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Port Arthur City Hall

City Archives

Although incorporated as a town in 1884, Port Arthur never constructed a dedicated City Hall building. Offices of municipal government were located in a variety of publicly and privately owned buildings. There have been, however, several locations which can be recognized as serving as the Port Arthur City Hall.

Town Hall: 1880-1883

The building known as Port Arthur Town Hall was built in 1880, and among other functions served as a meeting place for the Shuniah Council, which was the precursor to Port Arthur Town Council. (Port Arthur would not be incorporated as a town until 1884.) Other functions of the building included:

Port Arthur Town Hall

Port Arthur Town Hall

  • Masonic Hall. (The Masons became the owner of the building in 1897.)
  • Entertainment space. The Town Hall served as a theatre for various travelling performance groups, and was later used as a cinema for the Western Canada Amusement Company.
  • Meeting place for two church congregations.
  • Meeting place for school trustees.
  • Venue for community dances.

The multipurpose nature of the building required that its space was used efficiently, and that its patrons exercised a great deal of patience. The Freemasons housed their facilities on the top floor. The Anglican church was also located on the upper floor, and the Presbyterian church on the lower floor. Meeting rooms led onto the performer's stage at the end of the hall, and in front of the stage there were chairs that could be set up on the floor for a seating area. The groups that used this building were largely able to cooperate; however, on occasion, the Freemasons' rituals were reportedly a little disruptive.

Fire Hall: 1883-1907

Port Arthur was incorporated as a town in 1884. Shortly before, in December of 1883, all municipal functions were moved to the newly built Fire Hall. This facility was near the lakeshore, at the intersection of Park and Water Streets. The Fire Hall played a role as a "guardian" for the community. The fire bell was adopted as the Town's multipurpose bell, and was used to signify the end of a curfew and to announce the start of church services, as well as to warn of fire.

1907 was a significant year for Port Arthur. In the month of March, Port Arthur achieved "City" status, reaching a population of 15,000. In the same month, the Clerk and Council moved the centre of governance of the new City to the Municipal Building and Telephone Exchange on Arthur St. A new Fire Hall was constructed on Court Street.

Remains of Port Arthur Town Hall after the fire
Burnt remains of Port Arthur Town hall

Also in 1907, the Town Hall building burnt down, on the night of November 23rd, to the dismay of all those who made use of it. Fortunately, no one was harmed (the cinema in the building had just finished showing a film) but among the losses were historical records, artefacts, furnishings, and film and projection equipment. The cause of the fire is unknown, and though the fire fighters collected on the scene within minutes of the alarm, the building was already well on its way to being destroyed. Due to this fire, many of the records and documents that the town owned were lost, which leaves us with scarce information on Port Arthur's government in its first twenty-seven years.


Port Arthur Town Council voted to fund construction of a new municipal building and telephone exchange in 1905. Construction on this building and on a new Fire Hall began in 1906, and continued despite controversies surrounding the rising costs of the construction. In March of 1907, the telephone switchboard was installed, and the Clerk and Council moved in to the new building. Work was declared completed in June.

As early as 1910, it became apparent that this facility was too small to meet the needs of the growing City of Port Arthur. There were discussions held in council over the possibility of enlarging the building, but these came to nothing. It seemed more economically sound to move the municipal administration and City Council to the recently-constructed Whalen Building, a commercial property; this move took place in 1914.

The Municipal Building continued to house the telephone exchange and the Board of Health, as well as various other businesses over the years. Over time, the brick façade began to crumble, and the building itself was deemed unsafe. The City of Port Arthur decided to sell the building and property in 1944.  

Whalen Building / Public Utilities Commission Building: 1914-1969

Public Utilities Building, Port Arthur
Public Utilities Commission Building
The fourth structure to be used as Port Arthur's City Hall was the Whalen Building, which eventually housed the municipal offices, the Mayor's office, the City Council Chamber and City Clerk's office. From 1914 to 1931, the Port Arthur government rented offices from the private owners of the building; in 1931 it was purchased by, and renamed after, the Port Arthur Public Utilities Commission. This building, on the corner of Cumberland and Van Norman Sts, is still in use as an office building and the home of Thunder Bay Hydro. The timeline below shows the increasing significance of the Whalen building as a municipal facility:
  • 1912: City Council discusses and takes out a loan to move to (former) Central School Building. Instead of this move, the location became a courthouse and the residence of the judge.
  • 1913: Whalen building constructed.
  • 1914: City Municipal offices, Council Chamber, Mayor's Office and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) are moved to the Whalen building.
  • 1931: Building is purchased by the Port Arthur Public Utilities Commission, and is renamed Public Utilities Commission Building.
  • 1920-1960: City offices take up increasing space in the PUC Building, including: City Clerk's office, City Treasurer's office, Inspector of Licenses, Tax Collector, and other functions of municipal government.
  • 1969-1970: At Amalgamation, municipal administration is transferred to the Thunder Bay City Hall on Donald St. The Public Utilities Commission Building continues to rent office space to various companies and services.

Aerial view of Public Utilities Building, Port Arthur
Public Utilities Commission Building
The Public Utilities Commission Building, keeping with the Port Arthur "Town Hall" tradition, has always contained more than just municipal offices. Some of the other tenants of the building have included the Municipality of Shuniah, the Great Lakes Dredging & Contracting Co. Ltd., the Detroit Sulphite Pulp and Paper Co., the Red Cross, the Imperial Life Insurance Company, the Board of Education, the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Department, St. Joseph’s Care Group Behavioural Sciences Centre, the Canadian Diabetes Association, and Thunder Bay Hydro.


Timeline of Port Arthur City Council Meeting Locations

  • May-September 1884: Fire Hall.
  • October 1884: "New Court House."
  • 1884-1904: Council Chamber on Park St.
  • June 1904: Cumberland St. location.
  • March 1907: Telephone Exchange and Municipal Building on Arthur St.
  • 1914: City Council Chamber in Whalen building, 3rd floor,
  • 1970: Amalgamation; Thunder Bay City Council now held at Thunder Bay City Hall.

Fire insurance map showing Port Arthur Town Hall
Map showing Port Arthur Town Hall
Site of Port Arthur Town Hall, 60 years after the fire
Site of Port Arthur Town Hall
Entrance to the Public Utilities Commission Building
Entrance, Public Utilities Commission Building
Public Utilities Building at Christmas, 1964
Public Utilities Commission Building
Firefighters at work in front of Public Utilities Commission Building
Firefighters and Public Utilities Commission Building
Aerial photograph showing location of Public Utilities Commission Building
Aerial photograph of Downtown Port Arthur
Actors on stage at Port Arthur Town Hall
Actors at Port Arthur Town Hall
Construction begins on the Whalen Building
Construction of the Public Utilities Commission Buidling
Construction of the Whalen Building
Construction of the Public Utilities Commission Building

Whalen Building, construction completed
Public Utilities Commission Building