Portrait of Catherine Seppala, City of Thunder Bay
Submitted by: The City of Thunder Bay Archives
Date of Birth: 1907, Fort William, ON
Date of Death: July 4, 1975, Thunder Bay, ON
Fort William Alderman: 1954-1958
Mayor of Fort William: 1959-1960
Mayor Seppala and Council at Inaugural Meeting of Fort William City Council, 1960. Collection of Thunder Bay City Archives 1991-02-53
Catherine Seppala was the first and only woman to serve as Mayor of Fort William. She won three elections as a Councilor before running and winning the Mayoral race in 1959. As one of few female politicians at that time, she faced sexist criticism, but countered during her 1953 campaign: “a woman who can run a modern home can contribute to council service.” She was one of three women elected to council that year, and all three continued to serve together until Seppala became Mayor.
Councillor Seppala volunteering at a community event, July 1956. Collection of Thunder Bay City Archives 1991-6-107
Seppala was focused on the wellbeing of her city, both physical and moral. She was involved in the Neebing River Conservation project as well as the construction of the Westmount Hospital during her time as Mayor. She was an active volunteer throughout her life, working with more than 16 different organizations. Her work with the Canadian Red Cross was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II. As chair of the Fort William Winter Carnival Queen contest, she banned swimsuits in favour of more seasonally appropriate skating skirts, sweaters and tams.
Her good works are often overshadowed by an incident that resulted in her being deemed the “Book Burning Mayor”. Objecting to what she felt was an obscene book, she strongly suggested to a local bookseller that he remove copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover from his bookstore. Worried about recriminations from City Council, the bookseller removed the books and took the extra step of burning more than 700 copies in the City’s incinerator.
Unfortunately, Seppala’s time as Mayor was cut short. Due to ill health, she stepped down from the position three months early, in September 1960. She passed away in 1975.
Mayor Seppala, some Councilors and others, likely members of the Royal Visit Committee, when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Canada, and Fort William, for the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway, July 1959. Collection of Thunder Bay City Archives 1990-17-50
Busby, Brian, “Freedom to Read Week: Catherine Seppala, the Book Burning Mayor of Fort William, Ontario.” http://brianbusby.blogspot.ca/2014/02/freedom-to-read-week-catherine-seppala.html. February 24, 2014.
Mount, Nick, “What Thunder Bay Burned: And how Lady Chatterley wrote our obscenity law”, The Walrus, January/February 2010, http://thewalrus.ca/what-thunder-bay-burned/ .
Tronrud, Thorold J. and A. Ernest Epp, eds. Thunder Bay: From Rivalry to Unity. Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, 1995.