Memorable Moments Since Amalgamation

In 2020, The Walleye, Thunder Bay's Arts & Culture Magazine, and the City partnered on 50th Anniversary articles including a bi-monthly column covering the decades since amalgamation.   

 The Walleye

January 2020

One City. Fifty Years.

By Rebecca Eras

On January 1, 1970, Mayor Saul Laskin rang the H.M.C.S. Fort William and H.M.C.S. Port Arthur ships’ bells simultaneously, ushering in a new era that officially merged Port Arthur, Fort William and the Townships of Neebing and McIntyre.

After more than 50 years of discussing amalgamation including two public plebiscites in 1920 and 1958, the issue was finally settled. Well sort of.  

Prior to the official amalgamation, citizens from Fort William and Port Arthur voted on what name the new city should be. However, the options to choose from were limited. The choices included Thunder Bay, Lakehead, or The Lakehead. This ultimately led to a split vote where the majority of citizens chose a variation of Lakehead and yet the name, Thunder Bay, won. Despite where one sits on the name front, Thunder Bay definitely beat previous suggestions before the vote, which included the awkward-sounding Port Fort and the cringeworthy Grainopolis.

There’s a historic context to the name Thunder Bay, too. Europeans arriving in the 17th century learned that local Indigenous peoples often referred to the area as Anemki, which is Ojibwa for thunder. In addition, during the days of the fur trade, the French voyageurs called the place Baie du Tonnerre, or Bay of Thunder. In more recent times, when Scouts Canada held its nation-wide Jamboree here in 1997, it was such a stormy summer that one camp counselor was heard saying, “So this is why you call this place Thunder Bay!”

The newly minted city of Thunder Bay did not entirely erase old rivalries between Port Arthur and Fort William, but we have come a long way since Rudyard Kipling’s visit that resulted in this observation, quoted from Letters of Travel 1892 - 1913, published in New York, 1920:

"They [Fort William and Port Arthur] hate each other with the pure, poisonous, passionate hatred which makes towns grow. If Providence wiped out one of them, the survivor would pine away and die - a mateless hatebird. Someday, they must unite and the question of the composite name they should carry already vexes them."

Despite some growing pains and squabbles about what side of the city new developments should go—which to some degree still occurs, our young city continues to be a place where people come together and are stronger for it.

In 2019 Wake the Giant came into being, an initiative that promotes inclusion and respect for Indigenous youth, particularly those coming from northern communities. So far, it includes more than 225 organizations stepping up to show their support by displaying a Wake the Giant decal, indicating theirs is a safe space for Indigenous youth. In addition, Wake the Giant launched a music festival that saw thousands attend in 2019 with plans for a second concert now underway for 2020. The success of Wake the Giant further demonstrates the unity in our community, as relationships we share with all those who live, work, play or visit here continue to strengthen.

As we move forward into 2020, the City of Thunder Bay invites everyone to celebrate our 50th anniversary since amalgamation. It is a time to reflect on our collective past, and in doing so, the public can submit images and memories on the City’s 50th website of moments that they feel define our history. Friends and family from out of town are encouraged to visit this year as well to continue our City’s legacy as a gathering place well into the future.

Mayor Saul Laskin raising Thunder Bay flag in 1972

 One City. Fifty Years., pg. 54, Amalgamation, pg. 52

 

Walleye 101

Amalgamation

By Bonnie Schiedel 

Just in time for water cooler and coffee shop talk about Thunder Bay’s 50th birthday and the merging of the separate cities, we present your handy guide to amalgamation by the numbers. And really, whether you still stick with “Fort William” and “Port Arthur” or are a proud Thunder Bayer, I think we can all agree that we’re glad we’re not “Port Fort.”

1910: The year that amalgamating the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur was first formally discussed by city officials.

20+: Number of names suggested and discarded over the years. Some rejects include Port Fort, Grainopolis, Fort Artwill, Thurwilliam, WestgatePort, Westport, Williamsport, Silver City, Thunder City, Thunderhead, and Port Edward.

1,923: Number of votes cast in the 1920 public vote about amalgamation. Results: 1,183 in favour, 740 against. (Nothing happened though.)

1958: Year of a plebiscite that again asked for voters’ opinion on the matter of amalgamation. Fort William voted 4,209 in favour and 6,827 against, while Port Arthur voted 5,468 in favour and 5,331 against.

1969: Year the Ontario government issued the “City of the Lakehead Act” ordering amalgamation. (Also the year all communities involved were ticked off about not being consulted.)

 

January 1, 1970: Date on which the city of Thunder Bay came into existence. A proclamation issued by Mayor Saul Laskin said, in part, “Therefore it is fitting that this great occasion shall be celebrated with all suitable pageantry by all our citizenry with great feats on land, sea and air, with exhibitions of skills of all sorts with music and contests of physical prowess.”

4: The number of communities that became the city of Thunder Bay—Port Arthur, Fort William, and Neebing and McIntyre townships.

60: Percentage of voters in the 1969 name referendum who wanted a version that included “Lakehead.” The results were 15,870 in favour of “Thunder Bay” while “Lakehead” received 15,302 and “The Lakehead” garnered 8,377.

1: Number of symbols added to the new city’s coat of arms. The Sleeping Giant was added as a unifying element to the mash-up of symbols that included a moose with a silver collar, a sheaf of wheat and a salmon from the Port Arthur coat of arms, and the beaver, voyageur canoe, and voyageur from the Fort William coat of arms.

2: Number of songs in a handout called “Songs to Amalgamate By,” distrubuted on New Year’s Eve, 1969. The customized lyrics accompanied the tunes of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “Auld Lang Syne.”

1972: Year the city’s flag was adopted. The flag was designed by city resident and contest winner Cliff Redden.

50: Number of years we have officially been “Thunder Bay”!

Jan. 1, 1970 Mayor Saul Laskin and his press agent open a bottle of champagne

Jan. 1, 1970 Mayor Saul Laskin and his press agent open a bottle of champagne

 March 2020

Waving Our Flag

Local Resident Cliff Redden Designed Thunder Bay’s Flag in 1972

By Bonnie Schiedel

“The design popped into my head right away,” says Cliff Redden, winner of the 1972 design contest for a Thunder Bay flag. Mayor Saul Laskin wanted a new flag for the new city, so the contest was advertised in the city papers, with a prize of $75. Redden wanted to incorporate both Canada’s red maple leaf and the Sleeping Giant, and he used the city colours of gold and green to show the gold of the rising sun and the green trees of the Giant, all balanced by the blue of Lake Superior.

The contest was popular, and 150 people submitted their entries. Jake Black, then the art supervisor at the Lakehead Board of Education, gathered 19 outstanding art students from local high schools to be the judges. He broke them into four groups, and each group walked around the designs that were carefully placed on the floor, discussing the merits of each, such as if they would be easy to see at a distance. Each group then picked their two favourites, and the final eight were voted on by secret ballot. “I remember the deliberations were really long, and I could see that they were taking it seriously,” says Black. “They were so enthusiastic.” He says that while there were many excellent designs, Cliff’s stood out for his use of colour. “That was the one, there was no doubt about it.”

Redden was shocked when he received a letter informing him he had won the contest. (He spent the prize money on unglamorous but necessary car repairs.) “Seeing the flag flying for the first time at the flag-raising ceremony felt really good. I went up with Mayor Laskin to the roof of City Hall to raise it.” While not formally trained as an artist, Redden has always loved art, and in his off-hours of various careers that included driving a truck, social work and casino security, he has made time for sketching, especially drawings of trains. Over the years, he has received pictures of the flag flying over sister cities like Gifu City in Japan, and held by local climbers at the top of a mountain in Kathmandu, Nepal. He continues to enjoy seeing it at parades, ceremonies and buildings around town too—and always makes sure to check that it’s in good condition. Does he fly it at his Slate River farm? “I don’t have a flagpole!” he says.

Designer of Thunder Bay flag Cliff Redden holding up the flag

Cliff Redden, designer of Thunder Bay's official flag

Photo Credit: Derek McChristie

Waving Our Flag, pg. 70 

 

Some 1970s highlights

By Bonnie Schiedel

1970
Thunder Bay’s Carol Commisso becomes Miss Canada

1971

Magnus Theatre is established

1972

Thunder Bay Museum opens

1973

Mayor Walter Assef is elected

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit Thunder Bay, including the newly opened Old Fort William

1974

CBC Radio One begins in Thunder Bay

1975

Thunder Bay Twins win hockey’s Allan Cup

Curlers Bill Tetley, Bill Hodgson Jr., Peter Hnatiw, and Rick Lang win the Brier

1976

Thunder Bay Art Gallery opens

Downhill skier Dave Irwin represents Canada at the Winter Olympics 

1977

Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame is established

1978

Mayor Eleanor Joan (Dusty) Miller is elected

Thunder Bay Terminals Ltd. Is established in the Port of Thunder Bay

Norval Morrisseau is named to the Order of Canada

1978–79

The city shivers through its coldest-ever winter (a record tied in 2014) 

 May 2020

The 1980’s, A Decade of Sport and Courage

By Laurie Abthorpe, Heritage Researcher, City of Thunder Bay

The 1980’s began with a display of courage, dedication and athleticism that to this day impacts and inspires not only our city and nation, but worldwide. Forty years ago, on April 12, 1980, 21-year-old Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope began in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. His goal; to raise awareness of cancer and funds for cancer research. On September 1, 1980, after 5,373 kilometers and 143 days into his cross-country run, cancer spread to Terry’s lungs, forcing him to stop just east of Thunder Bay. Not only is Terry’s courage and determination memorialized here by a monument and the naming of a section of the TransCanada Highway, the spirit behind this Canadian hero’s endeavor lives on through the annual Terry Fox Runs held across the globe.

Just one year later, the City of Thunder Bay garnered national attention once again. This time as the host city for the 1981 Canada Summer Games, the first Ontario community awarded a Jeux Canada Games. From August 9 – 22 1,500 athletes from across the country competed in 17 different sports in venues across the community. The event captured the heart of our city with approximately 5,000 community members volunteering and working alongside the host society. They put in countless hours throughout the course of planning and during the Games, ensuring its success. Improvements and upgrades to numerous recreational and sporting facilities throughout the city are directly attached to the legacy of the 1981 Summer Games. The centerpiece of the Games’ built legacy was the construction of the Canada Games Complex. Designed to accommodate aquatic sports, the venue included a 77-metre Olympic standard pool and a diving pool with diving stands at four different heights. The Complex, built to serve long term as a community recreational facility, featured additional amenities such as a therapeutic pool, a fitness area, racquetball courts and a child care centre.

Throughout the 1980’s, Steve Collins, a member of Fort William First Nation, rose to become one of Canada’s finest ski-jumpers. Training at Big Thunder National Ski Training Centre prepared Collins for initial successes at the national level before he began competing on the world stage in the 1979-1980 season. In March 1980, fifteen-year-old Collins’ jump of 124 metres broke the hill record at Lahti, Finland, thereby winning him the World Cup’s 90-metre event. The following December he set a world record here in Thunder Bay for the longest 90-metre jump, with a remarkable 128.5 metres. After being named the top under-20 Canadian male athlete, Collins was also nominated for the 1980 Lou March Trophy, which is awarded to Canada’s outstanding athlete of the year, as determined by Canadian sports journalists.  However, Terry Fox, through his Marathon of Hope, was the recipient of the trophy that year. Collins continued placing in the top 20 at multiple World Cup events throughout the ‘80’s and represented Canada at all three Winter Olympic Games held that decade - 1980 (Lake Placid), 1984 (Sarajevo) and 1988 (Calgary).  Steve Collins’ outstanding career in ski-jump is commemorated in both the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.

These are just three highlights of sporting achievements, courage and determination that inspire memories of the 1980’s shared in and around the Thunder Bay community, there are certainly many more.

 50 Years of Thunder Bay, A Decade of Sport and Courage, pg. 80 

 July 2020

Growing Up After Amalgamation

How Thunder Bay Started to Transform in the 1990s

By Bonnie Schiedel

Two decades after amalgamation in 1970, TBay was a twentysomething, taking significant steps to becoming a more modern, dynamic city. Here are some of the memorable moments of the 1990s.

1992 The public art piece Animikii, or “Flies the Thunder,” is installed in Kaministiquia River Heritage Park. Designed by sculptor Anne Allardyce, the 23-foot-high (6.7-m) stainless steel sculpture features stone from the Quetico area and Lake Superior and is engraved with Ojibway and English text.

1992-93 At Lakehead University, the Department of Native Studies (now Indigenous Learning) is created, the Native Philosophy Project is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Indigenous representation begins on the Lakehead University Board of Governors, the first Native Canadian World Views course is offered, and a BA/BEd in Indigenous Learning is established.

1993 The Terry Fox Visitor Information Centre opens to the public, featuring a 9-foot (2.75-m) Terry Fox Monument (which was erected in 1982 and then moved across the highway to the site) and sweeping views of Lake Superior. It welcomes 60,000 visitors annually.

1993 The Balmoral site of Thunder Bay Police Service is completed, marking the first time the City’s police services (amalgamated in 1970) are under one roof.

1993 The Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks, one of the six founding members of the Northern League, play their first season. Opening day at Port Arthur Stadium saw a standing-room-only crowd of 6,200.

1994 The City adopts the “Superior by Nature” theme line and thunder bird graphic, created by Kenneth Caplan and Associates.

1994 The new terminal building at Thunder Bay International Airport opens, including two jetways, a gift shop, and food court. It triples the size of the previous building.

1995 Big Thunder hosts the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, a 10-day competition of some of the world’s top Nordic ski jumpers and skiers. It’s the second time the event has been held outside Europe. (In 1996, the Centre is abruptly closed by the provincial government.)

1996 The Spring Up to Clean Up program is formed after Elizabeth de Bakker, age 10, appears before City Council to outline her concerns about litter in city parks.

1996 Intercity Shopping Centre reopens after a massive redesign and expansion. With 456,430 square feet (42,404 m2) of retail space, it’s the largest mall in Northwestern Ontario.

1998 Lakehead University donates 60 acres of land on Oliver Road, the future site of Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC).

Growing Up After Amalgamation, pg. 68

 September 2020

 

Thunder Bay 2000-2010

By Rebecca Eras

The year that Thunder Bay turned 30 the earth shook. Mind you, it didn’t happen until December but when it did, the demolition of the Saskatchewan Pool 6 grain elevator would go down in history as the first implosion in the city, a nod to the pivotal role grain played in forming Port Arthur and Fort William.

It was a new millennium and where Keskus Mall once stood came a shiny and bright Thunder Bay Casino followed by entrepreneurs trying their luck at setting up shop in the north core too, offering local food, art and antiques.

The can-do spirit that trickled into the budding cultural scene also spilled into sports. The Thunder Bay Chill formed to become a highly successful sports organization providing fans with plenty to cheer about. And one year later in 2001, after a 16-year hiatus, men's varsity hockey returned to the city in the form of the Thunderwolves which beckoned thousands to the games held at Fort William Gardens.

Also at the turn of the century, plans began for a revitalization of the waterfront, which coincided with the inaugural Bluesfest, a live concert at Marina Park that opened with Canadian acts like Colin James and the late Jeff Healey. As far as concerts go, Bluesfest became a staple event on the north shore. It was no Rock the Fort, and that’s probably why it returned every summer for nearly 20 years.

The growing music and food scene, along with an ever-expanding Indigenous focus at Lakehead University likely played a role in Thunder Bay being named the Cultural Capital of Canada in 2003. The designation brought more funding for festivals and events to celebrate. Around the same time, larger capital projects began bearing fruit, too, such as the opening of Resolute Forest Mill on Fort William First Nation, which happened alongside the City receiving the Forestry Capital of Canada title.

A year later when the new 660,000-square-foot hospital, The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, opened its doors in 2004, 77-year-old Doris Sparks was the first patient who commented that the ambulance ride was a bit bumpy but she enjoyed her beautiful room. The building itself was recognized sixth on a list of the world’s 30 most architecturally impressive hospitals.

With a new acute care facility came a need for medical students, most of whom quickly enrolled in the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which opened at Lakehead and Laurentian universities in in 2005. The youngest medical school in Canada supported its students to practice medicine in rural settings, and many of the students ultimately chose to stay in Thunder Bay to practice after graduation.

With the rise of technology, ten years passed quickly as many of us spent increasingly more time online. Facebook, YouTube and Netflix took greater precedence in our lives, documenting key moments in time, but no screen can truly capture or replace the great outdoor living that we all continue to enjoy here in the north. 

The New Millennium: How Thunder Bay Continued to Develop in the 2000s, pg. 70

 

 November 2020

Order Up

The Growth of the Local Restaurant Scene in the 2010s

By Matt Prokopchuk

Thunder Bay has seen considerable growth in the local restaurant scene over the past decade, and one long-time chef says that means more options for people looking to dine out.

Craig Vieira is the general manager and head chef at Caribou Restaurant + Wine Bar. He’s been in the kitchen at Caribou for 21 years, following short stints at several other restaurants in the city. Vieira says a general increased interest in food among many people has also found its way into the local culinary scene. “Things like the Food Channel and Pinterest [make it] really accessible,” he says. “I don’t want to say everyone’s a little bit of a foodie but I think more than ever people are aware that there’s just more than steak and potatoes offered in town.”

Dozens of locally owned eateries catering to a wide variety of tastes have set up shop all over Thunder Bay since 2010; while the downtown north core and surrounding area has undoubtedly become a hot spot, the south core, Westfort, and other parts of town have also seen new restaurants and pubs open their doors. The rise in international students studying in Thunder Bay has also brought more diversity to the culinary scene, Vieira says. “With the more independent places definitely offering a more diverse menu, [they’re] showcasing that, yeah, you can have a great steak and potato dish, but there’s so much more out there.”

It appears people are taking notice—and not only in Thunder Bay. City tourism manager Paul Pepe says the local food scene is becoming a bigger part of how Thunder Bay markets itself. “Every visitor eats,” he says. “Having a defined culinary identity—which Thunder Bay has developed quite nicely—and a very positive reputation for good local culinary experiences, makes the city a little bit easier to market. It elevates our reputation as a destination to have that cultural element being so strong and being so local and so supportive.”

Having many good places to eat can also encourage people visiting from out of town to stay longer, either coming in earlier or staying an extra day or so to sample what’s available, Pepe says—to say nothing of appealing to the growing numbers of “culinary tourists.”

Overall, Vieira says the local culinary scene has a vibrancy about it, pointing to the fact that several new places have even opened up during the ongoing pandemic. “I wouldn’t say it’s an easy go of things, but I don’t think it’s scared too many people off either,” he says. “There’s definitely public support out there.” 

Craig Vierira, General Manager and Head Chef, Caribou Restaurant + Wine Bar

Craig Vierira, General Manager and Head Chef, Caribou Restaurant + Wine Bar

Photo Credit: Kirvan Photography

Order Up: The Growth of the Local Restaurant Scene in 2010s

 

Superior Stories

In collaboration with local radio station, 99.9 The Bay, we began 2020 with the launch of Superior Stories, which saw host Ed Lavoie interview recognizable names from around town to share stories in celebration of Thunder Bay's 50th anniversary.

 Epsidode One - Former City Councillor Paul Inksetter

Many tales of the founding of our new north of Superior city in 1970 have by now passed into legend: the infamous vote for Lakehead, The Lakehead and Thunder Bay that split the ballot resulting in our current name. Regardless of the questionable question on the ballot, I firmly believe we chose the best possible name: Thunder Bay!

I joined the first council of the new City of Thunder Bay in April of 1972. In those days, council terms were just two years, and part-way into the first term of our new city’s first council, a mini-scandal involving conflict of interest led to the eviction from office of four council members, and a by-election was called to fill those vacancies. I was one of four councillors elected in that by-election, then had to run for re-election later that same year. I believe that I am the only member of that council still living in Thunder Bay.

Although the city was new, old rivalries die hard, and it took a while – quite a while – for the council to start working as a team toward a common goal. The structure seemed designed to perpetuate old rivalries, as the rules – imposed on us by Queen’s Park – called for 5 councillors from Port Arthur, 5 from Fort William, and 1 each from Neebing and McIntyre. Many times council business was stymied as voting broke along the lines of the old boundaries, resulting in tied – and therefore lost – resolutions.

The first mayor of our new city was Saul Laskin, long a strong advocate for amalgamation. He seemed a logical choice for first mayor, but – he was from Port Arthur, so that meant no cooperation from the Fort William contingent. He did not run for re-election to a second term, a decision I sincerely regret; our second mayor was the notorious Walter Assef. His exploits are legendary and I could tell some tales out of school about the reality behind those legends, but for today we’ll just let them lie.

Our first 50 years have seen great challenges and great change. I urge all of you, my fellow citizens, to celebrate this milestone, and to work together to make the next half-century even better! 

Ed Lavoie and Former City Councillor Paul Inksetter at first Superior Stories recording

Ed Lavoie and Former City Councillor Paul Inksetter at first Superior Stories recording

 

Listen to Paul's recording

 Episode Two - Amalgamation with Councillor Shelby Ch'ng
Happy Anniversary, Thunder Bay! I’m Councillor Shelby Ch’ng, and this is Superior Stories.

Five decades have passed since Fort William, Port Arthur and the townships of Neebing and McIntyre joined forces to become Thunder Bay.

Prior to amalgamation, both Fort William and Port Arthur voted a handful of times as to whether or not both cities should merge.

As far back as 1920, citizens voted in favour of uniting, but no further action was taken then. Later, in 1958, the same question was asked, should the cities join to become one? The people spoke and their answer then was “no”.

Nonetheless, despite the vote, the amalgamation did happen, but with a push from the province to make it so.

Fort William Mayor Hubert Badanai, however, appeared to be a proponent of amalgamation having wrote: "In numbers there is strength. We must have strength if we are to develop the harbour, attract industry, provide the educational and cultural background that is needed in a large city."

And so, in 1969, the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Darcy McKeough issued the City of the Lakehead Act that decreed that Fort William and Port Arthur shall amalgamate as of January 1, 1970.

Once it was determined that both cities were to become one, the question became what to name the new city. 

If citizens were not given a choice on amalgamation, they most definitely wanted a say on the city’s new name... It’s just that their choices were, shall we say, skewed with three options that sounded more like two: Lakehead, The Lakehead and Thunder Bay. 

While those options may not have been ideal, dare I say, it could have been worse. I don’t know about you, but I’m not too keen on some of the other names tossed around:

Port Edward? Meh…

Williamsport? Sounds like a sport

WestgatePort? Now try saying that five times fast

Thurwilliam? Sounds like someone had a few

Grainopolis? Come on now!

In the end, we all know the outcome of that fateful vote. The name of our beautiful city, Thunder Bay, won the day and the rest is history.

Ed Lavoie and Councillor Shelby Ch'ng recording Superior Stories

Ed Lavoie and Councillor Shelby Ch'ng recording Superior Stories 

 

Listen to Shelby's recording

 Episode Three and Four - Amalgamation with Former City Clerk Elaine Bahlieda

I started with the City of Fort William in the City Clerk’s Office on September 16, 1968 as a Clerk Stenographer III working on Agendas, Minutes, Correspondence for City Council as well as other jobs in Vital Statistics.  I worked under the City Clerk – Donald Morris and Deputy City Clerk – Harry T. Kirk.

In December of 1968, I worked on my first Municipal Election for the Office of the Mayor and Trustees of the Boards of Education.  In alternating years, Members of Council and the Hydro Commission were elected for two-year terms

In the Spring of 1969, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Darcy McKeough,  submitted his report on the Amalgamation of the Cities of Fort William and Port Arthur and portions of the Municipalities of Neebing and McIntyre.

Initial thoughts staff had evolved around the fact that there were two people for every job in the new City.  Were we going to lose our jobs?  Lots of uncertainty.

Then a new election was held on June 23, 1969 to elect the Mayor and Members of City Council as well as hold a plebiscite on what the new name of our City was going to be – Lakehead/The Lakehead/Thunder Bay

So in a matter of 10 months of work, I was involved in a second election.

Once the election was over, the work began.  We had three Councils that were working.  Two in an official capacity, and one that was tasked with setting up the structure of the new City by January 1, 1970.  This new Council would be in place for three years to allow time for the massive restructuring needed.  Other Ontario municipal councils had terms of two years.

The Cities of Fort William and Port Arthur still had to operate for its respective citizens, while some members of each of these Councils also worked on the new Council.

I do not remember what the process was to select our City Co-ordinator, E.C. Reid, who was the Administrator of Fort William, but he and the new City Council met often during the next six months to have an initial structural organization that would operate the entire new boundaries of the amalgamated City.

It was a very busy time for me, as my boss, Mr. Morris was named the new City Clerk of Thunder Bay.  Ms Lillian Dennis, City Clerk of Port Arthur, had decided to retire.  As such, our Office was responsible for tracking the decisions of the new Council, as well as work for the City of Fort William.

For every job in Administration, we had two incumbents – two City Treasurers, two City Engineers, two Police Chiefs, two Transit Managers.  Everyone had to apply for the one Thunder Bay job.

The Council determined that no one would lose their job due to the amalgamation, and any surplus staff would be placed in a new division called Office Services, which was headed by Mr. John MacDonald who was the Deputy City Administrator for the City of Fort William.  Gradually, through reorganization in the coming years, or through retirement or resignation, the staff within Office Services would be absorbed.  They also provided assistance to the various departments which required additional staff to see them through the transition period.

As well, the Council had to determine where the new City Council would operate from.  The Fort William City Hall was selected as it was built in 1965 and was owned by the City of Fort William whereas Port Arthur was renting its space at the Whalen Building (PUC). 

Many policies were reviewed as they related to staffing and prepared to ensure fairness to all staff once January 1, 1970 was upon us.  There were collective agreements that covered the same job in both Cities, but were different in pay and benefits.  These agreements would not be replaced within this six month period but would be completed in the upcoming years.

The Inaugural Meeting of the new Council was held in the Selkirk High School Auditorium (now St. Patrick’s High School).

So once the Council was sworn in, the official business of the City of Thunder Bay began.  The trucks rolled into City Hall from the Whalen Building, bringing the furniture for our new staff members of the City Clerk’s Office, and other city Departments that were to be housed in City Hall. 

We were busy introducing ourselves and figuring out who did what and how they did it.  Minutes, agendas, by-laws, filing were all done in two different but similar ways in the two previous City Clerks Offices.  You had to be open to new ideas because your way may not have been the most efficient.  It was an exciting but nervous time.  There was no time to hesitate or be apprehensive, because the business of Council was urgent.  They expected an agenda, with reports needing immediate decision.

Restructuring was the name of the game from the outset.  So even if you had a job in January, it may well be changed through the review process.  Staff were not always at ease.  Patience and understanding were required a lot of the time.

I was fortunate to still be in my same office with the same City Clerk and Deputy Clerk and Staff Members.  It was tougher for those who had to leave their place of work and their co-workers who unfortunately did not fit in with the initial organization.

That first year of the City was the most productive.  Policies changed, organizational reviews undertaken and implemented, by-laws changing street names such as Arthur Street to Red River Road, John Street to McKellar Street and on.  Two of everything including the tax rates.

I changed jobs half way through the year.  I became the Secretary to the Assistant City Co-ordinator – Operations, Mr. Bill Mokomela.  He was the former Deputy City Engineer of Fort William.  We worked with Consultants undertaking reviews of Fire, Parks, Public Works and many others.  Many meetings and many reports.

Thankfully the higher ups agreed that the Clerical Staff could use Wite-Out instead of erasers for the typewritten reports.  If only computers were invented then!

This experience greatly influenced me and my outlook on people, their work and the impact of change.  It helped me to not only view what was specifically in my work area, but the entire organization.  It broadened my view of what an employee of the City needed to advance, and it helped me in my future career as the First Woman City Clerk for the City of Thunder Bay.

Former City Clerk Elaine Bahlieda at the studio to record her story

Former City Clerk Elaine Bahlieda at the studio

 

Listen to Elaine's recording

 Episode Five - Snowstorm of '96 with Former City Clerk John Hannam

The Great Blizzard of ’96: A time that most citizens of Thunder Bay remember vividly. And rightly so, as the January 18 storm made history, seeing 53 cm of snow blanket the city.

I had only lived in Thunder Bay for seven years at this point and was thinking, really, this will take some adjusting to… I know that the storm did result in some residents leaving the city for good.

When I woke up that morning and saw my neighbours all getting stuck, I decided to take the bus to work. I put on my Sorels, hooded parka, and headed out into the unknown. The bus picked me up but announced soon after that Intercity Mall or the bus depot on Water Street were the final stops.

I went on to the depot and from there, trudged through deep snow until a passer-by picked me up and brought me to the government building.

It was snowing heavily at this point, so it was no surprise that when I arrived at the office, there were only six of 130 employees there. The boss said we could go home or stay if we wanted to work the phones, but I chose to go home.

I then spent the next few days like everyone else, shoveling out 5-10-foot snowbanks. Cars were buried completely, and in one case, a man spray-painted an outline around where his car was with instructions that said, “Do not plow, car here.”

I remember letting our yellow lab, Gypsy, outside and she could walk on top of the snow right over the 5-foot fence.

The City ended up declaring a State of Emergency and allowing snow machines to ride on city streets to help people get supplies or bring them to the hospital, or to the beer store.

Even the army came out, driving the six wheels around town to help until someone called the base in Winnipeg and said the military was out with weapons drawn, at which point they were ordered to park the trucks.

It was a time when our city united. People helped one another and was a beautiful display of humanity. After all, we were all in it together.

To the best of my recollection, no one died because of the storm, but nine months later, the hospital experienced a mini baby boom.

Also, following the storm, photo developers were swamped with snow pics, and t-shirts, hats and mugs were later made that proudly declared, “I survived winter ’96.” Indeed we did.

 

Listen to John's recording

 Episode Six and Seven - New Hospital with Communications Officer Marcello Bernardo

Doris Sparks didn’t want her family to find out she was going to be a media star, but the word leaked out.

Sparks, 77, was the first patient admitted to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre when it opened its doors on February 22nd, 2004.

When she was wheeled into the four story high atrium, sunlight pouring in through the sunlit roof, she was greeted with thunderous applause from the volunteers, administrators, photographers and others who greeted her.

One of those who welcomed her, was then-President and CEO of the Hospital, Ron Saddington, who wished her a speedy a recovery, “that would, in part, reflect on the patient-centred care that she would receive.”

After she was taken to her room on the second floor, Sparks told reporters the ambulance ride was a bit bumpy, but she enjoyed being in such a beautiful room.

That day, workers were still putting the finishing touches on the 375-bed, 660,000 square foot health sciences centre, even as patients were being wheeled to their rooms.

But there was no doubt that was a historic day.

The history of acute health care in Northwestern Ontario and the development of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is a tribute to the residents of our city and this region. Volunteers and donors, generous with their time and resources, established a strong foundation for future generations.

In 1995, Thunder Bay's McKellar General Hospital, which opened in 1903, and Port Arthur General Hospital, which opened in 1909, merged to become the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital, providing acute care for Northwestern Ontario.

Although the province originally planned to refurbish one of the sites, the community rallied behind the idea of building a new, modern health care facility.

In a bold decision based on a plebiscite, the citizens of Thunder Bay voted to develop a new facility rather than refurbish an existing older hospital.

The end result was a contemporary health sciences centre that offers patients, visitors and staff a more comfortable, welcoming environment. This facility attracted a lot of attention for its design when it first opened and even now, 16 years later, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre still receives accolades for its design, and was ranked sixth on a list of the world's 30 most architecturally impressive hospitals.

The grand opening was a very emotional time – it signaled the start of a new era for health care in Northwestern Ontario.

Those involved in the planning, the construction, and the move were so proud to see this dream become a reality. We also understood that it was only the beginning.

We could not have imagined the future opportunities and benefits to patient care that would result.

Since 2004, we’ve received Leading Practice designation from Accreditation Canada for our work in Patient and Family Centred Care. We’re leaders in the use of Telemedicine and our Regional Critical Care Response program ensures that patients in the region receive the right type of care at the right time. We provide 24/7, 365 day access to vascular surgery. As a teaching hospital, we are proudly affiliated with Lakehead University and Confederation College and are a host training facility for students from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, as well as other medical schools. Our Health Research Institute promotes patient-centred research that focuses on finding treatments and techniques to solve health care challenges most prevalent in Northwestern Ontario. Teaching the next generation of health care providers and advancing medical research means patients benefit from a team approach to care, and the chance to take part in clinical trials.

None of these milestones would have been possible without the generous individuals, groups and businesses throughout the region, and all of our academic, healthcare and government partners.

As it was said in 2004, this is just the beginning.

Ribbon cutting at TBRHSC grand opening

 

Listen to Marcello's Recording

 Episode Eight and Nine - Thunder Bay Coat of Arms and Flag with City Clerk Krista Power
When the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur amalgamated in 1970, a new Coat of Arms was created that integrated visual elements from both cities.

To those unfamiliar, a Coat of Arms, is a form of heraldry, where crests that distinguished specific individuals or groups on the battlefield often appeared on shields and helmets to help identify where a person or group heralded from.

After the abandonment of armour on the battlefield during the seventeenth century, the beauty and artistry of heraldic designs lived on and continued into modern times to help define public and private organizations, as well as to represent cities, towns and regions. The idea is to highlight and symbolize the collective heritage, achievements and aspirations in a visual depiction.

The Thunder Bay Coat of Arms is a skillful selection and blending of elements from the Coats of Arms of the former cities of Port Arthur and Fort William with one major new element added: the Sleeping Giant, in outline, at the base.

Retained from the Port Arthur Coat of Arms and signifying the motto, 'The Gateway to the West", is a "sun spendor, the face charged with the casellated gateway, the portcullis raised". The wavy blue and white bars below the gateway represent the waters of Lake Superior. Also retained from the Port Arthur Arms are symbols that represent our city and region: the moose, a silver collar, a sheaf of wheat and salmon.

From the Fort William Coat of Arms came the iconic Beaver and the North West Company slogan dated from the fur trade in 1783, which was "Perseverance" depicted in a scroll emerging from the branches of a pine tree.

Also retained from the Fort William Coat of Arms is the Voyageur Great Canoe, bearing a Northwest Company agent and his paddlers. And near the bottom stands a Voyageur as he appeared in the Fort William Arms.

Today, the Thunder Bay Coat of Arms is used in formal civic documentation, certificates of recognition for anniversaries, birthdays and Citizens of Exceptional Achievement, Agreements with the City of Thunder Bay (i.e.Sister Cities, Declarations, Inaugural events) and a large Coat of Arms can be viewed in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Another significant element of Thunder Bay’s visual identity is of course, our colourful flag.  

In 1972, Mayor Saul Laskin wished to promote the City of Thunder Bay by having a distinctive City flag. A small committee was formed and an invitation went out in the form of a contest for submission of a flag design. The winning design was submitted by Mr. Cliff Redden, a local citizen.

The flag is a standard size that depicts a golden sky from the rising sun behind the Sleeping Giant in green, which sits in the blue waters of Lake Superior. The sun is represented by a red maple leaf, a symbol of Canada. And Thunder Bay’s official City colours, green and gold, are featured. A white line separates the flags components from each other.

Today, our flag flies proudly outside City Hall, alongside the federal, provincial and Fort William First Nation flags. The next time you drive by or visit City Hall, take a moment to reflect on the visual designs that define our history.

Thunder Bay Coat of Arms

Thunder Bay Coat of Arms

Listen to Krista's recording

 Episode Ten - Winter Carnivals with Cultural Development and Events Supervisor Louisa Costanzo

It was always fun and games during the Winter Carnivals that were hosted in various neighbourhoods throughout Fort William and Port Arthur before amalgamation in 1970.

And the tradition continued in the newly formed city with the Thunder Bay ’70 Winter Carnival, which saw four days and nights of winter fun from Feb. 19th to 22nd.

Attendees were entertained with various contests including a beard-growing contest that men today might take the title over those in 1970, as the beard has made a big comeback in recent times.

Other contests held back then included broomball, cross-country skiing, dog shows, wife carrying competitions and even skydiving competitions. Yes, it was quite the spectacle to see skydivers jump from planes to land on the ice in the harbour.

There were prizes for best costumes, and rides for all on snowmobiles. In fact, the top prizes up for grabs that winter in 1970 were four snowmobiles so folks could continue enjoying winter after the carnival’s end.

Entertainment included a demolition derby performed by Riverview Raceway drivers, as well as a parade featuring the Carnival Queen. There were ice sculptures to view, and attendees would receive commemorative buttons and wooden nickels that later became collectors’ items.

In the evening, there was a teen dance, and the entire event capped off with a display of fireworks.

Before and since amalgamation, residents have embraced our region’s long harsh winters with activities that make the most of the frigid air and snowy conditions.

The longstanding tradition of frolicking in the winter and celebrating our northern way of life in the outdoors continues to this day.

This year, Fort William Historical Park hosted its 20th annual Voyageur Winter Carnival packed with traditional and modern-day activities for the whole family.

And the City hosted a large celebration for SnowDay at Prince Arthur’s Landing with the theme around One City. Fifty Years. Activities included a double ice slide, ring toss, skating, fishing, snowshoeing and much more. The big hit was the beautiful 50th themed snow and ice sculptures on display.

If you missed it, the City of Thunder Bay continues to celebrate winter on the waterfront with Winter FunDays every Sunday throughout the season. Come out and do what ThunderBayers have done for 50 years: embrace the great outdoors all year-round.

Supervisor Cultural Development and Events Louisa Costanzo with Communications Officer Rebecca Eras

Supervisor Cultural Development and Events Louisa Costanzo with Communications Officer Rebecca Eras

 

Listen to Louisa's recording

 Episode Eleven - Thunder Bay Twins Dynasty with Executive Director Diane Imrie, Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame 

The puck dropped on Friday, October 16th, 1970, marking the official start of the Thunder Bay Twins hockey team, one of our community’s most successful sports franchises.

More than 2,100 fans attended the inaugural game at the Fort William Gardens to watch players from the former Fort William Senior Beavers and Port Arthur Senior Bearcats, along with Lakehead University players, take on the Sault Ste. Marie Canadians.

The team colours, green and gold, matched the City’s new colours but the socks came from another local team, the North Stars, because the Twins’ socks had not yet arrived in time for the game.  

Leading the team for that first game were coach Joe Wirkkunen and manager Louis Nistico who had put out a call for prospective players to gather in late August at the Prince Arthur Hotel to learn about the new club.

In September 40 players showed up for the first day of training camp at Delaney Arena, and 50 the next, with a final roster being selected in time for the squads first game one month later.

That inaugural game saw the home-town heroes leading 3-1 at the end of the opening period, with the Twins thrilling their fans by increasing that margin to 7-2 by the close of the second, and going on to win the historic season opener by a score of 8-3.

It was an intense game with several fights breaking out with referee John Kubinec assessing a number of major penalties and game misconducts.

That first win and crowd support was certainly a sign of things to come for the new team, with 41,000 home-town fans cheering them on throughout that first season.

There were many highlights over the years, but perhaps the greatest moment in the franchise’s history took place in 1985 when the Twins clawed their way back from a 3 game deficit to defeat the Corner Brook Royals four games to three to claim their 3rd Allan Cup title as Canadian Senior Hockey champions. 

Prior to amalgamation the head of the lakes enjoyed a rich and proud hockey history which was carried on by the Thunder Bay Twins who bolstered our region’s reputation for hockey greatness which continues to this day, with a number of NHLers and Stanley Cup and Olympic hockey champions hailing from our city.

After a 20-year run which included a total of 5 Allan Cups and a multitude of memorable moments for their legion of fans, the dynasty era of the Thunder Bay Twins came to an end following the 1991 season. 

Thunder Bay’s claim to the Allan Cup was not lost forever, however, with the Thunder Bay Bombers bringing home the national title once again in 2005, but that’s a story for another day.

Thunder Bay Twins Receiving Allan Cup

Thunder Bay Twins Receiving Allan Cup

 

Listen to Diane's recording

 Episode Twelve - World Curling Champion Heather Houston

Paul Brandt sang the song, Small Towns and Big Dreams, which speaks to ordinary people who chase their dreams.

I grew up in Red Rock, which like most northern towns, saw long winters that gave us the opportunity to find many ways to entertain ourselves. We did not have video games or the internet then, but we did have a three-sheet curling rink, which my dad often frequented, to both play and volunteer.

It was high times for curling in those days with people like Bill Tetley, Al Hackner, Ann Provo, June Shaw and many more who inspired us to curl and to dream those big dreams.

After university in the early ‘80s, I returned home to Thunder Bay and began curling competitively. The talent on the women’s teams in Thunder Bay inspired me to improve my game. I joined forces with a new squad— Lorraine Lang as third, Diane Adams as second, Tracy Kennedy as lead and the late Gloria Taylor as our alternate. 

In 1988, our first year together, we won the Scott Tournament of Hearts District playdowns, where we curled a perfect 7-0, which earned us a trip to the Ontario championships to play against Ontario’s top ten teams. We came out victorious, which then advanced us to the Scott Tournament of Hearts in Fredericton, New Brunswick. 

Wide-eyed at our first major championship, we found ourselves in a three-way tie for third place with Manitoba and BC, which led to a marathon day of curling that included two tie-breakers and a semi-final against the team from Saskatchewan. We won all three games, earning us a spot at the national final. 

The final match-up brought us up against the 1987 Canadian and World Champion, Pat Sanders. The game was tied up at five going into the tenth end where it all came down to the last rock. The final draw by Sanders was heavy, allowing us a steal of one and a 6-5 victory.

As the underdog, this was quite the feat and earned us the Scott Tournament of Hearts Canadian Championship and a trip to the 1988 World Curling Championships in Scotland. 

There, we curled against the best in the world and finished in second place with silver.

Returning to the Scott Tournament of Hearts in Kelowna the following year 1989 as Team Canada, we again made it into the final where we defeated Manitoba team skipped by Chris More by a score of 11-5, making us the first Team Canada to defend the Canadian women’s curling title.

Our second visit to the World Championships brought us to Milwaukee where we found ourselves competing against Andrea Schopp, the 1988 World Champion, in the semi-final. But this time we won the battle with an 8-5 victory, earning us a spot in the final.  

We then defeated Norway by a score of 8-5 to become the 1989 World curling champions, showing curlers back home that it is possible to come from communities such as Rainy River, Red Rock and Thunder Bay and make it to the top of the world podium. 

Wearing the Maple Leaf was very special and knowing our hometown was behind us was powerful and made us very proud.

Heather Houston and her team

Heather Houston and her team

 

Listen to Heather's recording

 Episode Thirteen - World Curling Champion Al Hackner

Growing up in snowy Nipigon, I, like many others, played hockey. I enjoyed being on the ice, so I was interested in learning a new sport when my father approached me to try curling. The sport was new to me, but many people in Nipigon and Red Rock were curling back then, and some were getting quite good at it, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I continued to curl into high school where I won the district high school competition. After graduation, I moved to Edmonton, Alberta where I continued curling and won the 1977 Alberta Mixed Curling title with the Sutton rink.

I returned to Thunder Bay and soon found myself at another national championship, skipping the Northern Ontario rink at the 1980 Canadian Men’s Curling Championships. Together with my teammates Rick Lang, Bob Nicol and Bruce Kennedy, we made our mark, placing second at the national event in what was our rookie year. 

Runners up at the 1981 national championships, I was eager for a win when I made my third straight Brier appearance in 1982.  Defeating the Giles Rink in a decisive 7-3 Brier final, my rink earned the right to represent Canada at the World Championships in West Germany.  

Facing the defending world champion Jurg Tanner in the final, my draw to the button in the 10th end recorded a 9-7 final and saw me become our region’s first ever world championship skip.

My return to the Brier in 1985, along with Rick Lang, Ian Tetley and Pat Perround, proved to be memorable. With Alberta leading 5-3 in the 10th end of the final game, I delivered what would become known as the ‘Hackner Double’, one of the greatest curling shots ever made, which tied the score and forced an extra end. Going on to steal a point, the 6-5 final earned me a second Brier title and a trip to the 1985 World Championships in Glasgow where I claimed my second World title by defeating the Stefan Hasselborg Rink of Sweden in a decisive 6-2 final.

Since that victory 25 years ago, I’ve skipped teams to five more Brier appearances, along with numerous victories from the club to World Curling Tour level. And I’ve spent considerable time coaching future champions.

All in all, I have skipped teams at 9 Briers, winning the 1982 and 1985 Canadian and World titles as well as Canadian Senior and Masters curling crowns. Not bad for a small town boy they like to call, ‘Iceman’.

Al Hackner and his team

Al Hackner and his team

 

Listen to Al's recording

 Episode Fourteen - Daylight Savings Time with Associate Archivist Christina Wakefield
While Benjamin Franklin said, "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise", he did not actually propose daylight savings time as is commonly thought.

In fact, the first official daylight savings time came into effect in what was then Port Arthur and Fort William in 1908.

Fort William and Port Arthur instituted a form of daylight saving time then, which saw both cities switch to “Eastern Time” on May 2nd, and back to “Western” or “Central Time” on November 1st.

However, as early as 1905, the idea was proposed to Fort William and Port Arthur City Councils with petitions to both councils in favour of changing time zones to Eastern Time.

One of the main champions of saving daylight was a Mr. John F. Hewitson, later the president of Hewitson Construction, Port Arthur, who was a former schoolteacher, originally from Rossport. As an athlete, he argued that the time change allowed one more hour of daylight for outdoor recreation after work and school. 

Other arguments in favour were around the many opportunities that an extra hour of daylight would allow, such as helping create a pleasant home and garden, as well as it would give parents added time to connect after the kids were in bed.

From a practical standpoint, it made sense to have one consistent time, as the grain elevators and shipping industry all had workers operating in two different time zones. Boats from the East operated on Eastern Time, and trains operated on Central Time, which created headaches as the freight handlers each had different work hours and their schedules did not coincide.

In 1908, both Fort William and Port Arthur had proposed changing to Eastern Time around May 1st “recognizing the great benefit the adoption of Eastern Time would be to the city”. With many business and citizens proponents in favour, the City Clerks of both cities co-ordinated the time change and Saturday, May 2nd, 1908 was to be the start of Eastern Standard Time in both Port Arthur and Fort William. 

That worked well for a short time until in 1909, Fort William switched clocks back an hour on November 1st and Port Arthur did not. This created much confusion and hassle for meetings and events that involved both cities. Posters and advertisements had to specify a different time for each city when it came to unified activities.

Many wrote in to the Morning Herald to express their opinion for or against a permanent change of time zone.  “How I envy Port Arthur her eastern time, the only thing I wish we had, that Port Arthur has got,” wrote Another Mother Day-lighter, in the Morning Herald.

Both cities went back and forth on the issue many times over the next 60 years.  Finally, in 1970, citizens of the newly formed City of Thunder Bay voted overwhelmingly in favour of permanently implementing Daylight Saving Time and fall reversion to Eastern Standard Time in 1972.

Despite the long history, people still get confused on what to do with the clocks in the changing seasons. The best way to remember what to do is to change the clock to Spring Forward in the Spring and Fall Back in the Fall. 

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Mayor Saul Laskin Rings the Bells of Amalgamation

Posted Monday, November 04, 2019

Thunder Bay's first Mayor, Saul Laskin, rang in the amalgamation of Port Arthur and Fort William on January 1, 1970 with two historic bells. Where were you and what do you remember from that historic day?

Mayor-Elect Saul Laskin- Jan

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