Thunder Bay Past Places

Avenue Hotel, Fort WilliamBuilt in 1894, immediately after fire destroyed its predecessor of the same name, the Avenue Hotel on Victoria Avenue, right in the centre of Fort William’s business district, was the town’s premiere accommodation. When it was new it was described as “among the best appointed houses of the Province” with 40 rooms (later expanded to 70), beautiful oak finishings throughout and its own dray service to and from the station and the docks. Its cuisine was among its major attractions (it even had its own bakery in the basement) and its bar was said to be “the longest in town.” Even after bigger and more luxurious hotels were constructed, the Avenue remained the choice of touring Vaudeville actors performing at the nearby theatres. One of the early hotel’s features was a pet bear who was inordinately fond of sweets with which he was kept well supplied by his many admirers. The Avenue was victim of several fires, the last coming in 1944 when it was burnt to the ground.

Algoma Hotel, Port ArthurThe Algoma Hotel was built on Cumberland Street near Lorne in Port Arthur in the late 1880s under the proprietorship of John Merrill and George Hodder. It was the home of several prominent personalities. Among them were James Oliver Curwood (who wrote God’s County and other novels), and Bob Edwards, a controversial newspaper editor. Edwards published the Eye Opener first in Calgary and then in Port Arthur in the early years of the 20th century but in both cases was forced out of town by irate citizens. According to one author, Bob could often be seen coming out of the hotel in the mornings, “so groggy that he had to hang onto the railings to keep from falling.” When greeted with the words “Drunk again Bob?”, he would always reply “So am I.”

Hodder's Shop for all Vices, Port ArthurGeorge Hodder’s liquor, tobacco and cigar shop was located on Park Street near Cumberland in the mid 1880s. He must have done a roaring business when thousands of hard drinking railway navvies, sailors, prospectors and mine workers came to Port Arthur for their entertainment. The railway was completed by 1886, and the mining prospects began to decline by the decade’s end. The boom years were winding down and business began to dry up. By 1888 Hodder’s distinctive store was gone.

Hotel Victoria, WestfortThe Hotel Victoria near the intersection of Gore and Brown Streets in Westfort was one of the first to be established in Thunder Bay. This picture dates from 1875. Standing on the verandah are P. Robbin (proprietor), Father Richard Baxter S.J. (Jesuit Missionary to the Ojibway in the Lake Superior region), John King (merchant), Captain Marin, and Mrs. J. King. Note the steer laying on the street in front of the hotel.

The Manitoba Hotel, Fort WilliamToday they would say it couldn’t be done. But using only horses and log rollers, men picked up and moved the three-storey Manitoba Hotel an entire block to a better location. This was during the first decade of the 20th century, and the hotel, later called the Simpson, existed on the same spot until burning down in 1999. The original hotel was built right next to the Canadian Pacific Railway station and did a roaring business because of its location. When the station was moved a mile or so away, business was decimated forcing the owner, Mr. John Mack, to pick up and move. Like most hoteliers of the time, Mr. Mack was inordinately proud of his bar, noting that the massive structure was fully 58 feet in length and that not only were the floors of the bar tiled but the room had direct access to a “porcelain and tile-lined lavatory.”

Neebing Hotel, WestfortOliver, Davidson & Co., headed by good Liberal party members Adam Oliver and Joseph Davidson, built the Neebing Hotel in the 1870s and promptly sold it to the federal government’s new railway for about $8,500. The railway planned to use it for offices though the building turned out to be so poorly built that it was never fully occupied. Port Arthur citizens, jealous that the Liberal Government in Ottawa gave the railway terminus to Fort William and not to them, cried foul, claiming that this sale was an example of corruption and patronage at the highest level. The allegations created quite a storm of controversy in the House of Commons and (even though the accused were vindicated in the end) contributed to the ultimate fall of Alexander Mackenzie’s Liberal government.

Queen's Hotel, Fort WilliamOne of at least four hotels named “Queen’s”, this handsome building was located on Gore Street in Westfort. Built in the 1880s, with a capacity of 150 rooms, it was known as one of the town’s classiest and most up-to-date accommodations. With a built-in pool room barber shop and bar, and later featuring steam heat in every room, as well as hot and cold water connections and baths, the Queen’s quite rightly deserved the moniker “the best $1.50 a day hotel in town”. Today the site is the location of a contractor’s storage yard.

 Grain Exchange, Fort WilliamCommonly known as the Chapples building because its major occupant from 1913 to 1981 was the department store run by the Chapples family, this building is more properly known as the Grain Exchange. Constructed in 1909, the block was Fort William’s attempt to capture the grain exchange business from Winnipeg. Without a sample market, however, the exchange never really got off the ground, and for years the building has housed a variety of offices. The construction of Victoriaville Centre which opened in 1980 enclosed much of the building within a mall.

Fort William Town HallThunder Bay’s city hall had two predecessors. The first, Fort William’s town hall, was built in the early 1890s at the corner of Donald and Brodie Streets. It also housed the fire department. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground in 1903 taking most of the town’s records with it. The second, seen here, was a much larger structure built on what is now the lawn of the current city hall. The building was designed by Ayleworh, a local architect, and cost $80,000, a sizeable sum for a town of only 5,000 people. It opened to great fanfare in 1905. This architecturally distinctive hall also served for many decades as Fort William’s community auditorium. It was torn down in 1965 and replaced by today’s building.

Port Arthur Town HallSet right in the middle of Red River Road at the intersection of Court Street, you could hardly miss the building that served as Port Arthur’s first town hall. Built in 1880 by a private company, it served as a Masonic hall and theatre, and the venue for many town functions over the years including town council meetings. It was eventually destroyed by fire in 1907. The municipality of Port Arthur, however, never had a purposely built city hall in its history, but instead leased rooms in other buildings, principally the Whalen Building.

Labour Day Parade, Simpson StreetThe first Labour Day parades in Thunder Bay took place early in the 20th century. Like this view of Simpson Street in 1913, they sometimes brought out thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants. Being seaports and rail centres, Fort William and Port Arthur had a very active labour movement in these early years, and local union leaders were in the forefront of labour activism in Canada. Strikes were not uncommon, particularly against the railways, and, when strikebreakers were used, several strikes turned violent. At these times armed militiamen were used to suppress the violence. For more information about Thunder Bay’s tumultuous labour history, read Chapter Seven in the book Thunder Bay: From Rivalry to Unity.

Calithumpian Parade, Red River RoadCalithumpian parades died in the late 19th century, but they had deep roots in European folk culture, going back to Medieval times. They were occasions for people to dress up and parade in costume on the streets, upsetting social norms and conventions for a day. It is strange to see the idea translated to North America and to small communities like Port Arthur and Fort William. This picture shows a traditional Calithumpian parade on the streets of Port Arthur in the 1870s. Another in the collection of the Thunder Bay Museum shows a similar parade in neighbouring Fort William.