The two documents presented on this page are excerpts from histories of the Parks and Recreation program of the City of Thunder Bay. The first was prepared in 1987 and the second in 1981. Around the time these were written, Parks and Recreation Division was preparing for its centennial (1988), and reviewing and studying its services and their impact on the community.

This excerpt comprises pages 6-8 of a draft "The History of Parks and Recreation - Volume 1" prepared by the Thunder Bay Parks and Recreation Department in 1987. This volume summarizes the Parks Department's role in the community, from its origin in the 1880s to the time of writing.

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

Recreation Section

The Recreation Section of the Thunder Bay Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for ensuring that comprehensive recreation services are available to facilitate recreation opportunities for the citizens of Thunder Bay. In addition to the direct provision of quality programmes, the Recreation Section also endeavours to meet the leisure needs of Thunder Bay by assisting or co-operating with related agencies, private businesses and the volunteer sector. The provision of municipal recreation services in Thunder Bay began during the teen years of this century with the establishment of the first supervised playgrounds.

The following influences have contributed to the evolution of recreation in Thunder Bay:

  • the Playground Movement
  • local Parks Boards
  • local Boards of Education
  • community associations and service clubs

The Playground Movement:

The supervised playgrounds, first established around the turn of the century in Canada, are considered to be the forerunners of the public recreation systems that are in place today. Across Canada, the National Council of Women was instrumental in promoting the value of recreation and establishing supervised playgrounds (McFarland, 1970, 19-20).

Locally, supervised playgrounds were provided as early as 1914 in Fort William. The Playground Commission of the City of Fort William hired two supervisors, for each of the five locations, to lead the children in their play activities. The following year the Board of Park Management became involved by allowing the use of Vickers Park for a playground site.

On May 7, 1913, Port Arthur City Council passed a resolution establishing a Playground Committee comprised of members of City Council, the Board of Education, the Separate School Board, the Parks Board, and the Y.M.C.A. The initial responsibility of the Committee was to co-ordinate the installation of playground equipment in school grounds and at Current River Park. Four years later, in 1917, the first supervised playgrounds in Port Arthur were established in school yards, following the success and popularity of the playground programme in Fort William.

With the establishment of playground programmes in both cities came the realization of the value and necessity of providing recreation programmes and opportunities for children and youth apart from and in addition to organized sporting activities.

Local Parks Boards:

The Parks Boards of Port Arthur and Fort William were instrumental in providing sites for the recreational activities of the area. Since the late 1800s parks in Port Arthur were used for organized and unorganized sporting activities and celebrations as well as a variety of leisure time pursuits such as walking, picnicking, camping, canoeing and enjoying the outdoors.

In a more direct way, the Port Arthur Parks Board became involved in recreation by serving on the Playground Committee during the teen years of this century. In Fort William, the Parks Board opened up parkland to the playground programme and eventually ran its own playground at Vickers and Dease Parks.

The Parks Boards also planned many special events in the parks to celebrate important occasions. In 1934, Port Arthur celebrated its Semi-Centennial with athletic contests and a variety of entertainment at Current River Park. In Fort William, July 1st was celebrated for many  years at Chippewa Park. Apart from these special events, the Parks Boards also arranged for concerts that attracted people to the parks. In the early years the parks were popular gathering places and the recreational opportunities provided by the Parks Boards foreshadowed many of the recreation programmes and services available today.  

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

In 1943, a strong link was formed between the Parks Boards and the new field of recreation. In that year a Civic Recreation Committee was established and Art Widnall, the Secretary-Manager of the Fort William Parks Board, became Chairman of the Civic Recreation Comittee. Although the trend at this time was towards the establishment of a separate committee for recreation, the Fort William Parks Board recognized the need to co-ordinate the two bodies in order to provide comprehensive recreation services.

Local Boards of Education:

An example of the Board of Education's involvement in recreation services is the opening of Dease Pool. The Fort William Board of Education approached City Council in 1909 to recommend that instructional swimming be included in the education curriculum to help reduce the number of drowning accidents. As a result, a Public Bath Committee was established to investigate the problem, and within two years Dease Pool was constructed and opened to the public.

Years later, during the 1950s local Boards of Education worked with the Civic Recreation Committees to offer General Interest Programmes covering such topics as art, bridge, dressmaking, the stock market, fitness, first aid, flower arranging, photography and fishing. During the 1950s and 1960s, co-operation between the separate bodies grew to the extent that School-Parks-Recreation Committees were established to co-ordinate compatible activities. One positive result of this co-operation was the Ogden Community School. The first of its kind in Ontario, Ogden Community School was constructed in 1973 and housed a public school on the upper floor and a community centre on the lower floor. The goals of the Ogden Community School were:

  • to encourage participation from adults, senior citizens, children and teenagers in a variety of recreational activities.
  • to promote the learning of new skills.
  • to foster a well-informed and active community.

Community Associations and Service Clubs:

Over the years, many individuals promoted recreation and sports in different ways. Mayor Young, of Fort William, purchased the first piece of playground equipment in 1910 and equipped the first playground facility. Ice rinks were provided over the years, particularly during the depression years of the 1930s, by benevolent neighbours, in backyards and empty lots. But perhaps even more remarkable are the accomplishments of people who came together to form Community Centres, Recreation Associations and Service Clubs.

One of the earliest recorded activities of a service club involved the Port Arthur Commercial Club. In 1910, the Club approached City Council with concerns for the children in the area, particularly with regard to the frequent drownings that had been occurring in local swimming holes. As a result the Current River Pool was constructed with the financial backing of the Commercial Club. During the 1920s the Gyro Club offered swimming ...

[Photograph: shows children swimming in the Current River Pool. Captioned: Current River Pool, 1934; Photograph Courtesy of the Thunder Bay Public Library Historical Photograph File P562.] 

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

[cont'd] instruction at both Current River and Dease Pools. Much later, the Kinsmen Clubs were instrumental  in providing Tot Lots, playground equipment and wading pools in many areas of the cities.

Prior to World War II, individuals living in the rural communities organized community associations that offered social, recreational and educational activities for people living in their areas. Initially the activities were held in the rural schools, but as the need arose community halls were built, financed both by fund-raising activities and the Provincial Government under the Community Halls Act (Statutes of Ontario, 1919).

Within the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, two organizations began during World War II to relieve the pressures of wartime Canada: the Westfort Community Centre in Fort William and the Current River Recreation Association in Port Arthur. In the years following the war, many other community centres were formed, with assistance from the Civic Recreation Committees and the Provincial Government under the Community Centres Act (Statutes of Ontario, 1949). Facilities were constructed and programmes were offered by the associations themselves to foster the development of recreation and to complement the work of the Civic Recreation Committees of the area. By the 1960s the community centre concept was well established, particularly in Port Arthur. In 1961 the first Community Centres Recreation Advisory Council was established in Port Arthur to unify, co-ordinate and develop a comprehensive recreation system for all age groups and all areas of the city.


During the 1960s, parks boards began to merge with recreation committees to form Parks and Recreation Committees. In 1970, due to amalgamation, the Parks and Recreation Committees of the two cities were joined to form the Parks and Recreation Department. Municipal parks and recreation departments have emerged as "co-ordinators of resources to serve the leisure interests of citizens" (McFarland, 1970, 79). Parks and Recreation Department representatives sit on councils and co-operate with many agencies and associations to help ensure that comprehensive recreation services are available to Thunder Bay citizens.

Parks Section:

The Parks Section of the Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for the development, operation, and maintenance of the numerous parks and recreation facilities in Thunder Bay. Over 150 sites are strategically placed throughout the city, totalling 1,600 acres of parkland. The Parks Section is the result of the Parks Boards of Port Arthur and Fort William and almost a century of park development in the Thunder Bay area.

In 1883 the province of Ontario passed "An Act to Provide for the Establishment and Maintenance of Public Parks in Cities and Towns" (Statutes of Ontario, 1883), the first act of its kind to be passed in Canada (Wright, 1984, 108). The Public Parks Act provided for the establishment of "a park, or a system of parks, avenues, boulevards and drives in any city or town." (Statutes of Ontario, 1883) as well as the maintenance of existing parks, to be under the authority of a Board of Parks Management. The Board was to be appointed by the Mayor of the Municipality and was to include the Mayor and six members. Under the terms of the Act, the Board was given the power to acquire land, appropriate streams, issue debentures for park purposes and pass by-laws for the use, regulation, protection and government of the parks under its jurisdiction (Statutes of Ontario, 1883).

Following passage of the Act, the City of Toronto, which had provided the impetus for the Act, did not immediately adopt it. Instead, a tiny frontier town in northern Ontario, which had yet to live through the evolution of public open space that had occurred in the larger urban centres in Ontario, holds the honour of being the first municipality in Ontario to adopt the Public Parks Act. That town was Port Arthur (McFarland, 1970, 13 and Wright, 1984, 110).

The first Port Arthur Parks Board lapsed toward the end of the 1890s, but not before land was expropriated and purchased adjacent to the Current River just north of the town. In the absence of a Parks Board Port Arthur City Council, through a Parks Committee or the Electric Railway and Light Commissioners, was responsible for acquisition of more parkland and the ... [continued on documents not provided] 


Title: History of Parks and Recreation - Volume 1 Draft
Date: 1987
Creator: The Thunder Bay Parks and Recreation Department
Series: 156, Thunder Bay Central Files (Administration, Parks, Community Recreation)
Location: TBA 8181-14  

 Excerpt from a History of Parks and Recreation prepared by Frank Valente in 1981. This is from the chapter entitled "Playgrounds." The excerpt describes the development of the Fort William and Port Arthur Playground Programs to that date.

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

Fort William Playgrounds:

Interestingly enough, the local playground system followed similar stages of development as did its American counterparts. 

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

Mayor Young of the former city of Fort William in 1910 when he fitted and equipped, at his own expense, a playground facility. [4]

As early as June 20, 1913,  the Fort William Board of Parks Management carried a motion to construct three sand boxes to be placed in the various parks.[5] A year later, on June 29, 1914, the city of Fort William introduced a program of supervised playgrounds at Ogden, Central, Franklin, Collegiate, and St. Martin Schools, and became the 343rd city in North America to do so. Each of these playgrounds was supervised by two directors -- one male and one female -- who led the children in their play. Unlike Mayor Young's private enterprise four years earlier, the supervised playgrounds of 1914 were publicly supported and were touted as catering to people of all ages. Facilities such as sand boxes, baby swings and slides were erected to accommodate tots too young to participate in competitive playground sports, whereas basketball courts, volleyball courts, baseball fields, and athletic tracks were provided for the older children. These playgrounds even went so far as to claim that the needs of adults would also be looked after.[6]

The directors at each of the playgrounds were required to have practical experience in child psychology and were specially trained to teach playground games, gymnastics, folk dancing, sewing, singing games, and arts and crafts.

The pilot supervised playground project in the city of Fort William proved to be extremely successful with the result that in the following year, two new playgrounds were [cont'd]

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

[cont'd from previous] established at Francis School and at Vickers Park. Furthermore, the supervised playgrounds proved to be an extremely safe place for children and adults alike to enjoy, as there was not a single serious accident in the initial year of operation.

With the operation of the playground program in Vickers Park in 1915, the earlier resolution of the Fort William Parks Board in 1914 to convert the tennis courts in Dease Park into a children's playground[8], and the installation of playground equipment in Heath Park[9], playgrounds were introduced to the Fort William public park system for the first time. However by 1917, the Parks Board, having full jurisdiction over the municipal park system, decided to convert the park playgrounds into Kindergartens strictly for those children 8 years and under.[10] Later, in 1920, the Fort William Board of Park Management even became leery of permitting the use of parks as Kindergartens. This turn of events created a lack of open space in which older children could participate in more competitive sports.[11] This unmistakeable fact led the Fort William Parks Board, in 1922, to request the Fort William Horticultural Society to offer the Playgrounds Commission at least three large spaces of vacant land usually allocated for vacant lot gardens -- one in the east end, one in the central portion of the city, and one in the west end of the city in order to provide fields in which older boys could play baseball.[12] Apparently, the venture to acquire the said parcels of land proved to be unsuccessful with the result that in the following year, the Fort William Parks Board created a committee to look into the possibility of obtaining suitable grounds for baseball and other competitive [cont'd]

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

[cont'd from previous] sports in various parts of the city.[13] The policy of discouraging competitive athletics in municipal parks and of acquiring special athletic fields continued through to 1928 when in a special joint meeting of the Fort William City Council, the Board of Trade, the Board of Park Management, and representatives of the Young Men's Board of Trade, it was decided to purchase McKellar Park from The Arena Company, and to retain it as an athletic field.

In the ensuing years, the Fort William Board of Park Management adhered to the principle that parks and athletic-recreation fields were two mutually exclusive entities that could not possibly co-exist on a single parcel of land. In fact, with the exception of Minnesota Park and Tarbutt Park (which were basically undeveloped open fields), the Parks Board expended most of its energies on the aesthetic qualities of the various city parks. However, by 1942, the Fort William Board of Parks Management did begin to introduce such playground equipment as swings, teeters and sandboxes to the various city parks[14], and by 1946 had introduced the idea of the "Neighbourhood Park" -- a novel concept that had been established in Toronto which combined such features as shade trees, flower gardens, and green grass for adults to enjoy, while providing such recreational facilities as club houses, swings, sandboxes, and teeters for the children to enjoy.[15] At this point it is interesting to note that the Parks Board had come full circle and that once again people of all ages could look to a neighbourhood recreation centre for both recreation and relaxation. 

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

Port Arthur Playgrounds

As early as May 7, 1913, the Port Arthur City Council passed resolution number 427 establishing a Playgrounds Committee which consisted of two members of the city council, the chairman and one member of the Board of Education, the chairman and one member of the Separate School Board, the chairman and one member of the Parks Board, and the physical instructor of the Y.M.C.A. On July 30, 1913, an agreement was drawn up between the Corporation of the City of Port Arthur, the Board of Education of the City of Port Arthur, the Board of Park Management of the City of Port Arthur, and the Roman Catholic Separate School Board, calling for the installation of playground apparatus in various school grounds throughout the city of Port Arthur and at Current River Park.[16] These first playgrounds were not supervised and were nothing more than an accumulation of equipment[17] however, on July 3, 1917, the Port Arthur Board of Parks Management actually established five supervised playgrounds at various school grounds[18] after witnessing the success and popularity of a similar project in Fort William.

The supervised playgrounds of Port Arthur proved to be just as popular as those of its sister city to the south as 1000 children attended the opening day of the five supervised playgrounds throughout the city.[19]

As in Fort William, the Port Arthur Board of Park Management assigned one director and one directress to each playground to supervise and lead the children in the various playground activities, however, unlike the initial Fort William [cont'd] 

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

[cont'd from previous] experience, the first playgrounds established in Port Arthur were publically financed with Mr. A.T. Bradshaw as first general supervisor and Mr. S.H. Brennagh as his assistant[20] and were not merely the fruits of private philanthropy.

The initial supervised playground project in Port Arthur saw the various playgrounds operate between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.[21] providing children of all ages with both the facilities and guidance to enjoy themselves. Children were divided into classes according to their weight rather than by age, in order to foster maximum participation. The administrators of the original playground project in Port Arthur scheduled intra-playground baseball, basketball and volleyball competition during the month of July reserving inter-playground competition in the above mentioned sports for the month of August.[22] For those children too young to participate in competitive activities, the playgrounds offered such conventional facilities as sandboxes, baby swings, and teeters. However, despite the popularity of the supervised playgrounds, the Port Arthur City Council Playground Committee decided against organized play and supervised playgrounds for the summer of 1918.[23] Despite this decision on the part of the playground committee, there was much support for the supervised playground program with the result that in 1943, the Port Arthur Board of Parks Management accepted the Sanderson-Wood report which called for the establishment of playgrounds throughout the city. This in turn resulted in the city council of Port Arthur being asked to transfer to the Parks Board a certain amount of property in order to establish new playgrounds.[24]

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds


At the time of this writing (August, 1981), the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Thunder Bay offers a much more advanced playground program at twelve permanent locations[25] and at six mobile sites[26] from June 29 to August 21. The programs range from theatre to special playground games and sports to folk dancing to arts and crafts. It is evident that the playground program in the city of Thunder Bay has expanded and developed in such a way as to offer today's youth a medium by which to release energy through creative play and an atmosphere conducive to socialization.


1. Butler, George D., Introduction to Community Recreation, 5th ed., McGraw-Hill Book Company 1976, pp 70-71.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid,. at p.71.

4. Fort William Daily Times-Journal, Saturday, June 27, 1914, p. 11.

5. Minutes of the Fort William Board of Parks management, moved by E.R. Wayland, Seconded by J. Tonkin, and Carried on June 20, 1913.

6. Supra., footnote 4.

8. Supra., footnote 5, Moved by W. Houston, seconded by L.L. Peltir, and carried May 8, 1914.

9. Ibid,. Moved by P. Vanderkaa, seconded by J.R. Donald, and carried May 12, 1916.

10. Ibid., Moved by E.S. Rutledge, seconded by W.S. Houston, and carried July 27, 1917.

11. Ibid., Moved by C.W. Wilson, seconded by C. Doughty, and carried Jan 13, 1922.

12. Ibid.

A typed document detailing a short history of playgrounds

Footnotes Con't

13. Ibid., Moved by W.A. Dowler, seconded by P. Vanderkaa, and carried March 9, 1923.

14. Ibid., Report to the Fort William Board of Parks Management, Sept. 12, 1942.

15. Ibid., 1946 Estimates Re: Minnesota Park, March 12, 1946.

16. Minutes of the Port Arthur Board of Parks Management, Moved by F.B. Allen, seconded by L. Walsh, and carried August, 1913.

17. Ibid., Moved by F.B. Allen, seconded by G.S. Slipper, and carried Feb. 24, 1915.

18. The News Chronicle, Sat. June 30, 1917 and also Wed., July 4, 1917.

19. The first five playgrounds established in Port Arthur were: North Ward School, South Ward School, Prospect Avenue School, Separate School, and the Central Schull. See also Supra., footnote 19.

20. Supra., footnote 18.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. The Port Arthur News Chronicle, Fri., Feb. 22, 1918, p.3.

24. Minutes of the Port Arthur Board of Parks Management, Moved by W., Gibson, seconded by H. Stanworth, and carried April 14, 1943. See also The Port Arthur News Chronicle, April 15, 1943, at p.1 and p.4.

25. The twelve permanent playground sites are: Fraserdale, Frank Charry, Wayland, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dease, Redwood, Poplar Park, Holy Cross School, Prospect Avenue School, County Park, Castlegreen, and the Current River Arena.

26. The six mobile playground sites are: Tarbutt Park, Vickers Park, Vickers Heights, John Kusznier Memorial Park, Volunteer Pool, and Grey Park.

 Title: History of Parks and Recreation
Date: 1981
Creator: Frank Valente
Series: 156, Thunder Bay Central Files (Administration, Parks, Community Recreation)
Location: TBA 8181-14




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