The Yuletide season will soon be upon us once again and with it comes all the rituals, social gatherings, traditions and food that make up this time of year. I don’t know of any other holiday season that is so steeped in traditions, or is as cherished as Christmas. No matter how modern it becomes, Christmas will always be synonymous with family, friends and festivities. For many, Christmas dinner is the staple for festive meals. Namely, roast turkey with all the trimmings. But this was not always the case. Not much more than a century ago, roast goose was the fare. Think of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Our fur trading pioneer ancestors
For our fur trading pioneer ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries, turkey was not always available, but there was no shortage of substitutes. A favourite was the Passenger Pigeon, now extinct, which once darkened the sky in great flocks. Almost any animal would do, though, from moose to venison and squirrel to lynx. Another possibility was roast beaver with the tail being a dainty treat. Another delicacy was dried moose nose called mouffle. Fish and vegetables had a place on the festive table too. Of course, there was plum pudding for dessert made from imported flour and currants. When the currants were in short supply, Saskatoon berries were a good stand in. And all of this was washed down with a lot of liquor in the great halls of the forts. Those Christmas feasts were not only to celebrate the season, but also a time to forget, for a while, the very real threat of starvation which haunted the minds of those who lived in the isolated forts during the long, bitter harshness of the winter months.
For 50 years the remarkable spectacle was produced by committed voluteers
by Brian G. Spare
Christmas is a magical time for children. On the first Saturday morning of December, for two one hour shows, the kids of the Lakehead both young and old were treated to the magical excitement of the Chapples Christmas Show. In 1916, Chapples held its first annual Christmas Show at the Orpheum theatre. The Show moved to the newly constructed Fort William Gardens in December, 1951.
Beginning in September, a fairy tale theme was chosen for that year’s Christmas Show. Wil Beck, the display manager for Chapples, and his team started to design and build a set for the Show based on the theme. He made a big boot for “The Old Woman in a Shoe,” igloos for “Jack Frost,” a castle, a big fireplace for the show’s finale, and a 32 x 32 foot stage with five steps up to it to place at centre ice for the dancers. Everything had to be made off-site at the old Loblaws building in prefab sections so it could be transported to the Gardens and put together quickly for the Show.
Our two cities’ histories, Port Arthur and Fort William, were home to some remarkably gifted retailers with big ideas, and an inspirational entrepreneurial spirit.
On June 19, 1909, C.E. Chapple introduced the Lakehead to full line department store shopping in the Roy Building at 410 Victoria Avenue East in Fort William. Clem Chapple saw a need and endeavoured to fill it. Business was so good that they expanded moving to the first two floors of the Grain Exchange Building at 701 Victoria Avenue East on November 13, 1913. Then they expanded again into their new five story building on the corner of Victoria an d Syndicate Avenues. This building’s design incorporated some groundbreaking innovations of its day, including two escalators, which were in themselves engineering masterpieces.
Ever wonder how buildings get their names? I have, and the Dorothy E. Dove Building on the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition (CLE) grounds is one of them. When I went to the CLE office to find out, I met a family of friendly and dedicated staff and volunteers who were not just doing a job. I could tell running the CLE to them was a labour of love. One of those volunteers, Marian Benka, who took over managing the Dove Building from Dorothy Dove, spoke with me and gave me a tour of the Dove Building. To begin with, its original name was the Home Arts Building constructed at the corners of Fort William Road, Wylie St. and what is now Northern Ave. in 1912 (Northern Ave. didn’t exist at the time). It was decided in 1934 to relocate the Home Arts Building to its present location. They rolled it on logs down Fort William Road pulled by a team of horses to where it rests on four foot square solid cedar beams sitting on concrete footings. Dances were held on the building’s second floor to the music of Roy Curran every Saturday night. It’s where many soldiers returning home from the war found their sweethearts.
You may look all around the city and ask yourself where? What skyscraper? I assure you Thunder Bay does have one. But it may not be what you think. Today when we hear the word skyscraper we envision buildings towering 50, 80, 100 stories high or more. Structures so tall they literally appear to scrape the sky. What enables them to be so tall is their steel core – a framework of I-beams bolted together – one floor constructed on top of next and the next going up, up, up…
The Chrysler Building in New York constructed in 1930 is 77 stories, 283m high. The iconic Empire State Building built just a year later in New York stands at 102 stories, 381m tall, and was the tallest building in the world for years. But records are made to be broken. The Willis (Sears) Tower erected in 1974 in Chicago is 108 stories, 442m in height. The CN Tower in Toronto built in 1976 stands at 553m high. Although tall and freestanding it doesn’t fit the modern definition of a skyscraper because it’s not multi-storied, not made for year-round habitation and is not surrounded by a curtain wall – a wall designed to envelope the steel core but not add to the building’s structural integrity. After all it’s a great big antenna.
Higher still is Hong Kong’s International Commerce Centre which opened in 2010 and is 112 stories, 484m tall. Currently the tallest skyscraper in the world is the Burj Khalifa tower that opened in Dubai in 2010 and stands at a lofty 163 stories, 830m. That’s nearly one kilometre straight up! And there are taller towers on the drawing board. How tall can these buildings get? It would seem the sky’s the limit.
When we think of the Bombardier plant here and its history, the first things that come to mind are the Hawker Hurricanes that were built here during WW II. We remember the 835 Helldivers made at Can Car for the US Navy and the many “Rosie the Riveters” who put them together. At the peak of production, over 1200 women were employed at Canadian Car & Foundry as welders and in shop jobs alone. No doubt Elsie MacGill comes to mind, who was the first woman in Canada to earn an electrical engineering degree and to be the chief engineer of a manufacturing facility such as Can Car from 1929 -1934. She was also the first woman anywhere to design an airplane, the Maple Leaf II.
On July 17, 1912, 23 men including the mayors of Port Arthur and Fort William, along with representatives from the three railway manufacturing companies involved and a few spectators, gathered for a ceremonial sod turning in a far corner of West Fort William. The 30 hectare site would be the home of the Canadian Car & Foundry (CC&F) in the Lakehead. The CC&F was an amalgamation of the Canada Car Co. and the Dominion Car & Foundry Co. both of Montreal plus the Rhodes Curry Co. of Amhearst, NS. The CC&F plant would manufacture box cars.
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 https://BrianGSpare.com.
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.
$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.
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.