her office is true, according to the official integrity commission. But according to those same documents she did what she thought was good for her people, and in the court of public opinion, that’s the kind of true grit that makes her a good mayor. As a result, Caul has taken her metaphorical lashes, asked for the town’s forgiveness, and for those who accepted her apology, they will hold onto Caul’s legacy for many years to come. 

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