Thunder Bay is a relatively young city by historical standards and springing into life on the resource frontier and yearning for acceptance into the big leagues, it has always had a conflicted relationship with its architectural past. Thunder Bay seems to equate growth and development with being new and something new is always assumed to be better except of course when it comes to its politicians as the longevity of its political representation often illustrates. A great deal of Thunder Bay’s architectural heritage has been lost over the decades and invariably the arguments for tearing it down involve bringing in something new and supposedly cheaper.
The latest case involves the controversy over “The Wall”. Whereas Donald Trump’s “Wall” and the “The Wall” from Game of Thrones are both designed to keep people out, in Thunder Bay’s case, the wall along High Street was designed to keep things in place – it is a retaining wall. Looking at it, one might think it is a remnant built in medieval times and anchored a fortress of the Knights Templar but it was built in the 1940s along a section of High Street –once one of Port Arthur’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
Now, the wall is in need of repair and the majority of Thunder Bay city council has opted to replace it with a pre-cast concrete wall at a proposed cost of $2.4 million. My guess is that members of City council probably think this is a reasonable compromise. After all, it will still resemble an old wall and it will be new! Apparently, the members of the local Brick and Allied Craft Union who might be deemed to have some expertise with respect to bricks, stones and walls have suggested that the wall can be repaired and more cheaply than the $2.4 million earmarked for the replacement.
The attitude of City Council is probably best summarized by Mayor Hobbs, who stated in a letter to the editor that: “Historic Hadrian’s Wall is just a pile of crumbled stones now. What is modern today and not satisfactory to some will one day be historic. Roll with it folks.” Needless to say, the remark succinctly reflects the attitude that has been responsible for the razing of large sections of our history. And to be fair, it is an attitude that exists in other parts of urban Canada. Downtown Toronto has seen large swaths of its past similarly demolished because despite its size and self perceived sense of grandeur and sophistication, Toronto is really just a large version of Thunder Bay.
We are a young city and simply disposing of everything after 50 or 100 years means that in the end our city will always look like it has just been put together. Perhaps this is what the vast majority of people in Thunder Bay prefer because they do not feel that their past is as glamorous as that of Athens, Rome, Paris or London. Always having something new and shiny may give you something to boast about in the short run but it is short sighted and reflects a people who are fundamentally insecure about who and what they are. True, we cannot keep everything but we should at least make more of an effort to give the past a fighting chance.