Photo History Tour
Port Arthur Arena
Port Arthur's first indoor rink was known as the Lake City Rink, which was constructed in the early part of the century on Cumberland Street near McVicar's Creek. In 1923 the Arena Rink was built on Court Street, financed and operated by a group of citizens from Port Arthur and Fort William, known as the Arena Rink Company, at a cost of $65,000. Destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1931 that rink was replaced in 1932 with a 4000 capacity arena constructed on North Court Street. Residents still recall the controversy surrounding the fact that it took many a wrecking ball to finally tear down this "condemned" building in 1959.
The Murillo Fairgrounds were the scene of many an exciting race, dating back to the early 1920s. Reports of the early days indicated that Frank Colosimo and his "King's Ford Special" dominated the local circuit, losing only two races between 1925 and 1932. Colosimo was renowned for his antics, including waving a fistful of cash at the crowd each time he would pass the grandstand which would draw over 4,000 fans to see him. By the time the 1950s and 60s rolled around, the stock car circuit was in full swing. Some of the racers from that time period included the Kettering and Massaro brothers, "Pappy" Fowler and Tommy Dow. Women were also active in racing during that time, with powder-puff races providing a lot of thrills.
The Allan Cup
The Allan Cup was first presented in 1908 by Sir Montagu Allan as a symbol of senior hockey supremacy in Canada. A board of trustees ruled on all challenges for the Allan Cup prior to 1928 when it became the responsibility of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, known today as Hockey Canada. Northwestern Ontario's involvement in the Allan Cup dates back over 80 years.
Teams from northwestern Ontario have won a total of 11 Allan Cups including:
1925 - Port Arthur Seniors
1926 - Port Arthur Seniors
1929 - Port Arthur Seniors
1939 - Port Arthur Bearcats
1952 - Fort Frances Canadians
1975 - Thunder Bay Twins
1984 - Thunder Bay Twins
1985 - Thunder Bay Twins
1988 - Thunder Bay Twins
1989 - Thunder Bay Twins
2005 - Thunder Bay Bombers
The Memorial Cup
The John Ross Robertson Memorial Cup was first presented in 1919 to the junior champions of Canada. Two teams from northwestern Ontario have claimed this national title. The Fort William Great War Vets won the title in 1922. Given the high cost of travel, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association deemed that the team favoured to win the national title, the Toronto Aura Lee, would simply stop in Fort William on their way to the finals being held in Winnipeg. It was here that one of the greatest upsets in junior hockey occurred with Fort William defeating the Aura Lee 5-3 in a sudden death playoff. They went on to defeat the Regina Caps to claim Thunder Bay's first national hockey title.
In 1948 the Port Arthur West End Bruins defeated the Barrie Flyers in four straight games to bring home the Memorial Cup. Many members of the team went on to play in the NHL including Benny Woit, Danny Lewicki, Barton Bradley and Dave Creighton.
The Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup was purchased in 1893 by Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston for $48.67. Teams would have to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Sometimes the Cup would be challenged for as many as 3 times in one year. The Montreal AAA won the first Stanley Cup challenge on March 22, 1894, defeating the Ottawa Capitals before a crowd of 5,000.
In 1910 the Cup became symbolic of professional hockey supremacy. In 1917 the National Hockey League (NHL) was formed and took over control of the Stanley Cup. The first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup were the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas.
Northwestern Ontario's involvement in the Stanley Cup dates back over 100 years:
1903 - Rat Portage Thistles challenged Ottawa for the Cup
1905 - Rat Portage Thistles challenged Ottawa for the Cup
1907 - Kenora Thistles won the Stanley Cup in January by defeating the Montreal Wanderers. Montreal gained back the Cup in March from the Thistles
1911 - Port Arthur lost in their challenge for the Cup against Ottawa
Individuals from northwestern Ontario have had their name engraved on hockey's most coveted award over 40 times.
1936 Olympic Games
In 1936 the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team included 7 players, a coach, manager and trainer from the Port Arthur Bearcats and some additional players from eastern Canada. In what was a very controversial event, Canada returned home with the silver medal and Great Britain was awarded the gold. The majority of the British team learned the game in Canada, including two players and the coach who hailed from northwestern Ontario.
1940 Olympic Games
In 1939 the Port Arthur Bearcats won the Allan Cup and were to represent Canada at the 1940 Winter Olympics, which was the tradition at the time.
The team had been issued their uniforms and were ready to go for gold, but their dreams were dashed with the cancellation of the event due to World War II.
Early Curling History
Curling made its first appearance in northwestern Ontario in the late 1870s with matches being carried out on the frozen lakes, rivers and ponds of the region until local residents organized clubs. The oldest reported curling club in the region is the Port Arthur Curling Club, which opened in January of 1888. The Rat Portage Curling Club was formed in September of 1889 and the Fort William Curling Club was officially formed in 1891, with a rink constructed in 1892.
Fort William Gardens Curling Rock
Have you ever wondered where the curling rock at the front of the Fort William Gardens came from? It all started in 1960 when the communities of Fort William and Port Arthur hosted the Macdonald Brier Tankard, emblematic of Canadian men's curling supremacy.
The curling community did an outstanding job hosting this national championship starting off with a parade from the event headquarters at the Royal Edward Hotel to the Fort William Gardens on March 7, 1960. One of the most impressive floats in the parade was entered by the Fort William Curling and Athletic Club which carried eleven individuals symbolizing the 11 finalists and an item which would become a legacy of this national event - a curling rock reported at the time to weigh 5,000 pounds!
The rock had been built at the former Canadian Car plant in Thunder Bay and after the parade it was moved off of the float and placed in front of the Fort William Gardens welcoming the over 26,000 spectators who attended the Brier that week.
Following the championships the curling rock became the property of the Westfort Kiwanis Club whose president was a strong curling supporter. A decision was made to display the now famous rock at the Totem Pole Tourist Court on Highway 17, to let tourists know about the importance of curling to the community they were visiting.
The rock remained at that location until work began on the re-routing of Hwy. 17 which drew traffic away from the monument. Not wanting the rock to lose its usefulness as an attraction to tourists, members of the Northwestern Ontario Curling Association took up the challenge of finding a new home for the monument. Permission was received from the City of Thunder Bay to return the rock to the place it originally rested, in front of the Fort William Gardens.
Local curlers restored the rock and added a historic element to it by adding the names of curlers from Thunder Bay who had claimed national championships and the winners of national events held in Thunder Bay. The rock was officially re-dedicated in 1975 being christened with a bottle of Chivas Regal by the President of Scotland's Royal Caledonian Curling Club, Mr. Allan Johnston, who was in Thunder Bay at the time to participate in the Strathcona Cup Match #13.
1930s Baseball Action at St. Peter's School Grounds
Sport was the foremost form of entertainment during the 1930s at the Lakehead. Youth leaders in the East End of Fort William formed several organizations within the community.
One such organization was the International League composed of young East End residents and all games were played at the St. Peter's School grounds. This photo features a Sunday evening crowd gathered to cheer on the players, including base runners Aldo and Bunny Barichello.
Women and Baseball
Women were actively participating in a number of sports during the 1930s and 40s, with players and fans traveling back and forth between Port Arthur and Fort William to cheer on teams such softball teams as the Forts and the Golden Sprays.
Golf in Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay's introduction to organized golf took place in the early 1900s with the formation of the Thunder Bay Country Club in 1910.
By the 1920s the annual "entrance fee" was set at $100, and visiting players were charged $1 in green fees. In 1923 members of the Thunder Bay Country Club decided to branch off. This moved resulted in the formation of the Fort William Country Club in 1926. Municipal Golf Course was built in 1924 in the King George's Park area.
Strathcona Links opened to the public in 1925, with nine holes costing local golfers 25 cents. Chapples was opened in 1949 and named after Clem Chapples, who was instrumental in its formation through the donation of land.
Football in Thunder Bay
When football made its first appearance in the Lakehead it did so in the form of Rugby.
It was introduced into the schools during that time and one of the early leagues operating during the 1930s was the Lakehead Rugby Union. By the 1930s football was an integral part of the high school systems with the rivalry between the various schools as intense then as it is today.
It was not until after the Second World War that the Lakehead Rugby Football Union was formed and it included teams such as the Fort William Redskins, the Lakehead College Mustangs and the Fort William Ukes.
The Redskins, went on to claim the region's first, and only, national football title, being crowned the 1958 Canadian Intermediate champions.
Skiing has been a popular sport for many years. This group of local skiers were checking out Mt. McKay as a potential site for a ski-jump in the early 1900s.
It would not be until 1932 that the Fort William Ski Club would take up residency there. Early ski jumps were located at various areas thoroughout Thunder Bay.
Jumps were located in the Shuniah Mine area and at King George's Park and Strathcona Heights.
Organized rowing first began in the Lakehead in 1904 with the construction of a clubhouse near the Mission Bridge in the west Fort William area. This was the home of the Fort William Rowing Club, which celebrated their 100th anniversary a couple of years ago The waterways of the Kam river were alive with activity during the 1930s.
The Fort William Rowing Club dominating NWIRA competitions from the 30s through the 50s and brought home medals from the prestigious Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. The Thunder Bay Rowing Club carried on the tradition of excellence claiming numerous NWIRA and Henley titles.
Soccer, or football as it used to be called, dominated the local sports scene at the turn of the last century. Teams would travel to compete for the "People's Shield" and the right to be called Champions of Canada.
In July of 1912, the CPR Eleven made their way by train from Fort William to Winnipeg where they defeated Lethbridge 3-0 to claim Thunder Bay's first ever national sports title.