The current Thunder Bay City Hall was first constructed to serve as the third City Hall for Fort William. Built in 1966 at a cost of $1 million, it became the Thunder Bay City Hall in 1970, when Fort William and Port Arthur amalgamated.

A building being demolished with construction equipment

Plans were completed years in advance for this building, as there was a debate as to whether the previous Fort William City Hall should be renovated or completely rebuilt. In 1964, after two years of debate, it was decided that an entirely new City Hall should be built. Locations for the new City Hall were also argued over for some time, until it was finally decided to situate it directly behind the existing City Hall, on land which was then in use as a parking lot. This location was ideal, as it would allow City Hall to remain at the same site, would allow room for the construction to take place, and the existing City Hall would be able to run its business undisturbed throughout construction. The new City Hall was completed in January 1966, and at the end of the month permission was given for the previous City Hall to be demolished.

As little as two months before the official opening ceremonies of the new City Hall building, there was still debate about how to make use of the land in front. The three options considered were:

  1. To be used as a parking lot,the green space in front of City Hall with a church in the distance
  2. To be a landscaped area with a small parking lot for city staff and the public, or
  3. To be an entirely landscaped area that contributed to the beautification of the City Hall grounds.

The public voiced their opinion and called for the space in front to be completely landscaped without a parking lot. This area would in 1969 be given the name "McGillivray Square." William McGillivray had been a key figure in the fur trade, who after twenty years of experience managed to work his way up to become director of the North West Company in 1804. This Company was responsible for establishing the location of the fur trading post, Fort William, the namesake of the city. The Fort William fur trading post was a place of significant importance in the fur trade, especially under the command of McGillivray. McGillivray played an important role in this company, and presided over its later union with the Hudson's Bay Company (Cleveland 9).

A newspaper article showing people gathered in front of a new buildingThere are several decorative items in the square, including two cannons, which were donated to the city in 1913 by Peter and Donald McKellar. These cannons represent the conflicts that the fur traders faced in the early days of Fort William. Also in the square is the First World War memorial, which was established in the 1920's by the Women's Patriotic Auxiliary. After the construction of the new City Hall, the war memorial, which was originally set off to the side of the previous building, was moved to the front centre of the lawn to become a focal point. In 1981, the lawn was further decorated with two spruce trees. The new trees had an added financial and environmental benefit, as the City no longer needed to purchase a 60 foot Christmas tree for the space each year.


The official opening ceremony for the new City Hall took place on Friday, May 27th, 1966, on the grounds of the new Hall. Because of the festivities, Donald, May and Brodie Streets were blocked off for five hours during the ceremony. Months of preparation went into the ceremony, even consulting the City of Toronto for guidance, as it had also opened a new City Hall the year before.

Though the City Hall had been in use since January 1966, and the opening ceremonies took place months later, the area in front of the City Hall (McGillivray Square), had not been completed. Landscaping was delayed due to the demolition of the previous City Hall, and indecision regarding what to do with the new space. For the ceremony, the area was cleaned up and smoothed to make the space usable, but no other work was done.

Voluminous correspondence in the preceding months shows that important figures were invited to the opening ceremonies to participate in the presentations, including local religious officials, MPs, MPPs and Ministers of the provincial government. Despite the rivalry between Port Arthur and Fort William, the Mayor of A new building with a lamp post in front Port Arthur (Saul Laskin) and the local MP (R.K Andras) both attended the opening, presaging further cooperation between the two cities. The two were correct in their predictions, as Fort William and Port Arthur amalgamated less than four years later, and adopted the newly built City Hall as the municipal offices for the City of Thunder Bay.

City Hall underwent a major restoration beginning in July 2008 and ending in November 2009. The reasons for these renovations are similar to those given for the construction in 1966: safety concerns and a need for increased space. What began as a project to replace crumbling caulking, expanded significantly once it was realized that the building required major structural improvement, as parts of the concrete siding were crumbling off due to rusting hardware. This project soon came to encompass the need for fully accessible facilities (including wheelchair-accessible doors and bathrooms) and a larger, more practical public meeting space. The building now features local art, and archival displays which celebrate the history of the region and the diversity of people’s within it. Carrying on the tradition of the importance of community, an outward extension along the front of the City Hall, and the inclusion of a landscaped Civic Square created more room for public gatherings as well.A black and white proposal for the gardens outside city hall

When City Hall officially reopened on November 3, 2009 (after being pushed from its original February opening due to construction delays) it was touted for its efficiency and adherence to the Clean, Green and Beautiful initiative. As well as being more energy efficient with the inclusion of tinted windows, an updated heating system and air barrier, the most impressive feature according to then Mayor Lynn Peterson, to the amusement of her colleagues, was “It has insulation!” Eliminating over 22 tons of greenhouse gases per year and greatly reducing utility costs, the new building was celebrated by staff and citizens as taking a step forward for the City.

Much like during the previous renovation in 1966, several items were added to the Time Capsule originally buried in 1903. The items included coins, an aerial photograph of the city, the Hoito pancake recipe, drawings provided by elementary students on what they believed the city would look like in 2058 (the next year the Capsule will be opened and added to) as well as a list of tuition and residence fees from Lakehead University. Originally projected at a cost of $2.5 million - with an additional $750,000 added during the 2008 budget proposal, when the extent of renovations became apparent - the project ended up costing just over $5 million.

The 2008-2009 restorations have allowed City Hall to continue its growth into a bustling hub of the South side’s downtown core. Alongside an additional renovation in 2015 that increased accessibility for all those working in and using the building, City Hall has also become the South Core transit hub.

See more photographs of Thunder Bay City Hall

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