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Video Series Headlines 100th Anniversary of Soo Mill

Opportune timing and fortuitous circumstances have made this a memorable year for Kathryn Oliana.

The 2014 Honours History graduate was asked by one of Sault Ste. Marie’s oldest and most successful businesses to develop five retrospective videos that would celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Founded in 1915 by Fremlin Hollingsworth, Soo Mill and Lumber Company Ltd. is now in its third generation of local family ownership.

Oliana began working part-time at Soo Mill four years ago. Company President Lynn Hollingsworth knew about her keen interest in local history and that set the stage for what followed.

“It was Lynn’s idea to do the videos,” Oliana recalled. “Originally, he approached me about helping with research for the 100th anniversary. I had done amateur video editing on my own for fun and things just kind of spawned from there.”

“I did a video over Christmas for Lynn’s review. It was more than he had expected and that led to the decision to go with a multi-part series.”

The five segments trace company and city growth through different eras and can be viewed on the Soo Mill website.

An autobiography written by Lynn’s grandfather, Fremlin, served as the main information source about the company’s early years. Sault Star files and old Soo Mill promotional print materials also proved helpful.

Employee interviews with Oliana supplied background about the company’s expansion during more recent decades.

On September 17th, the Algoma alumna completed the final segment. She put the entire package together at home using an HP laptop.

“I never envisioned how things would go when I first started on this,” Oliana recalled. “After all the hard work, it is gratifying to know that the public and my client like the results.”

The first video went public during a 100th anniversary launch event/news conference on May 21st at Soo Mill. Oliana’s efforts were enthusiastically applauded by the crowd present.

“We are elated with Kathryn’s work,” Hollingsworth commented afterwards. “We feel fortunate because no one else here that we know has the skill set to do that. She poured her heart and soul into it. The results speak for themselves.

“Sometimes in business you get lucky — you have the right person in the right place at the right time. Kathryn wrote the scripts, did all the research, and put them together in their entirety. It’s been a phenomenal success. We know the first video about when my grandfather started the business has been seen over 10,000 times. That’s pretty impressive.”

With a sense of deep satisfaction with what has been accomplished, Oliana described value-added benefits she could never have imagined.

“It has been an amazing experience. I have made contacts I didn’t even know existed. I am an extremely introverted person. So having to go out to contact people personally and on the phone and go to places such as the museums in Blind River, Wawa, and Elliot Lake has been a confidence builder.”

“My learning, research, and writing skills have also been refined. I don’t know if I could even quantify the amount that I have learned. It has been a fabulous learning experience.”

Dr. Warren Johnston, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of History & Philosophy at Algoma U, enthused about Oliana’s achievement. “This shows how our program can contribute to the community through students using their skills to find and bring to light important events and elements of our community’s past. Kathryn’s work have made it easily accessible.”

Oliana returned to Algoma U  this fall for a second degree in Computer Science. Graduate studies in maritime history, perhaps in England, could follow.

While Soo Mill’s big anniversary coincided with 50-year celebrations at Algoma U, connections between the two have deep roots. Simpson Hollingsworth, a one-time company president, was among community leaders who worked to establish a university in Sault Ste. Marie.

And in 2011, Soo Mill generously donated $50,000 to Algoma University’s Essential Elements capital campaign.

Written by: Rick McGee

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