Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Central Fire Station #1...Fort William, Ontario.

Here on the left is one of the few images of the newly modernized Central Station in Fort William. This photo from the 1940's shows both the station and the department's new 1941 two-ton Chevrolet hose truck which included a Bickle booster pump and a water tank. At the far right of the photo is Harold Lockwood, who would become Chief in the 1950's, and Chief E. H. Dean. The colourised post card photo(circa 1914) shows an early motorized fire engine.
Fort William's Central Station was located at 120 Brodie Street, across from the Capitol Theatre. The original was built in 1903 after the first fire hall vanished in flames along with the original Fort William Town Hall....(that's a bit bizarre...a fire station burning down :-). It became the main station for Fort William and was named Fire Station #1. In the early 1900's it was the most well equipped of all the stations here as it housed the Hall itself as well as bedrooms where the firefighters could sleep, stables and a furnace room. As time went on the station was gradually modernized and improved through renovations. This station closed in 1963 and was demolished(Yeah, Thunder Bay...another historic building bites the dust!!). The firemen there were dispersed between the Brown St station and the Pacific Ave Station until completion of the new Central Station on Vickers Street. NEXT...Yup, they built a Holiday Inn on the property!

This left photo is the mural of Central Station #1 which can be seen today on the Sydicate Ave section inside Victoriaville. The next photo is of the Holiday Inn that was built on the Central Station #1 property in the early 1960's after the station was bulldozed down. It was a very nice hotel for awhile until Holiday Inn pulled out of Thunder Bay and the building was converted into Senior's Condominiums. Check the Rothman's Cigarette billboard in the above photo of the Holiday Inn taken in the 1970's.

Here is a picture of the lobby of the Holiday Inn in its heyday as well as a picture taken on the corner of Brodie St. and Donald Street facing north. In the second photo here you can just see the top of the Royal Edward Hotel in the distance.

Here is the building and sign as it stands today. It is the Independent Living Resource Centre which is part of a huge need in Thunder Bay to house all us aging baby boomers.
Click on photos to enlarge!
POST SCRIPT - I have had a number of email replies on this one, I guess they are afraid to make a comment to my post...LOL. Anyway, before it was called the Holiday Inn, It was called the "Canadian Inn", which tweaked my memory for sure, because the Beach Boys stayed there when they came to the Gardens back on August 14, 1966. I was only married 3 months at the time. One of the opening bands was the local band, "The Bonnvilles", and the admission was only $8.00.
My storied sources tell me that there was a big squabble due to the fact that there was a "Holiday Inn" on Kingsway St not in any way connected to the big chain. The Kingsway one was fighting to keep their name as it was in place long before the big chain ever existed, so the one on Brodie St was named the Canadian Inn until the squabble was settled. These are not documented facts and can't be backed up, but sure is interesting anyway.

Another email I received said it might have been named 'The Pioneer Inn". I don't remember that at all and if you know something about that, please post a comment....Dave

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"THE CHICONE DUCE"....photos and story by Dennis Winko...

"The older race fans will remember the famous "Chicone Duce" that appeared at the Lakehead Dirt Track Invitational Championships in Fort William back in the early 1960's. The car was built by Mike Lepinski, older brother of the famous Jerry "Haircut" Lepinski who had won the Lakehead Invitationals back to back in 1965/66. Mike Lepinski was a brick layer by trade and built race cars as a hobby. He had built the original "Duce" from a 1932 Ford 2-door sedan and used a Golden Commando dual quad Plymouth 383 for power. The original 32 frame was retained in the car. The fabrication and engine work was done with the help of Bill Kavaloski, who did the welding.

Mike first brought the car up to the Lakehead in 1960. With Jerry Richert as the driver, Mike and Jerry proceeded to win the Championship that year. In the 1961 Championships, the beautiful 32 sedan body was replaced with sheet metal to save weight...the only thing retained was the roll cage, frame and engine. A huge fuel tank was placed at the extreme rear for traction. Though the car didn't have the looks of the '32 Ford, it was extremely fast and handled very well on the rough Fort William 1/2 mile track(especially with Jerry Richert behind the wheel). The "Duce" complimented Jerry's driving style which was "up on the cushion"(the outer edge of the corners). Jerry drove this version of "The Duce" to a total of three Lakehead Invitationals in 1960/61/62. The car also won plenty of races back in Minnesota as well.

During a conversation with Mike, I asked him to explain, first of all, why the misspelling of its name, "The Duce", to which he replied that logically, the name should refer to the car number, or as in "32 Ford", which is normally written "deuce". He indicated that it was done on purpose and explained that "Duce" in Italian means "Leader". The car definitely lived up to its name.

In 1963, Mike built a brand new car with a CAE tube frame, and furthermore had stroked the original Golden Commando 383 to 440 cubic inches. This time he hired Jerry "Scratch" Daniels to drive the new version of "The Duce" in the 1963 Championships, and broke the Lakehead track record right there and then. Unfortunately "Scratch" had to pit during the 50 lap feature due to a flat , and Jerry Richert won his 4th straight title in a different car. Jerry D. said, "The car had so much power, it would break axles like tooth picks, and it was very difficult getting traction". The "Chicone Duce" would later morph for the third time into a beautiful roadster(last photo), to be driven by Mike's brother Jerry "Haircut" Lepinski.

Mike said he always looked forward to the Championships at the CLE track in Fort William every fall. Both Mike and Jerry remember the fun that was had at the old Blue Swan Inn on Kingsway Street in Fort William. In a phone conversation with Scratch Daniels, he acknowledged the fans and said how much he loved coming to the Lakehead to race. Jerry Lepinski also raved about the race fans up north. "Every time I went to Canada I felt so welcomed. The Canadians were and still are "THE" friendliest people I have ever met, and I still have fond memories from the Fort William days.

Jerry L. related one more great story. "A local Canadian that owned a service station in town, closed it down so we could have full use of his shop the day of the race and to top it off, invited our whole crew over for a fabulous dinner after the races that night. I will never forget that hospitality"."
Special thanks to Mike and Jerry Lepinski, and Jerry Daniels for taking the time to answer my questions.......... DENNIS WINKO.
POST SCRIPT: Dennis, I can't thank YOU enough for the great research and wonderful story of the "Chicone Duce". Many guys my age and a little younger(like you) with thoroughly enjoy this one. It was my pleasure to post this story on my blog......Dave
Click on photos to enlarge!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Town Hall and Post Office....Court and Red River Road Port Arthur....Then and Now!

Port Arthur's original Town Hall built in 1880 was basically a multipurpose facility used by the Masons who eventually owned the building in 1897. It was also an entertainment space as shown by the second photo taken in 1903 used by traveling performance groups and early cinema as well as a meeting place for churches, school trustees and community dances. The Freemasons housed their facilities on the main floor along with the Anglican Church and the Presbyterians on the bottom floor. The groups that used this building were largely cooperative however, on occasion, the Freemasons' rituals were reportedly a little disruptive.
Where was it? Next....

The Town Hall/Masonic Lodge was located just west of the present day Court Street on Red River Road(formerly Arthur St). The Masonic Lodge is still located at this site to this very day. The map photo to the right shows the masonic hall in downtown Port Arthur around the turn of the last century. It is near the bottom right of the photo with Arthur Street along the bottom and Court vertically along the right side. The present day site still houses the Masonic Hall as well as Bonin-Dobie-Jackson, Perfect Fit, Allard Designs, and Money Mart in the same newer building.
In the above photo the Town Hall is in ruins after the fire of 1907, however in the distance you can see the Post Office building which we will talk about a little further down. Disregard the statement at the end of the map regarding "Key to Symbols".

A little closer to Court Street and next to the original town hall location back in the 1960's was the popular Fero's Restaurant(with a cool Brill Trolley bus in front) and Birk's Stitt Jewelers on the corner. The present day area looks like this now with Money Mart and the BMO bank to take their place.
This is how that whole block looks today....Its hard to believe the transformation through the years. NEXT....the Port Arthur Post Office.
This imposing stone building(Post Office) with its distinctive classical arches was built at the north east corner of Court Street and Red River Road(again formerly Arthur St.) in 1892, and can be seen in the above Town Hall fire photo further down the street. The second photo of the same building taken in the early 1930's(see those jalopies). The distinctive tower to the left of the second photo here is the Fire Hall tower, which still exists today along with the old Fire Station building.
Finally here is a 1950 photo of the Post Office on Court and Red River Road which was one of the town's largest most impressive structure for many years. The new building constructed in 1955 following the demolition of the Post Office(We sure demolish wonderful structures in this town) on the Post Office site was the former SS Kresge Limited. It then became Playtime Lanes(a bowling alley) and is now Eekos Modern Furniture store....and there is the Fire Hall tower still there to this day....Its nice that a few buildings are preserved.
Its hard to believe that only 68 years separates the construction of these two buildings, but they look centuries apart in construction design. No boredom in old architecture, that's for sure!
Click on all photos on this post to enlarge!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spring Fever 2010 here in Thunder Bay......

Took these photos today as I drove my hot rod up and down the driveway....I'm getting cabin fever, spring fever or whatever its called. I usually start it up a few times during the winter and move it around a bit.
It's still way to long until spring but it keeps one focused on the fact that spring will come........Soon I hope!!
Happy Valentines Day.....coming up this Sunday, Feb 14.....take good care of the lady in your life!! I think I'll just go inside, build a few more model cars and read R&C(Rod and Custom) ...and click on to enlarge!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nearing the End of an era at The Canadian Lakehead Exhibition Race Track...

With cut-down cars, super modifieds and sprints making the scene, the exhibition board was starting to get nervous that the cars were getting too fast or too noisy...no one really knows for sure, but the end of car racing at the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition track was slowly coming to an end. The last three years up to 1966, only Championship races were held at the CLE, and all of us that still had a hunger to race cars or watch them would have to be satisfied with a big race a year for awhile to come, as it would take until 1967 for full time racing to begin again at Riverview Raceways on the Scott Highway...the King's Highway 61. The photos on this post are some of the Americans that came to the last races here at the old CLE track.
The 1934 3-window coupe #34 is Ron Larson, and the #22 is Don "Itch" Daniels.
The lists below are from 1962 and 1964. They are a bit confusing as many drivers from different tracks sported the same car numbers, but if you were a fan then, you will recognize many of the driver's names. Barry Kettering was living in the Minnesota by then as well.

As stated above the first list of drivers is from 1962 and the next from 1964.

The #68 Sprint car is driven by Doug Hjermstad from Minot, North Dakota and is powered by a Buick 401 CI engine. The super Modified #85 is Jim Peterson from Lake Elmo, Minnesota and is powered by a 426 CI Plymouth engine.

The #4 sprint here is the well known Don Mack from Grand Forks Minnesota, and powered by a 383 CI mopar engine. The 71B sprint car is Bill Sirecks from St. Paul with a big 409 Chevy.

Here is #78 Ken Anderson's car from Duluth Mn. This car is fully restored now and in the Russ Wanzuk collection here in Thunder Bay. The #85 car is Jim Peterson from Lake Elmo, Mn and sports a 426 Plymouth engine.

The #90 super modified car is Mike Kelley from St. Paul Mn., and powered by a 327 Chevy. Finally a fan favourite everywhere he raced is #99 Jerry Richert from Rushford Minnesota with his cool little '34 Ford 3-window coupe(don't know who the guy is that's stealing his spark plugs though).
We have to thank these guys as well as the droves of other cars that came from Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Winnipeg and Southern Ontario to entertain us during the last years of the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition race track....we owe them all a debt of gratitude.
All these photos were taken at the CLE track during those last few years in the early 1960's. The track was then given up to horse racing as it once was.
Click on photos to enlarge!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bourke's Drug Store 514 Victoria Ave., Fort William, Ontario...

In most of the history posts of Fort William and Port Arthur, I try to add a photo or photos of vintage cars. It helps to date photos as well, and this first photo is no exception. This one was taken about 1940, and the young fellow to the right with the wicker basket carrier looks to be my uncle Henry. Bourke's Drug Store at the time had a very nice 1940 Chevy coupe and a number of young guys on bicycle delivery. My dad said that a few of his younger brothers worked for Bourke's during the war years. Their newspaper ads would read "Free delivery in Port Arthur and Fort William if your order was $1.00 or more".
The above photos were taken near the corner of Brodie St and Victoria Ave in Fort William looking north. In the B&W photo you can see Central School way down at the end(It is Patterson Park today). Bourke's was just right around the corner on Victoria Ave. What you see here is a lane way coming out from behind the bank building, and the Capitol Theatre would be across the street to the left of both photos. The colour photo is taken at exactly the same spot almost 70 years later. Next....Bourke's store-front.

Thanks to my friend Roger, here is a great B&W photo facing east on Victoria Ave around the corner from Brodie St taken in 1940 as well, showing the Bourke's sign and a few other store fronts in the area. You can see in the colour photo to the right approximately where it was, and how Victoria Ave in this area has changed through time, or should I call it "Urban Deterioration".

Above and below are some old Bourke's items, the oldest ones being with "Phone 1400" on them. The 1400 tells me that they were before dial phones. You would pick up your phone and you would hear "operator" and you then would say "South 1400" to the operator and she would move her plugs to connect you....wayyyy before my time :-) !! The others such as the pill bottle above and the blue label below are late 1940's or early 1950's as they had 5 digit dial phone numbers.
Below is an old postcard photo(about 1950) facing the opposite way now(west), showing Bourke's(circled in red) and a number of other business establishments, brill buses, and old Ford, GM, and other cars.
Notice the Lorna Doone tea room on the right...that was one of our hang-outs after Friday night roller skating at the Gardens, or cruisin' our favourite strip. They had the best hamburger nips at .35 cents with a glass of coke for a nickel....and oh yes....a jukebox wallbox at every booth to play your favourite tunes.
Bourke's Drug Stores Ltd., haven't had a store front for many years and have since been taken over by "Shoppers". Thanks to my kid brother Corey for finding the great Bourke's delivery photo above and Roger for some wonderful shots from the 40's...some yet to come. Click on photos to enlarge.