From days gone by
By Brian G. Spare
The Welcome/Unity Arch came to symbolize the closeness and co-operation between Port Arthur and Fort William
On February 28, 1939 Port Arthur City council decided to construct a permanent arch to commemorate the visit of their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Port Arthur and Fort William as part of their cross-country tour of Canada. It was a truly historic event being the first visit of a reigning British monarch to this country. The arch had to be finished before they came in May. The design of the arch was the subject of much debate. Should there be a clock on both sides of it, or have a clock on one side and a thermometer on the other? Maybe there shouldn’t be either. Would the arch have neon lighting or not be lit at all. Eventually, it was decided that the arch would have a clock on both sides, have neon lighting, and be plain painted.
May St., just south of the McIntyre R., at the boundary line between Port Arthur and Fort William was chosen as the location for the arch since it was the main artery for visitors from the US, and was the major intercity thoroughfare. Contract tenders went out and the arch was constructed spanning May St. between 15th and 16th Ave. opposite where Silver City is today in time for the royal visit. A plaque was placed at its base which read: “Erected to commemorate the visit of their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on May 23, 1939 by the Public Utilities Commission of Port Arthur.”
The day before the royal visit, the newspapers pulled all the plugs to report the event. “With eagerness and enthusiasm unprecedented in the history of the city, the people here await the coming of their king and queen tomorrow.”
The CLE erected bleachers inside their grounds near the Welcome arch, and seating was $1.00 a ticket to watch the royal parade. Restaurants served special dishes and “dainty pastries” for the occasion.
It was a memorable day indeed. The royal train arrived at the CPR Station in Port Arthur at 5:00 PM May 23, 1939 to a 21 gun salute. The king and queen, accompanied by Prime Minister MacKenzie King, were greeted by the Hon. C.D. Howe, M.P. for Port Arthur as well as Mayor and Mrs. W. Cox. After the king and queen inspected the guard, the royal procession travelled to Hillcrest Park. They continued to the First Nations Encampment set up for the royal visit at the boundary of Port Arthur and Fort William on the bank of the McIntyre River near to the Welcome arch. There, Prime Minister King then presented Fort William Mayor Ross and Mrs. Ross to the king and queen. After the Mayor Ross’s address, the king and queen then stopped at Central School where 8,000 school children, accompanied by the Duluth Symphony Orchestra, sang for their majesties. The procession made its way to the C.P. R. Station on Syndicate Ave where the King and Queen inspected the guard again and for another 21 gun salute. Then the Royal Train departed for Winnipeg.
All the pomp, ceremony and hype were for a royal visit that lasted for no more than two hours. Afterward, the dignitaries went about with their regular business. The school children went back to school and the symphony travelled back to Duluth. Life in the twin cities returned to its daily routine, but the Welcome arch remained as testament to the historic event.
Over the years, the arch became known as the Unity arch standing to symbolize the closeness and co-operation between Port Arthur and Fort William. It would serve to advertize community and charitable events. When Memorial Ave. was widened to four lanes, the arch was widened, too.
Soon after amalgamation in January, 1970, discussion began about demolishing the arch citing it no longer served as a gateway between the two cities. The question was raised to whose job was it to maintain the arch? The PUC claimed responsibility. In 1971, the cost to tear down the arch was estimated at $500. By 1973, the cost of demolition rose to $1500. Still, the Unity arch stayed.
Alas, the arch met its fate when it could not accommodate another widening of Memorial Ave., and the building of the McIntye-Neebing floodway. On December 8, 1980, the Welcome / Unity arch, the monument to an historic event in our storied past that stood for 41 years, was demolished. The cost of demolition was included in the price for road construction. Today, at the site where the arch once stood, there is no evidence that it was ever there. Although, the Welcome arch is no longer physically present, it has not been forgotten.
Thank you to the following for their assistance with this article:
Thunder Bay Historical Museum
City of Thunder Bay Archives
Thunder Bay Public Library
The Dave Cano Collection http://www.hotrodsandjalopies.blogspot.ca
Brian G. Spare is a local author and freelance copywriter who is a regular contributor to Bayview Magazine. Contact him at https://BrianGSpare.com
*Previously published in Bayview Magazine*