Thunder Bay – Current River

by Brian G. Spare

Current River has grown up in the shadow of Port Arthur now Thunder Bay North. The neighbourhood started as land speculation for mining and the CPR, it became a vibrant community and one of Thunder Bay’s original “streetcar suburbs”. Back in 1857, the Red River Expedition came to Fort William to find a route to western Canada. The Current R. was surveyed by Simon J. Dawson as a winter route from Dog Lake to Lake Superior. He remarked that:

A better road site cannot be found along side of this little river than anywhere.

However, the first land-based route to Canada’s west was decided upon over Dawson’s route along the Current R. Thus, in 1867, construction of Dawson Road began. It would travel from Prince Arthur’s Landing to the Red River settlement.

The Walking and Horse-drawn Era

Two years earlier, in 1865, Peter McKellar discovered silver just east of the Current R. The next year, he opened the Shuniah Silver Mines and constructed two small settlements there for mining operations. A remnant of the road leading to that mine is known as Shuniah Street. Part of the access road to the other silver mine two miles away, the Thunder Bay mine, is Black Bay Road. A forest fire swept through the area in 1875 destroying everything, so Current River’s first settlement had to be rebuilt. By 1889, land stretching from the Current R. north past Black Bay Road had been surveyed. It became the first residential area of what would become the City of Thunder Bay’s suburb of Current River. This was the first phase of development, the Walking and Horse-drawn Era, which lasted until the 1880s. Further growth was also hindered by the fact that the only way into the area from Port Arthur was along Shuniah St. to Black Bay Rd.

The Electric Streetcar

The second phase of the development of Current River, which lasted until World War I, was the advent of the electric streetcar powered by partial damming of Current R. People could now get to work and run errands with a minimum of planning. They built larger houses, too. Streetcar expansion into Current River sparked development of industry, as well. Workers could now live near where they worked while having convenient access to the benefits of the nearby city. During May of 1907, tragedy struck. After days of rain, the dam gave way sending a wall of water through the community washing away buildings, a streetcar line and a railway bridge. A passenger train crossing the bridge narrowly missed calamity, but the freight train behind it wasn’t as lucky. The bodies of the five crew members were found in the train wreckage the next day. The loss of people and property was substantial. However, the community would pick up the pieces and once again rebuild. Western Dry Dock opened in 1910 and what became known as Provincial Paper, the area’s first paper mill, opened in 1912. More industries would follow.

The Recreational Auto Era

The third phase of development was termed the Recreational Auto Era from 1920 to 1940. Popularity of the automobile quickly grew. It allowed people, for the first time, to buy a house based on their lifestyle rather than on distance from work. This period saw the largest growth of residences, schools and churches. Streetcar lines remained the same and homes were still built within walking distance of the routes. The Grenville Avenue business area started with many grocers, meat markets, barber shops and hair salons opening up. The original subdivisions of Parkmount, Parkview, Bayview and Gresley Park filled in.

After World War II

The fourth phase of growth that began after World War II was termed the Freeway Auto Era. It was sparked by the return of war veterans and the baby boom which lasted until the 1970s. More houses were built. Old neighbourhoods were filled in and new ones created. The Grenville Avenue business district expanded, too. It now provided furniture, appliances, hardware, a gas station, a bank, a hotel and restaurants. This period is responsible for urban sprawl. This is also the period that saw the Current River neighbourhood come to maturity.

Modern Current River

Modern Current River, the period from the 1980s until now, has seen fairly stagnant growth. Despite its decline, Current River remains a vibrant residential community. While nestled in the shadow of the City of Thunder Bay as a whole by the Current R. and Boulevard Lake, the suburb of Current River continues to offer its own quiet, small town appeal. Maybe that’s why many families moving to Thunder Bay looking for a quiet, old fashioned neighbourhood choose Current River.

Thank you to the Thunder Bay Historical Museum for its assistance with this article.

Brian G. Spare is a local author and freelance copywriter who is a regular contributor to Bayview Magazine. Contact him at

*Previously published in Bayview Magazine*

Thunder Bay – The Making of Mariday Park

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum

by Brian G. Spare

John James (JJ) Carrick (September 17, 1873 – May 11, 1966) was born and raised in Terre Haute, Indiana and educated at the University of Toronto. On December 20, 1899, he married Mary Day. Four years later, in 1903, he and Mary moved to Port Arthur attracted by the real estate boom. They built a house and raised three sons JJ Carrick brought all of his energy and enthusiasm with him, too. He became a real estate developer acquiring and marketing many subdivisions in Port Arthur and Fort William. The most successful of his developments was Mariday Park, named after his wife.

Carrick served as mayor of Port Arthur in 1908 where he initiated the first daylight savings time. JJ Carrick, in 1908, convinced the Canadian National Railway, over a poker game on a train from Winnipeg, to build the Prince Arthur Hotel. CN paid Carrick $850,000 to build it. The city provided the lot and the hotel was the first place in Canada to sell Remembrance Day poppies. He was an MLA for Port Arthur from 1908 to 1911 and represented Thunder Bay / Rainy River from 1911 to 1917. JJ Carrick did many other things during his tenure in the Lakehead, but he is best remembered for his real estate developments, especially Mariday Park. Mary passed away in January of 1947. In 1951, JJ Carrick moved to Mexico saying that it had the ideal climate for his health, happiness and longevity. He died there at age 92. Carrick Street in Thunder Bay was named after him.

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Thunder Bay – The Story of Westfort

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
$100 plots and tales of the people behind its recognizable street names

by Brian G. Spare

The Province of Canada’s Department of Crown Lands surveyed the southern bank of the Kaministiquia River west of the fur trading fort of Fort William during 1859-60. Then they opened it up for settlement. It would be known as West Fort William which was quickly shortened to Westfort. The surveyors simply called it the Town Plot, or the Plot as it was commonly known. Once the Westfort Town Plot was selected as the eastern terminus for the CPR, construction of the railway from West Fort William to Winnipeg commenced in June of 1875. It would take the federal Department of Public Works, and later the Department of Railways and Canals seven years from1875-1882 to build the line. Until the route was complete, growth in Westfort was very slow. However, once completed, prairie grain flowed east for shipment from the Lakehead. The CPR built elevators along the Kam to store and handle the grain. Workers and their families poured into town. Houses for them had to be built. The settlers could buy a plot of land for $100.00. Plots for other larger buildings cost $7.50 sq. ft. It wasn’t long before a village took shape centered around what would be dubbed as Frederica St. Of course, streets had to be constructed, too. One question comes to mind. How did all the streets get their names? To answer that question, we must look to the people who called this land home.

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Thunder Bay – The East End

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
Where it all began

by Brian G. Spare

When we think back to the origins of Thunder Bay, what first comes to mind are visions of the annual Great Rendezvous where buckskin-clad voyageurs arrived at Fort William paddling their canoes laden with a year’s worth of furs to sell, load up with supplies and catch up with the outside world before heading back into the seclusion of the forest for another year’s trapping. Heavy feasting, drinking, dancing and song characterized these events. But, fur trading can be dated back well before then to 1679, when the French Courier de Bois built a trading post at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River on the north shore of the inlet on Lake Superior. They traded with the Anishinabeg people who had lived in there for many centuries. The Anishinabeg called the inlet Animike meaning Thunder. So the French called it “Baie de Tonnaire” or Thunder Bay. In 1717, the French established another fur trading post on that site, Fort Kaministiquia, calling it after its namesake river. When the Pigeon River was set as the international boundary between Canada and the United States, the powerful Northwest Company (NWC) moved its operations from Grand Portage, MN to the mouth of the Kam, in 1803. It rebuilt the fort there renaming it Fort William after one of the company’s principal partners William McGillivray. For the next 60 years, Fort William became the place of the Great Rendesvous.

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The Welcome/Unity Arch

Image courtesy of the Dave Cano Collection
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.

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100 Years of Play

Image courtesy of City of Thunder Bay Archives
Celebrating Thunder Bay Playgrounds

by Brian G. Spare

There was no better day than Family Day during WinterFest for Mayor Keith Hobbs to usher in the next century of the Playgrounds Program. He proclaimed 2014 as the “Year of Play” noting that this year was the centennial of the Supervised Playgrounds Program in Thunder Bay. “Recreation has always been important to this area.”

Image courtesy of City of Thunder Bay Archives

Playgrounds have a vital role to play in our community

In June of 1914, Mayor S.C. Young proclaimed the inauguration of the Supervised Playgrounds Program Fort William. Five playgrounds participated that summer – Central, Ogden, Franklin, St. Martin’s and Collegiate. Fort William joined the playground movement hosted by many progressive cities throughout North America. Port Arthur followed suit in 1917. It was believed that playgrounds have a vital role to play in our community that affords young people the opportunity to release energy through creative play and in an atmosphere conducive to socialization. Playgrounds, they felt, were an integral part of a child’s developing years allowing for their natural growth through free play in a relaxed, outdoor supervised environment.

As well, playgrounds would offer mental and emotional security. They would provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in everyday tasks that engendered confidence and pride in themselves and the playground as a whole.

Mayor Young insisted that the program be offered at no cost all children, and funded at a low cost-per-child. He outfitted one of the playgrounds at his own expense. In its first year, over 1,500 children participated in playground activities.

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The Outlaw Bridge

by Brian G. Spare

Thunder Bay and Duluth have enjoyed a good relationship for well over a century. Initially, the only way to travel to Duluth was by the three times weekly steamboat. The turn of the twentieth century saw more and more motorcars. The people of the Lakehead wanted to explore the townships around them, and they needed a land route to Duluth. William Scott, an American businessman from Wisconsin Rapids, and Rotarian, who settled in the Lakehead, lobbied to build a road to Pigeon River. By 1916, a one-lane gravel road was constructed through the efforts of Mr. Scott. It wound its way south following the old Pigeon River logging trail and was aptly named The Scott Highway.

People could now drive 40 miles to Pigeon River, but when they got there they had to turn around and come back. The Americans had built a similar road from Duluth. It ended at the Pigeon River opposite the Canadian one and the two stared at each other across the 50 ft. wide river gorge. Mail from the United States, after being driven to Pigeon River, had to be ferried across, hauled up the bank, and then driven to the Lakehead. This wouldn’t do. A bridge had to be built.

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Rotary – A Century of Service

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
Bridge Builders, Humanitarians and More

by Brian G. Spare

Rotary was formed in Chicago in 1905 as an organization of businesses and professional leaders that provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Rotary has become a ruly international organization of 1.2 million Rotarians belonging to 31,000 Rotary clubs in 166 countries.

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum

When the Lakehead wanted to form a Rotary club in 1916, owing to the good relationship Thunder Bay and Duluth had enjoyed, the Duluth Rotary sponsored them. In 1917, for its first project, the Fort William/Port Arthur Rotary club partnered with the Duluth club on an ambitious endeavour to build a bridge across the 50 ft wide Pigeon River gorge that would link the Lakehead with Duluth by road. Both cities had constructed a road to the Pigeon River that stared at each other from opposite banks. It cost $6,268 to build with almost all of the money raised by Rotary. On August 18, 1917, the bridge was officially opened for traffic. For the first time, people from the Lakehead could travel by land to the Duluth. The bridge quickly became a hub for social activity and commerce with a thriving community springing up around it. Officially, it was called the International Bridge, but was nicknamed the Outlaw Bridge because it had been built without any government involvement from either side of the border. It was a huge undertaking and, 100 years later, remains an iconic corner stone of Rotary’s dedication to its mission to serve the people and community of Thunder Bay and region.

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Thriving with Activity

Image courtesy of West Thunder Community Centre
West Thunder Community Centre
Celebrating 30 years thanks to volunteers and visionaries

by Brian G. Spare

A Sense of Community

What is a community? It can be a group of individuals with a common goal, who work together to achieve their aim with respect, honesty and accountability toward each other. The people of Westfort are just such a group. They have always had a strong sense of community, and it is with this spirit of community that the citizens of Westfort began to gather in each others homes to discuss and plan how they would provide for their common need. They had many halls in which to meet that were by in large built with a single use in mind that were often seasonal.

What we need.

What we need, they decided, was a year round, multi-use facility for everyone of all age groups and interests. The idea grew. On March 23, 1988, a public meeting was held in the auditorium of Mary JL Black library, a board of directors was elected to oversee location, fund raising, building design, policies and programming, and begin the process of incorporating as a not for profit organization. That evening, he quest to build their centre began in full, and over two years, volunteers donated over 30,000 hours of their time to hold bingos, raffles and craft sales, canvass businesses, service clubs and government as well as going door-to-door to raise $120,000, 10% of the initial $1.2 million price tag to build their community centre. What would they call their community centre? A contest was held, and on March 28, 1989, West Thunder was chosen from more than 300 entries. Now that they had a name for their centre, where would it be built? A 4.8 acre site in St. Martin’s Park was chosen at 915 Edward St. on the corner of Edward St. and Empire Ave. By March of 1991 they achieved their fund raising goal. The Ministry Tourism and Recreation contributed $475,000, the City of Thunder Bay $805,000, West Thunder building build campaign $120,000 and Lakehead Japanese Cultural Association $100,000 for a total of $1.5 million the final cost of constructing the 11,000 square foot facility.

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Grain – Our Proud Heritage

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
Our legacy of a century of grain handling through the Port of Thunder Bay

by Brian G. Spare

In 2003, Friends of Grain Elevators (FOGE) was formed by persons who had worked in or were associated with the grain industry in Thunder Bay. They had all witnessed how much the grain trade had changed from an employer of 1000s of people to only 100s. Now, only six elevators were operating when there was once over twenty. They all felt strongly that the legacy left to us by a century of grain handling through our port, a major impact it had on the development to their city, had to be preserved. Together they formed the core group of FOGE with the goal of recording, researching and finding a place to showcase the history of grain handling in the Lakehead, and to seek out like-minded people as themselves. They quickly found them, and together they pursued their goal of preserving our grain industry’s past. It became both their mission and a labour of love. Fifteen years later, the core group who formed FOGE are still together actively working towards their goal.

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