The First Town Hall: 1892-1903

Fort William's first Town Hall was built for a total cost of $15,000 in 1892, the same year that Fort William reached a population of 2,000 people and achieved town status. The first Town Hall was located on Donald Street, on the land which now forms the front lawn of our modern City Hall.

A black and white photo of the first City Hall with people standing out front

Fort William's first Town Hall building served a number of different purposes. It functioned not only as the municipal government building, but also as a home for the local telephone company, the prison and the fire department. Many local groups also used the building for their needs, as the Town Hall was the largest multipurpose building available in the town. Businesses, including the Board of Trade and the Hudson's Bay Company, held their meetings there, as would area representatives on the federal and provincial political scene (Beaulieu 5). Of course, the town residents and Fort William Town Council also made use of the hall for their own meetings. Apart from official affairs such as Council meetings, the Town Hall was also a place to hear speeches and lectures to inform the public on social issues and concerns. Several churches held events at the Town Hall as well, including St. Luke's Anglican Church. Dances held in the hall were anticipated and highly popular. It seemed that nearly anyone could use the Town Hall for purposes public or private (Beaulieu 9). The Town Hall's use as a public space helped foster a strong sense of community in Fort William.

Improvements and renovations were soon made to the Town Hall, to meet its growing needs as a public entertainment facility. More seating was added, as well as new heating and plumbing systems.

A group of people waiting outside the second Fort William City HallPerforming tours would come to the town to put on plays in the theatre. This served as a great source of entertainment for the public--the town did not enjoy a designated motion picture theatre until 1912. These entertainers included travelling tour groups featuring musicians, hypnotists, and even minstrel shows (which today would be highly controversial due to their negative racial content) (Beaulieu 10-13).

This Town Hall building burnt down on the night of March 9-10, 1903. The fire devastated everything in the building, including gifts of clothing for an upcoming bazaar, and the official records of the town. Included in these records were important documents such as contracts between Fort William and the Canadian Pacific Railroad, a key business for the town. The fire was a terrible blow to the community, as the Town Hall played a central role in the everyday life of the townspeople.

Despite the tragedy, it was evident that Fort William was quick to recover, as plans were immediately made to build a new Town Hall and a separate building for the phone company. But for the time being, Fort William had the privilege of receiving the generosity of neighbouring Port Arthur, who assisted in the effort to return to normalcy. The Port Arthur electrical light and telephone companies were able to extend these services to Fort William as they dealt with the loss of their Town Hall.

The Second City Hall: 1905-1966

A group of people among construction equipment laying brickThe rebuilding of the Town Hall began in 1903 on the same site as the previous building, and was completed in 1905 at a cost of under $80,000. The new Town Hall was built according to the designs of Mr. Aylesworth, the architect. Again, it was a multi-purpose building which contained a public hall, a stage with dressing rooms, a police station, athletic rooms, a library, a courtroom and a chamber for council meetings. There were plans to house another fire hall in the new Hall, but the idea was rejected, and it was decided to have the two in separate locations.

Despite the speed of the new Town Hall's construction, there were delays that slowed the building of the auditorium and the police station. Another barrier to the completion of the Town Hall was a problem with heating in the auditorium, particularly in the dressing rooms and the vestibule. There were no radiators in these parts of the building, and three other radiators in the building did not work properly. Even at the beginning of 1905, the Town Hall was incomplete as it lacked sidewalks, police cells, a court, council and vault fittings, and a finished basement. Delays continued for months, even close to a year, on some parts of the building. Despite these setbacks, Council held its first meeting in the new facility on October 10th, 1905, where the previous mayors made speeches, citing future hopes for the Town of Fort William. These "future hopes" did not take long to become reality, The Fort William Town Hall covered in Christmas lights at nightas an exciting milestone for Fort William occurred in 1907: the Town Hall became the new "City Hall" as the required population of 15,000 for City status was reached.

The second City Hall was more decorative and ornate than the first. A variety of decorations, artifacts and paintings were produced for the aesthetic improvement of the building. Gifts such as paintings, portraits and photographs were gratefully accepted from members of the community, and from artists as far away as Montreal. The City Hall was also a devoted patron of the Western Taxidermists' Company, located in Winnipeg. This company provided the service of stuffing and preservation of animals for the decoration of the City Hall. Letters back and forth from this company indicate that the City Hall could either order from a list of items, or send an animal of its own to Winnipeg to be stuffed. Other decoration included pictures of City Councils, royalty, the Governor General, police, Prime Ministers and views of the city.

RAn aerial photo taken above city hall, cars and buildings are presentoyal visits were an exciting event for the citizens of Fort William. One visit in 1951 included a stop at the Fort William City Hall, where the Mayor made a speech and then-Princess Elizabeth received flowers and viewed the crowd of people who came to the City Hall to see her.

As time progressed, the City Hall began to require significant repairs and renovations due to safety risks and the needs of a growing community. The tower on the City Hall had been removed in the 1940s, as it had become unsafe over time. Even fifteen years before the new City Hall of 1966 was built, it was found that great changes to the building were necessary for it to be safe and to meet public needs. $85,000 worth of alterations and additions were made both to the Hall in general and to the Auditorium in 1955. Ultimately, the renovation and improvement costs proved to be too high, which prompted the decision to demolish the building and construct a new City Hall.

See more photographs of Fort William City Hall

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