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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Are You Wearing Your Nylons?

Image courtesy of Skandia House
Nipigon is now home to our much loved Nipigon Nylons

by Brian G. Spare

It’s not certain when the name Nipigon Nylons was coined to describe those thick woolly grey and white work socks. What is known is that they have been around for generations. The socks were associated with the people who forested and mined the rugged lands north of Lake Superior known as the Nipigon. Naturally, Nipigon, ON became their namesake. These heavy socks not only provided insulation from the harsh cold of winter, they gave protection from the rough gum boots they wore called Gull Bay Oxfords. The socks were dubbed nylons over a century ago when women, living in poorly insulated houses, wore them over their nylons or even right over their shoes.

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The Lesson of Christmas

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

by Brian G. Spare

What does the name “Scrooge” conjure up in your thoughts? No doubt an image of old Ebenezer himself and likely the classic image of Scrooge portrayed by Alasdair Sim… Humbug!… Whether it’s July or December the mere mention of Scrooge reminds us of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” one of the most enduring and endearing Christmas tales.

Ebenezer Scrooge grew up knowing the hardships of life. This experience would come to dominate his thoughts during his youth and the years thereafter. So much so that he lost the young woman to whom he was betrothed because of his blind pursuit of personal wealth. Scrooge became a shrewd man of business providing for his own profit while disregarding the plight of those around him. All that would change one night on Christmas Eve, exactly seven years to the day his business partner Jacob Marley died. That night, a visit from Marley’s ghost and the ghosts of Christmas would change Scrooge forever. From that Christmas on, Ebenezer Scrooge found the joy of laughter in his heart and warmth shared being kind to others. It was said that, of anyone, he knew how to keep Christmas well.

May we keep Christmas well as we hurry about our way this holiday season remembering its true meaning of peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. And so as Tiny Tim, the most humble of Dickens’ characters observed, “God bless Us Every One“.

Merry Christmas

Christmas and Candy

Image courtesy of Thunder Bay Historical Museum
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Brian G. Spare

When I was little, my Dad read this rhyme to me as my bedtime story of choice from Halloween until Easter. Even though I didn’t know what a sugar plum was, but they sure sounded delicious. Years later, I found out they don’t’ have plums in them but are hard sugary candies shaped like plums. All the same, they’re a yummy Christmas treat.

Candy canes are another treat associated with Christmas. Accordingly, custom has it that, in 1670, the choir master of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany had “sweet stick” candies shaped like a cane made to keep the children quiet during the long Living Creche (Nativity) service on Christmas Eve. Candy canes have been associated with Christmas ever since. There is no other season more associated with candy than Christmas.

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