Friday, September 11, 2009


On Sept. 5, 2009 @ 2:01pm, another Thunder Bay(formerly Fort William) Ontario landmark is levelled.
This building made extensive use of brick in its construction, with limestone being used for accents like the frame around the main entrance, and the string course between the first and second floors. The exaggerated keystones in the arches at the corners of the third floor are also of limestone. A large metal cornice across the top of the building is supported by enormous metal brackets sculpted into scroll designs. On April 14, 1911, the board of directors of the Fort William Y.M.C.A. raised the then unheard of sum of $100,000 in just one week too provide funding for the building.
The Fort William YMCA was formed by a small group of young men from Fort William who were formerly officers of the Young Men's Association. The YMA was considered by some to be elitist and unpopular with the working class. The YMCA in Fort William was perhaps an attempt to overcome that. The prime mover seems to have been Mr. C. R. Sayer who, along with his fellow YMA officers, got representatives from the Protestant churches of Fort William to form an official YMCA branch, adopting a constitution in 1908. Subscriptions were sought from the business community and George H. Williamson was soon hired as general secretary. The first president was Harold E. Copp. The aim of the Association was "to improve the moral, mental, social and physical condition of young men and boys." It adopted from the outset the fundamental principles of "evangelical Christianity" as a basis of its proceedings. Boys 18 or over who were members of an "evangelic church" were eligible to serve as active members. Boys 12-18 could become general members. Only those with the proper religious qualifications were eligible to vote and hold office in the Association.Land was purchased for a building in 1912 on the corner of Archibald and Miles Streets and a large building was erected. It offered rooms for socializing, billiards, games, music, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, running track, laundry room, two bowling alleys, and a 60' x 20' swimming pool. Courses were offered in various educational pursuits such as drafting, arithmetic, manual training, book keeping, etc. As well, religious instruction was offered and considered the "central, fundamental and crowning feature of the association work." The YMCA building also contained 66 bedrooms, 50 of which could be rented for a maximum of ten dollars per month in 1913. The YMCA also acted as an employment bureau and as an organization to help immigrants assimilate into Canadian society.Though talks were underway to form a YWCA in the same building as early as 1930, it was not until much later that this occurred.
As of late, the John Howard Society was using the YMCA building, but now has moved to a newer facility on Syndicate Avenue. The demolition of the YMCA building is to make way for the new courthouse. Most of us baby boomers remember the YMCA dances and many people including myself learned to swim there, even though we went to a Roman Catholic school.
The first photo at the top was taken in about 1934...note the old homes next to it that were demolished many years ago.
Some of the above information is courtesy of the Thunder Bay Museum.
Another historic building gone forever, but time marches on.... click on photos to enlarge

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