6 Interesting Things You Didn't Know About Sunset Country

From a bank robbery to World records to a Dragon's Den success story, our little corner of the Province has some cool stories.

Whether you are a local or a visitor to Ontario's Sunset Country, you may or may not know some of these interesting stories about Northwest Ontario. Here are 6 stories about our area, how many of them are you familiar with?

CIBC Bank Robber's Identity Still Remains a Mystery Over 40 Years Later

It was like a scene from a movie. On May 10, 1973, a man armed with a pistol, rifle and dynamite strapped to his chest walked into the CIBC on Main Street in Kenora. He walked directly into the Bank Manger's (Al Reid) office and demanded money and a getaway truck. Constable Don Milliard of the now-defunct Kenora Police Service (KPS) bravely volunteered to be the one to drive the truck. As he and the bank robber exited the building, Don dropped and Sargent Letain with the KPS shot the man and consequently, the bomb went off. Luckily, the duffel bag of money on Const. Milliard's back shielded him from the blast and probably saved his life.

The explosion sent roughly $100,000 floating into the air and startled the many observers surrounding the bank. To this day, the man has not been identified. They know he had red hair and a short stocky build. It was quite the excitement for the Town of Kenora. Listen to CJRL's (now 89.5 The Lake) radio broadcast in the video below. Their offices were across the street from the bank and had a direct view of the whole robbery. The video recounts in real time the events leading up to and covering the explosion.

Linda Rice aka "Muskie Momma" Holds the Women's World Record for a Muskie

Linda, co-owner of Moosehorn Lodge in Sioux Lookout holds the distinction of having caught a 57" muskie, giving her the Women's World Record for live release musky. That's almost 5 feet long, almost as long as herself! It had a 28" girth. Moosehorn Lodge is on Pelican Lake and anglers often head into Lac Seul in chase of the big girls. The Ontario Muskie Record is held by Ken O'Brien with a 58" muskie caught in 1988. It was caught in Georgian Bay's Blackstone Harbour and weighed 65lbs and measured 58" in length with 30.5" in girth.

Dr. John Casselman, former Senior Fisheries Research Scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources believes the next record musky will be a 30-35 year old female fish and that it will be about 60" long. He feels that it will come from one of seven different muskie lakes in Ontario. Those are Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Wabigoon Lake, Lac Seul (which would have to be a live release), Ottawa River, St. Lawrence River or Georgian Bay. I would hope that they'd all be released though.

Learn more: Northern Ontario is the Muskie Capital of the World

Linda Rice of Moosehorn Lodge with her 57

Linda Rice of Moosehorn Lodge with her 57" record breaking muskie

Evergreen Memories is a Dragon's Den Success Story

Margot Woodworth, founder of Evergreen Memories, brought her offer to the Dragon's Den which aired in March 2011. Evergreen Memories based in Dryden, Ontario, offers creative, earth-friendly wedding favors, gifts for corporate events, Earth Day celebrations and all family occasions.

Jim Treliving, was the Dragon who invested in Evergreen Memories, offering $70,000 for a 30% stake in the company. The company has continued to grow steadily since the airing of the show. Getting on the TV show, the Dragon's Den (the equivalent of the Shark Tank in the U.S.) can be credited to an increase in business. Margot states that not a day goes by when they don't get a call saying "I saw you on Dragon's Den.".

As for her business partnership with Jim, he's mostly hands off and lets Margot continue on with her successful business approach. Jim featured Evergreen Memories in his book, Decisions saying the purchase of the company was featured as one of Treliving's smart business decisions. 

Evergreen Memories offers environmentally friendly wedding favors and corporate gifts

The Biggest Gold Theft in Canada Came From a Red Lake Mine

Perhaps you've heard of Ken Leishman, the Flying Bandit, the notorious, well-liked thief with a very colourful past. After several bank thefts and jail stints, Ken Leishman came up with his grandest plan - robbing a truckload full of gold that had just flown into Winnipeg and was destined for Ottawa. In total, $383,000 (millions in today's dollars) worth of gold bullion was stolen at the Winnipeg International Airport.

Leishman recruited four people to be accomplices in the gold heist. Harry Backlin, a Winnipeg lawyer provided financial backing. John Berry and Richard Grenkow were recruited to be the ones to get the gold and Grenkow's brother Paul was recruited to go to Red Lake to keep an eye out for a large shipment to leave.

Leishman prepared fake Air Canada coveralls and used some Air Canada waybills. In a stolen Air Canada truck, Rick and John drove to the tarmac to meet the arriving TransAir plane carrying the gold. They explained that there had been a change of plans, as there was a charter flight leaving in an hour, and Air Canada wanted to ship the gold out immediately, rather than waiting on the normal flight. The plan worked and they drove away with the gold.

A blizzard hampered their getaway plans and the soon the gold was found in Backlin's backyard. Leishman was sent to Headlingly Jail where he escaped, stole a plane and flew to Gary, IN. Ken was sent back to jail where he stayed until 1975. After his release, he moved to Red Lake, Ontario where he opened up a store. He was well-liked in the community and even became president of the Chamber of Commerce. Still a pilot, he flew mercy flights in the area. In 1979, on a mercy flight, his plane went down just north of Thunder Bay. While it has been said no one could have survived the plane crash, his body was never found. There has always been speculation that perhaps he did survive and continued on with his eventful life.

His life really could make an interesting movie. Here are a few links with more detailed stories of Ken Leishman, the Flying Bandit.

Ken Leishman in custody after escaping jail and stealing a plane. He was apprehended in Gary, Indiana.
Ken Leishman (back right) is in custody after escaping jail and stealing a plane. He was apprehended in Gary, Indiana.

The World's Longest Street Ends in Rainy River

For those familiar with Toronto, you've heard of Yonge Street. But did you know the street continues for 1896 km (1178 miles) to its terminus in Rainy River, Ontario?

Yonge Street starts at Lake Ontario and runs north through central and northern Ontario to the Town of Rainy River, on the Ontario – Minnesota border. Most of Yonge Street today exists as Highway 11, north of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Yonge Street's terminus is at Rainy River, Ontario

Fort Frances and International Falls was the setting for "Rocky and Bullwinkle"

For those old enough to remember the adventurous flying squirrel and ukulele-playing moose, Fort Frances and International Falls were the setting for the fictional "Rocky and Bullwinkle" television series, created by Jay Ward in collaboration with Bill Scott and Alex Anderson. International Falls, in the series, was nicknamed 'Frost Bite Falls'. Fort Frances was where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police fictional character Dudley Do-Right was stationed as an officer to combat the notorious Russian spies Boris and Natasha and his sworn enemy, Snidely Whiplash.

Do you know any interesting stories or tidbits about Northwestern Ontario? Let us know in the comments.

About Erin Rody

I grew up on Black Sturgeon Lake in Northwestern Ontario. I am a staff writer for the Sunset Country Travel Association. Through my articles I hope to entice you to visit the wonderful region I call home. We are all about outdoor adventure; with 70,000 lakes and rivers and a whole lot of forests how can we not be? Whether you like to fish, hunt, canoe, kayak, boat or go camping, Sunset Country has something for you. Enjoy!

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