Did You Know?
International Falls History
Although the International Falls area was well known to explorers, missionaries and voyageurs as early as the 1600s, it was not until the late 1800s that a small village was first formed.
The inhabitants gave the names Rainy Lake and Rainy River to the nearby bodies of water because of the mist-like rain present at the falls where the lake flowed into the river. This promising community originally was known as Koochiching, an Ojibway word meaning “neighboring lake and river.”
In 1901 the village was incorporated and two years later its name was changed to International Falls in recognition of the river’s role as a border between the United States and Canada.
Realizing the potential for waterpower and mills in the area, E.W. Backus created an immense dam and the Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company in the early 1900s. Purchased by Boise Cascade Corporation in 1965 (now Boise Paper, A Division of Packaging Corporation of America), it remains the largest business and employer in the area.
1903 E.W. Backus gets permission for construction of a dam in the Rainy River and through Act of Congress, seeks approval for construction of bridge connecting International Falls & Fort Frances
1903 Village of Koochiching changes name to International Falls, after the river rapids which would eventually industrialize the area
1907 Railroad comes to International Falls
1909 International Falls incorporated as city
1908-09 Bridge piers & concrete approaches installed
1909 30,000 horsepower dam completed
1910 International Falls census at 4,000, one of the fastest-growing cities in Minnesota
1910 Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company (Mando) was formed and the first roll of paper produced at the Falls mill; first car arrives in the Falls although there were only two blocks of traversable streets.
1911 Backus lets $90,000 contract to Minneapolis Steel & Machinery for combination railway, vehicle and footbridge across the Rainy River. Steel work erected. Overall cost of bridge: $108,000. Fort Frances mill under construction
1912 International Bridge opens, at first seeing mostly horse-drawn and foot traffic. By mid-decade, Backus’ companies would employ thousands and more and more motorized vehicles used the bridge.
Old Falls Chamber
Remember the Falls Chamber when it stood on the corner of Second Avenue and the entrance of Highway 11 East? This photo, circa 1950s, depicts the Rainy Lake business community with hanging shingles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Where are the falls that International Falls is named after?
A. This is the most-frequently asked question by visitors to Borderland. The falls are now beneath the International Bridge. The power from these falls, originally named “Couchiching Falls,” was harnessed with the building of a dam in 1909. Vision of E.W. Backus, the hydroelectric energy continues to fuel the local paper mills which he founded. Backus offered the river bed’s blasted surface to area builders and the harvested granite lives monumentally in the exterior of the St. Thomas Catholic Church as well in the foundations of several historic homes in the area.
Q. How do you know where the U.S.A. ends and Canada begins when you are on Rainy Lake and Rainy River?
A. A map or GPS typically depicts the border. Of course, that line you see on the map does not show on the water.
Q. What happens if I cross the international border while on the water?
A. Canadian Customs requires visitors to report to a Canadian customs office before going ashore in Canada. Customs offices are located at Portage Bay on Sand Point Lake and Sand Bay on Rainy Lake. However, visitors not going ashore can obtain a CANPASS Remote Area Border Crossing (RABC) permit allowing them to cross the border without passing through customs; these can be obtained in person at designated ports of entry or in advance by mail. Please see the Canadian Border Services Agency website for the most recent application form and program details.
A. When returning to the U.S., visitors must report to a U.S. Customs office, unless they are in possession of Form I-68, which is part of the Canadian Border Boat Landing Program. Though Form I-68 permits entrance into the U.S. without reporting in person, you are still required to telephone customs to notify them of your entry. Form I-68 can only be obtained in person at a port of entry. U.S. customs offices are located at the Crane Lake Public Landing or at the International Falls Bridge. For more information about Form I-68 see the U.S. Customs website.
Q. Do you need a passport to get into Canada?
A. See crossing info at this website.
Q. Why is International Falls called the “Icebox of the Nation?”
A. In the mid-1900s, a nationally published magazine casually referred to International Falls and its temperatures as “the icebox” and soon other national media began watching the area and reporting temps in the “Icebox of the Nation.” The nickname is now trademarked and is noted regularly all over the world.
Q. How cold does it get in International Falls?
A. Record cold is -55 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in January 1909. The other record lows for each month: February 1909: -48 below; March 1962: -38 below; April 1954: -14 below; May 1926: -8 below; June 1964: 23 degrees; July 1911: 32 degrees; August 1906: 27 degrees; September 1956: 20 degrees; October 1988: 2 degrees; November 1985: -32 below; December 1956: -41 below.
Q. What is the warmest temperature recorded in International Falls?
A. The all-time record high temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit, while the all−time record low is −55 below zero Fahrenheit, a range of 158 degrees!
Q. Do you need a passport to fish on Rainy Lake?
A. You do not need a passport to fish or boat on the American side of Rainy Lake.
Q. What is the species of evergreen tree along the highway that is golden in the autumn and sometimes has a ravaged appearance?
A. These are Tamarack trees found chiefly in the swamps in the coniferous forest region of northern Minnesota. The trees are shade-intolerant. Large trees are rare as most old specimens were killed years ago by the larch sawfly.
Q. What does “Koochiching” mean?
A. The word “Koochiching” comes from either Ojibwe word Gojijiing or Cree Kocicīhk, both meaning “at the place of inlets,” referring to the neighboring Rainy Lake and River. The European (French) inhabitants gave the names (Lac La Pluie) or Rainy Lake and Rainy River to the nearby bodies of water because of the mist-like rain present at the falls where the lake flowed into the river.
Q. Who makes the clothes for the giant “Smokey the Bear statue in the park?”
A. The statue came to International Falls in 1954 and has been featured on local postcards and visitors’ vacation photos ever since. Seasonally, you see him decked out with gigantic accessories constructed by Loni Bright of Top That by Loni.
Q. Where is the giant thermometer?
A. It once stood in the city’s Smokey Bear Park, but was regretfully removed due to malfunction – Could it have been too cold?!
Q. Why are Rocky and Bullwinkle associated with International Falls?
A. The fictional Minnesota small town of Frostbite Falls, the hometown of cartoon characters Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose ofThe Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, was a spoof of the real-life International Falls. The fictional town was located in Koochiching County as well.
Q. Are there any personal water craft or motor restrictions for boats in Voyageurs National Park on Rainy Lake?
A. No. As long as the boat and motor comply with state and federal regulations. However, personal watercraft (e.g. jet skis) are prohibited in the park.
Q. Can you camp in VNP?
A. Yes. A permit is not required and it does not cost anything to enter the park. However, anyone staying overnight in the park at any time of the year is required to be registered. Visitors may register at any of the visitor centers or obtain a registration form from the boxes located at each of the park’s boat launches. Be aware that park campsites are becoming more popular each year and fill up early on most summer weekends.
Q. Where is the Ice Road?
A. The 7-mile Rainy Lake ice road extends from the boat launch ramp at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center to the mouth of Cranberry Bay. (Routes vary depending on conditions.)
- The ice road is open to cars and trucks of less than 7,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight.
- SNOWMOBILES are NOT permitted on the ice road.
- The speed limit is 30 MPH.
- When heavy snow, slush, or thin ice exists, the ice road may be closed or shortened for safety.
Q. Why are the semi-trucks near Packaging Corporation of America tilted like that?
A. Tilted high in the air, these delivery trucks are hydraulically lifted to dump their wood chips for Packaging Corporation of America's use in paper production.
Q. What are the record largest fish caught in Rainy Lake?
A. According to the local DNR, the largest fish caught on Rainy Lake was a 194-pound sturgeon snagged in 1930. The largest muskie: 50 inches, largest northern pike: 48 inches and largest walleye: 32 inches.
Q. How much paper does the local Packaging Corporation of America's mill manufacture in one day?
A. 1,550-plus tons of paper are produced on an average day. The paper mill features a world-class machine known as the No. 1 Machine. Click here to see how their paper is made!
Q. What is the average snowfall in International Falls?
A. The mercury hits 0 on more than 60 nights a year, and the area gets a lot of snow (65.5 inches of annual snowfall).
Q. What is so special about the International Falls class ring and what is its symbolism?
A. The Falls High School class ring design is the oldest class ring tradition in the United States. The same class ring has been proudly worn by graduates of Falls High School since 1929. The plain gold or silver ring with the symbols of the sun, the pine trees, and the waterfall represent the International Falls area. For more than 80 years, the only change in the ring’s design has been the year of each graduation. Following each graduation ceremony, seniors turn the ring’s waterfalls “outward” signifying their formal entry into the world.
Q. Who painted the murals located on the buildings in downtown International Falls?
A. Our own native son and master artisan, Bruce Trask
Q. Who are the well-known people and athletes from International Falls?
A. International Falls Notable natives and residents
- Dick Dougherty Minnesota Gopher Hall of Fame Hockey, Silver Medal 1956 Olympic Games Considered one of the top-five players in the U.S. in the 1950s. He holds the NCAA Tournament record for most points scored (9) in two games. Dougherty was a first-team All-American in 1954 and was named to the All-WCHA first team in both 1953 and 1954. Also played with the silver medal winning 1956 U.S. Olympics hockey team.
- Robert Edward “Bob” Rompre (April 11, 1929 – September 13, 2010) was an American ice hockey player who won a silver medal with the United States men’s national ice hockey team at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. He was born on April 11, 1929, in International Falls, Minnesota.
- Edward Wellington Backus industrialist, lumbar baron and founder of Borderland’s paper mills
- Ernest Oberholtzer explorer, author, conservationist
- Bronko Nagurski, Legendary football player, member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Several of Nagurski’s descendants still live in International Falls.
- Mary Casanova award-winning author
- Mike “Lefty” Curran USA national goalie. Professional WHA St. Paul Fighting Saints.
- Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, PTL The 700 Club
- Kevin Constantine hockey coach, NHL IHL
- Dean Blais hockey coach, University of Nebraska, Omaha, WCHA
- Jim Crotty pro football NFL Washington Redskins
- Neil Sheehy, hockey player Calgary Flames
- Gary Sampson hockey player Washington Capitals
- Bob Mason, Goalie NHL 1984-1991. Coach Minnesota Wild
- Timothy Sheehy World Hockey Association
- Frank Youso, NFL New York Giants Oakland Raiders
- Arlys Johnson-Maxwell weightlifter Senior World Champion 1987
Q. What is a “shore lunch?”
A. A traditional shore lunch is prepared on a day of fishing along the way (shore) by the respective anglers … and includes a morning catch ~ pan fried in a cast iron pan with cut potatoes and a side, typically of beans or corn.
Q. Do people live on the Rainy Lake islands year-round?
A. Many do, and during “ice-in” or “ice-out,” some “freeze in” or use air boats to travel to and from home.
Q. Is it true that some national companies test products in the area to measure cold durability?
A. Yes, a variety of products are tested here. In the 1970s, a Sears Diehard car-battery commercial was filmed here, playing on the city’s extremely cold winter climate to promote the longevity and effectiveness of the product. It led to a Saturday Night Live parody ad which aired several times in the first (1975) SNL season.