Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Finnish Labour Temple owner and community look to rebuild iconic building after fire in Thunder Bay

Jan 03, 2022 06:31AM ● By Editor
The Finnish Labour Temple, a century-old historic building in Thunder Bay, was heavily damaged after a fire broke out the evening of Wednesday Dec. 22. Photo: Logan Turner/CBC

By Olivia Levesque · CBC News · Thunder Bay - December 30, 2021

It's been over a week since a devastating fire broke out at the historic Finnish Labour Temple in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The investigation into the blaze is ongoing, but community members are already trying to think of a way to pick up the pieces of the northwestern Ontario landmark, which was also home to the famous Hoito restaurant.

"You know, the building was like a part of my family. It was like one of my children and now it's gone, you know, so, I mean it's been really hard," said Brad McKinnon who purchased the building in 2020.

McKinnon said the last week has been a whirlwind of emotion as he tries to sort through the aftermath of the fire. On the night of the fire he had just arrived in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., when he heard that flames were tearing through the building.

Flames visibly engulfed the roof and upper levels of the historic Finnish Labour Temple building in Thunder Bay on Dec. 22. Photo: Matt Vis/CBC

He said he turned around and made the eight hour drive to Thunder Bay. When he arrived around 3 a.m. on Dec. 23, city firefighters were still battling the blaze.

"This is a tragedy," he said."We're not going to let the building stay in this condition. We're going to rebuild immediately as soon as we can."

McKinnon said he is committed to reviving the most iconic features of the building, including the Bay Street facade, the tower, and the cupola.

The Finnish Labour Temple in December 2016. The building was known for its cultural history and its unique architecture that stood out in the Bay and Algoma neighborhood in Thunder Bay, Ont. Photo: Olivia Levesque/CBC

As of Tuesday, McKinnon was waiting on the next steps of finishing up the investigation, processing the insurance claim, and cleaning up the building to avoid further risk or damage.

"I mean, it's probably one of the most iconic buildings in Thunder Bay. It was a tourist attraction. It was a sanctuary for the Finnish Community," he said. "It was a symbol of hope, care, generosity and, and it's gone. And to leave it, you know, just to let it go like that would be a crime in itself," he said.

McKinnon said rebuilding might not happen until the spring, but said in the meantime he hopes to retrieve an antique weight scale that was one of few heritage pieces left in the building, according to the Finlandia Co-Operative of Thunder Bay.

The human-sized scale was at the entrance of the Hoito Restaurant for decades. McKinnon hopes to display it in some sort of case outside for people visiting the Bay and Algoma neighbourhood to see.

A file photo of former Hoito employee Rya Hariyo standing in front of the well known scale found at the entrance of the restaurant. Photo: Jenifer Norwell/CBC

"Just to use that as a symbol for going forward and determination, and the restaurant will come back and the building will come back," he said.

McKinnon's eagerness to rebuild has been welcome news to the Finlandia Co-Operative of Thunder Bay, who were scheduled to reopen the Hoito Restaurant in June of 2022.

Spirit of the building still there

The organization's interim president, Paula Haapanen, said the board is "of the same mind", and will be working on coming up with a plan for next steps at their first general meeting on January 16.

Paula Haapanen, interim president of the Finlandia Co-operative, said various events, including pop-up restaurants, are planned leading up to the reopening of the Hoito. Photo: Heather Kitching/CBC

"Really our plans haven't changed. It's just, I guess the end goal has kind of moved further away," said Haapanen in an interview with CBC News.

"There have been a lot of expressions of support for carrying on and you realize that the spirit of the building in many, many different levels is still there and and people want to see that continue in some form. So, that is very hopeful," she added.

Investigation ongoing

As of Wednesday the investigation of the scene of the fire was ongoing. However, Thunder Bay Fire Rescue confirmed with CBC News that arson is not a suspected cause of the fire.

The Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) was called in to assist in the investigation to determine the cause, origin, and circumstance of the fire.

The OFM investigation began on December 24 following Thunder Bay Fire Rescue extinguishing the fire.

A spokesperson with the Office of the Fire Marshal told CBC News that a portion of the third floor of the building had collapsed into the second and is unsafe to enter.

To see the original report and read related stories, follow this link tot he CBC Thunder Bay website.