Despite the long-standing and oft-noted rivalry between Fort William and Port Arthur, the two cities have always been willing to provide firefighting assistance to each other and to surrounding municipalities. This cooperation foreshadowed the creation of Thunder Bay and the cohesiveness of the Lakehead today.

Relationship between the Port Arthur and Fort William Fire Departments

The Port Arthur and Fort William Fire Departments were at each other’s service in the event of an emergency or difficult-to-control fire. In the histories of the two cities, each required the assistance of the other on several occasions.

Policies and purchasing decisions provide evidence of the importance of this cooperation. Two-way radios acquired by the Port Arthur Fire Department were designed to be able to connect with those used in Fort William. In fact, the Department had been considering a less expensive system, but decided on the more expensive model entirely because it would be compatible with Fort William's.

Though the two cities remained mostly autonomous in fire affairs, it was comforting to each to know that there was a neighbour who could provide help if needed.

Fire Services to other districts and municipalities

A thank you letter sent to the Port Arthur Fire Department

The Fort William Fire Department was often called to serve outside of the boundaries of the City, even before the Thunder Bay District Mutual Fire Aid Agreement was formed. There are reports of service to Neebing in 1955, when a fire endangered the municipal building. Although the Fire Department had made no official agreement to help, a fire in Paipoonge in 1961 summoned Fort William firefighters. Such an act of compassion shows that the Department was able to look beyond agreements and instead focus on the needs of communities in distress.

The letter to the right was written by a resident of Jumbo Gardens, praising the Port Arthur Fire Department for a job well done outside of the boundaries the Department was required to work. Praise for the Department was deserved and common, often finding its way into the newspapers. This letter to the Department is one example of the gratitude that the City of Port Arthur, and those outside of it, had for their Fire Department.

Documents suggest that the fire chiefs used their discretion in answering calls to other municipalities, as Fort William covered more than enough land to concern the Department. Fire service to Neebing ended on the first day of 1968, when a volunteer brigade assumed responsibility. This was also the case in Kakabeka Falls, as Chief Harold Lockwood had assisted in the creation of the Kakabeka Falls Fire Brigade ten years before in 1958, leaving the community more autonomous in its fire services and able to contribute to the Thunder Bay District Mutual Aid Plan in 1965.

The Port Arthur Firefighters Agreement of 1959 asserted that firefighting service was strictly for Port Arthur, with possible aid to Fort William if needed. It was left to the Chief's discretion whether to fight fires starting elsewhere that had the potential to affect Port Arthur. Clear guidelines were necessary because Port Arthur had limited resources for outside assistance with only a few fire stations. This policy was changed after joining the Thunder Bay District Mutual Fire Aid Plan.

Thunder Bay District Mutual Fire Aid Plan

In 1965, Fort William and Port Arthur joined the Thunder Bay District Mutual Fire Aid Plan, which organized service sharing between neighbouring municipalities. It was created in accordance with the Municipal Act, which stated that different municipalities would be able to form agreements regarding the use of fire equipment.

A typed document detailing cooperation between Fort William and Port ArthurParticipation in the agreement required that the municipality have its own Fire Department, as the agreement was meant to cover assistance rather than service provision. Also, a municipality had to be capable of assisting others in order to be assisted itself.

This policy of mutual assistance was ratified under By-Law 5312.

If a fire was too large to be brought under control by one Fire Department, others would be contacted for help. Each Fire Chief had the authority to determine whether his Department would answer a call to a fire outside city limits. There would be no charges to municipalities for requiring assistance from another. The municipalities included in the agreement were:

  • Port Arthur
  • Fort William
  • Kakabeka Falls
  • Murillo
  • Dorion
  • Red Rock
  • Nipigon
  • Schreiber
  • Terrace Bay
  • Marathon
  • Manitouwadge
  • Beardmore
  • Geraldton
  • Longlac
  • Nakina

Assistance to any of these locations would come from the two or three closest municipalities.

For more information on this subject, or any other subject of interest, please visit or contact the City of Thunder Bay Archives.

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