Evolution of a City – Part 2

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
The Story of Thunder Bay – Part 2

Nominated for the George B. MacGillivray Publication Award

by Brian G. Spare

On January 1, 1970, the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William along with parts of the municipalities of Neebing and McIntyre amalgamated to form the City of Thunder Bay. However, the debate over amalgamation began 60 years earlier.

The road to amalgamation

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum

The first formal record of a discussion to amalgamate Fort William and Port Arthur was a letter by I.S. Heinrich dated Oct. 28, 1910. In it he stated that since the discussion of union of the twin cities was again prominent, he proposed “Portfort” as a name for the amalgamated city. Ten years passed before a public vote as held. On January 5, 1920, the citizens of Port Arthur were asked, “Are you in favour of the union of the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, upon terms to be mutually agreed upon?” Of the 1923 votes cast and counted at the Whalen building, 1183 were in favour and 740 against. Although a majority of citizens were in favour of amalgamation, no further action was taken for another 38 years. It had always been rumored that Port Arthur’s application for city status in 1907 included a bid to annex Fort William. If that was the case, both towns were still incorporated as cites that year. Maybe there was something to that rumor, though, because in 1948 Port Arthur mayor, Charlie Cox and staunch proponent of amalgamation, tried to become mayor of both cities when he ran for the mayoralty of Fort William in its municipal election.

On December 1 in Fort William and December 8 in Port Arthur, 1958, the same question as in the 1920 plebiscite was asked of the citizens of both cities. This vote would not be legally binding, and many questioned whether it was worth the trouble to ask the question. The results were as follows:

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum

Fort William: For 4209 Against 6827.

Port Arthur: For 5468 Against 5331.

Over the years, amalgamation was debated on and off and various names were proposed for a unified city including Port Edward, Williamsport, Westport, Westgate, Port Thurwilliam and Fort Artwill. Still, nothing was done.

By the 1960s, the Chamber of Commerce of each city had united to form the Lakehead Chamber of Commerce and the Labour Councils had merged. Fort William’s and Port Arthur’s public libraries accepted each other’s library cards and they had a book interloan system. There was an agreement for a co-operative telephone system. The Lakehead Regional Conservation Authority (LRCA) was created, as well as the Lakehead Planning Board, the Lakehead Board of Education, Lakehead Harbour Commission, Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Thunder Bay Mutual Fire System and Children’s Aid Society. Political and economic forces were at work in the 1960s too. Keefer terminal was completed in 1962 in the intercity area. The Intercity Development Association, and the Lakehead Chamber of Commerce both lobbied vigorously for amalgamation. In spite of this, the cities remained separate.

Images courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum

In the end, the decision to amalgamate was not made by the citizens of the Lakehead, but the Ontario legislature. In 1968, then mayor of Port Arthur, Saul Laskin, who was also a strong supporter of amalgamation, spoke with Minister of Municipal Affairs, Darcy McKeough, about the ongoing dispute over uniting the two cities. Minister McKeough said he would introduce legislation at Queen’s Park, Bill 118,The City of the Lakehead Act. On May 8, 1969 it passed. Port Arthur, Fort William and the Townships of Neebing and McIntire would become one city on January 1, 1970. A loud hue and cry went up from the citizens citing they were not allowed to vote on this. As compensation, they were given an opportunity to decide on the name of their amalgamated city. The plebiscite had a choice of three names which were Lakehead, The Lakehead and Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay won by a narrow margin of 600 votes. This sparked more protests. People felt the new city’s name should be some form of Lakehead since the combined vote was larger than that for Thunder Bay. None the less, the unified city would be named after the inlet on Lake Superior upon the north shore of which it resided.

More than the sum of its parts

Amalgamating four municipalities took much more effort than just changing the names. Each had municipal plans and bylaws which had to be integrated. The most significant benefit to the new city as a whole was the combining and expansion of sewer and water services. Until then, McIntyre had no sewer treatment at all. The two public transit systems and police services were combined. Attention was turned to the intercity area between the old cities of Fort William and Port Arthur. The area had been left mainly because of the railway lines that crossed it and all its peat bogs that hindered development.

Before amalgamation, all four municipalities attempted to provide adequate local government services, but didn’t have the tax base to do so, especially McIntyre. If the rivalry between Port Arthur, Fort William and the two Townships, and the competition for government initiative and infrastructure funding that would have resulted in one area receiving funds at the expense of the other, or may have us by altogether. After amalgamation, the City of Thunder Bay could speak with a single voice which has worked in its favour.

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum

A work in progress

One of the highlights of Thunder Bay’s inaugural year was when its own Carol Commisso won the Miss Canada pageant. Over the years, Thunder Bay, as one city, has achieved things that likely would not have happened had the four municipalities had remained separate. We hosted the 1981 Canada Summer Games. In 1984, the Neebing McIntyre Floodway was completed to control the annual flooding of the Intercity area, and the Community Auditorium opened in 1985. We held the 1995 World Nordic Championships, and along with it came our new airport. We played host to the 1996 Scott’s Tournament of Hearts.

Our history began with the fur trade with the pelts going to cloth Canadians and the people of Europe. The region’s economy changed and expanded with the coming of the transcontinental railway. Through our port we shipped grain to feed the world. We exported lumber for pulp and paper. Our factories built planes, buses, rail cars and ships. The people here have shown how diverse and adaptable they are.

The resource based economy that has sustained this region for decades is in decline. In its place our university and college are expanding. We have a new university hospital, medical school, law school, and a world renown research facility. What will be next? Whatever it is, the people of Thunder Bay will show the adaptability they always have and prosper in the change. Once again the city built on the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big Sea Water will rightfully earn the name, anemki, given to this land by the Ojibway centuries ago. They called it thunder.

Thank you to the following who assisted with this article:

Thunder Bay Historical Museum

Thunder Bay Public Library

City of Thunder Bay Archives and website

Brian G. Spare is a local author and freelance copywriter who is a regular contributor Bayview Magazine. Contact him at https://BrianGSpare.com.

*Previously published in Bayview Magazine*

Evolution of a City – Part 1

Image courtesy of City of Thunder Bay Archives / Bayview Magazine
The Story of Thunder Bay – Part 1

Nominated for the George B. MacGillivray Publication Award

by Brian G. Spare

People have lived in this area for at least 10,000 years. However, the city of Thunder Bay and its history, as most of us know it, began with the fur trade. In 1679, Duluth and the French Courier de Bois built a post at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River on the north shore of the inlet on Lake Superior. They named it Fort Kaministquia. The native people called the inlet Animike meaning Thunder. The French called the inlet “Baie de Tonnaire” or Thunder Bay. In 1870, the Pigeon River was set as the international boundary between Canada and the United States, and the fort fell into disuse. In 1803, the powerful Northwest Company rebuilt the fort naming it Fort William after one of the company’s principal partners William McGillivray. For next 60 years, Fort William became the place of the annual Great Rendezvous where buckskin-clad voyageurs arrived at the fort 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. When the Northwest Company amalgamated with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, Fort William began to decline as the centre for fur trading.

Continue reading “Evolution of a City – Part 1”

In The Shadow of Anemki Wajiw

Image courtesy of Bayview Magazine
Etched Murals at Thunder Bay International Airport Celebrate Indigenous Culture

by Brian G. Spare

What sparked this endeavour was the work of an aspiring young artist and film maker from Couchiching First Nation who is involved in a project to reclaim Indigenous languages and places across Ontario. She uses commercial billboards to showcase Anishinabe language and imagery in ways to make us think about place. In Thunder Bay, she placed art entitled “Place Where The Thunderbirds Land” on a billboard in the Northwood Mall parking lot during the spring of 2016. It depicted a Thunderbird landing on Anemki Wajiw (Thunder Mountain) or what we now know as Mount McKay.

We had been looking for a theme

The President and CEO of Thunder Bay International Airport, heard her May 16, 2016 interview on the local CBC radio and went to look at the billboard. He was inspired by what he saw. “The airport Terminal Building was being renovated at the time,” he recounts, “We had been looking for a theme to guide some art installations. With the airport being in the shadow of Anemki Wajiw, it was clear that this was the ideal theme.” In conversation with the Department of Art History at Lakehead University regarding this art project being located in the airport. it was suggested that the young Indigenous art collective, Neechee Studio, might be a good fit.

Continue reading “In The Shadow of Anemki Wajiw”

Our Carnegie Library

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
The Brodie Library
A steel industry philanthropist made it possible

by Brian G. Spare

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the Earth as the Free Public Library – Andrew Carnegie

When we visit the library, do we think of its history? When did it first open? Who was involved in its founding? How has it changed throughout the years? Our libraries are institutions that play an essential role in our society. They are places of creativity, of local and worldwide connections and are the centres of our community. Over 23,000 librarians and library clerks serve in 22,000 libraries across Canada. But just 120 years ago, libraries were not nearly as prevalent. In the late 1800s, there were only a few libraries in existence and you had to pay a fee to use them. This meant that only well to do people could afford to “borrow” from them. The first library in the Lakehead was started by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 located in their roundhouse. CPR employees had to pay an annual fee of $1.25 to use it. Non-employees were charged $0.25 more. In 1905, the library was moved to the basement of the Fort William city hall until 1912 when the Brodie St. library opened.

Continue reading “Our Carnegie Library”

Speaking of things …

Image courtesy of Toastmasters International
Toastmasters 2013 Fall Conference in Thunder Bay

by Brian G. Spare

Have you ever thought of being a public speaker? Or getting up in front of a group and speaking with confidence? If so, Toastmasters is for you.

Image courtesy of Toastmasters International

Ralph C. Smedley held the first meeting of “The Toastmasters Club” in the basement of the YMCA in Santa Ana, CA in 1924. Its goal was to help its members develop public speaking skills in a friendly, informal atmosphere. Word quickly spread. Toastmasters clubs were formed in nearby communities and then in neighbouring states. In 1930, Toastmasters became “Toastmasters International” when a speaking group in New Westminster, BC joined the organization. Today, Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership. It boasts 280,000 members belonging to 135,000 clubs in 116 countries worldwide.

Speaking and leadership

The mission of the Toastmasters organization has always been to provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth. Toastmasters meetings are learning-by-doing workshops. Participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a constructive, no-pressure atmosphere where members evaluate each other’s presentations. This is a key part of Toastmasters’ success.

Continue reading “Speaking of things …”

Number Please?

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
Our telephone history as one of the first communities in the world to hold a telephone conversation.

by Brian G. Spare

Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

These were the first words spoken through the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson March 10, 1876. Bell and Watson were working on developing the telephone in Bell’s apartment in Boston. Bell was in one room and Watson was in another. When Bell spilled battery acid on himself and called for Watson to help him. Watson heard Bell’s summons through the telephone, jumped to his feet and ran to Bell exclaiming , “I heard every word distinctly!” In the excitement, Bell forgot about the spilled acid. The dits and dahs of Morse code were familiar to people then, but Bell’s dream was to transmit the human voice. He called it the “talking wire.” On that day in March, he achieved his goal. Bell immediately applied for a patent for his telephone.

News of Bell’s success spread quickly. Less than one year later, in June 1877, experimental telephonic communication was carried out between the Landing at Park Ave. and Cumberland St. and the Town Plot six miles away. In that, the Lakehead acquired the distinction of being one of the first communities in the world to hold a telephone conversation. The call was between a Mr. Henderson, Alexander Graham Bell’s brother-in-law, and W.P. Cooke of Port Arthur.

Continue reading “Number Please?”

The Great Wall of Thunder Bay

Image courtesy of Bayview Magazine
The construction of the harbour breakwater provided an economic life-line to our city

by Brian G. Spare

As the 1880s approached, people of the Lakehead knew the fur trade, the industry which had sustained them for two centuries, was winding down. Times were changing. The national railway, the CPR, was making its way eastward and from the west. A ribbon of steel would forge a link to unite Canada from the Atlantic to Pacific. The CPR made the Lakehead its western terminus, and with the railway, new opportunities for prosperity would emerge. The future looked very bright for the citizens of Port Arthur and Fort William. Mining, forestry and grain became the dominant industries. The land was rich with minerals and the forests were vast. Grain transported by rail from the prairies was loaded onto boats to be shipped from Port Arthur, via the St. Lawrence Seaway, to ports the world over. A concern now arose, that with the growth of shipping, the shoreline and the supporting buildings along it needed the protection of a breakwater (break wall). It was held that a breakwater was essential for the growth and progress of shipping.

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Janis Gummeson

Nobody has a finger on the pulse of Thunder Bay better than Janis Gummeson
Image by Alan Dickson

Janis was born and raised in Thunder Bay and has always had a deep-rooted concern for the community she lives in. She loves looking over Lake Superior every day. When Janis finished high school, she thought about what to do for a career. She knew a 9-5 desk job wasn’t for her. Community TV had always interested Janis, so she enrolled in the Television Broadcasting Program at Confederation College (1987 – 89), and had a job placement at Shaw TV (then MacLean Hunter TV) during her studies. When she graduated, Janis found work at Shaw TV, and began a career producing programming to showcase the community she is so close to.

I asked Janis what she likes most about her work.

Janis says, “I love being connected to my community. It’s good to be able to do something that promotes our organizations and events. I meet so many nice people.”

Janis travels around Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario to visit and promote organizations and events interviewing the people involved. She works with community access producers in Thunder Bay in a combined effort to produce programming for Shaw TV. During the summer, Janis and members from Shaw TV in Thunder Bay, Kenora, Dryden and Winnipeg cover three fishing tournaments across NWO. Janis’ work is a family affair. The school events her children are involved in get to the TV screen, too.

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The Eaton’s Building – A New Life?

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
A local architect’s big idea for the downtown centrepiece.

by Brian G. Spare

In 1869, Timothy Eaton opened his department store in Toronto. It offered people a different shopping experience in that they could now go to one store to buy furniture, appliances, clothing, cosmetics, sporting and yard goods, notions and groceries. Timothy Eaton’s goal was to deliver quality merchandise and give his customers exceptional service. His concern for customer service was exemplary, and his satisfaction guaranteed or your money back policy was revolutionary for its day. In 1885, Eaton’s introduced shoppers to the passenger elevator. Eaton’s was also active in the community holding company picnics and sporting events such as curling bonspiels. All this served to build an empire that would stretch from coast to coast across our nation. By the mid 1900s, Eaton’s was the largest department store chain in Canada with the iconic Eaton’s catalogue in nearly every household.

Continue reading “The Eaton’s Building – A New Life?”

Our Most Famous Homes

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
Monuments of Our Storied Past
and the people who guided their creation

by Brian G. Spare

The people who opened up the North West shared a common love for vast and wild country. They were pioneers, inventors, mining engineers, geologists, surveyors, world travellers, politicians and business men and women. All of them were persons of vision who saw an opportunity and seized it. As with many things about the growth of Thunder Bay, they are rooted in mining, forestry, railway and shipping.

Thomas Marks arrived in Port Arthur in 1849 and quickly became a prominent figure. He and his brother successfully established a business at Bruce Mines, partnered with Peter McKellar in his mining operations and contracted to build road beds for the CPR. Marks was president of three railways and his ship, “The Kakabeka”, was the first one to be registered at Port Arthur. He also was instrumental in starting the first grain elevator here and his Forwarding and Electric Company provided the power for the Port Arthur Light and Electricity Company. In recognition of his leadership, Thomas Marks was elected the first mayor of the Town of Port Arthur when it incorporated in 1884. Marks resided in a house built in 1895 at 125 North Algoma Street until his death in 1900.

Continue reading “Our Most Famous Homes”
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