N.M. PATERSON BUILDING

Doors Open Thunder Bay 2022

Paterson Elevators “K” and “O”. Note the swing bridge in the background of Elevator “O”.

On Saturday, September 10, my sister Sue and I looked for the N.M. Paterson Building at 1918 Yonge Street, Thunder Bay.

Yonge Street in Thunder Bay? Someone has a sense of humour.

We navigated to the swing bridge on James Street and spotted the building across an impassable divide. We crossed the bridge towards the Fort William Reserve, crossed a graveled median, and headed back across the bridge. We turned into Yonge Street and pulled into a parking lot. Apparently we had just travelled the length of Yonge Street.

Two guys with purple crested t-shirts greeted us. It was 9:50 a.m. Doors opened at 10:00. Employees of TBT Engineering Consulting Group were serving as greeters and guides. We were first in line.

TBT Engineering is housed in the N.M. Paterson Building. The gentleman on the right is Dave Benedet, unloading his models.

One of the guys said the historic tug James Whalen was parked a few metres away on the river bank. Earlier, the tug had been moored on the Kaministiquia River, waiting appropriate disposition for such a relic. When the river was running high in early spring, the tugboat’s pumps had failed and the boat sank. Over the last two days, an expensive and elaborate operation had recovered the tug and given it a temporary home.

The James Whalen in dry dock, close to the swing bridge. The Paterson Elevator once stood in this space.
The entryway features marine artifacts (not labeled) and a portrait of the founder, flanked on the left with a lake freighter
and on the right with the original elevator.

After snapping a photo, I joined the tour. Dave Benedet was still setting up his display of model ships. We peppered Dave with questions until newcomers demanded his attention. Dave makes scale models of boats and ships out of balsa wood and bits of plastic. Every 3/8 inch equates to 1 foot of the real thing.

Dave Benedet gets his display organized. Sue studies the “dream” ship, Sea Energy.
Everything has its label or description.
Dave has devoted a lifetime to his hobby.
Sue holds up photos of the interior of Sea Energy. Dave lifts the hatch of another vessel to display its interior.

Except some models are not of real things, such as the Sea Energy. Dave simply dreamed up this lovely craft. Other models follow architectural drawings of real vessels. His attention to detail is unparalleled. Even the interiors are modeled although they rarely see the light of day.

A variety of marine vessels from one angle.
The vessels from a reverse angle.

We were handed off to a guide, a TBT Engineering employee in a purple t-shirt. She led us upstairs. The first striking display was a huge model of a Paterson grain-hauling vessel and a gigantic wall map depicting a plan of Fort William in 1913. I dropped out the tour group as I lingered and marveled.

Title of the 1913 map.
 The legend of the map has a wealth of information.

The N.M. Paterson Buildling is a working business and a delightful museum. The interior furnishings and décor are quite charming.

The board room featured paintings and photographs on the walls. The room was crowded with enthusiasts. When I caught up with Sue, we explored the rest of the second floor, pausing to exclaim over historic photos. Our guide, who caught up to us as one point, said that the original office building of the Paterson Elevator has been incorporated into this very modern edifice.

Photo in the private museum. The little white building is the original N.M. Paterson Building.

Some research has yielded the following history. Norman McLeod Paterson was born in 1883 in Manitoba and moved to Fort William in 1908. In 1912 he built his first grain elevator, Elevator “K”, followed by Elevator “0” in 1914. Elevator “0” was a unique business devoted to drying and upgrading grain. It was called a “hospital elevator”, presumably because it “cured” grain.

N.M. Paterson went on to found an empire of grain elevators across the prairies and a Great Lakes steamship line. Eventually his company encompassed 108 elevators and 80 vessels. In 1940 he was appointed to the Canadian Senate, and in 1965 he became the first Chancellor of Lakehead University. The Paterson Foundation provides grants to many community organizations.

On the way out, I lingered for a last look at Bingham’s magnificent map.

The original 1913 survey map of Fort William. One can spend hours absorbing its information.

So, after an hour, we left, hot on the trail of another Open Door.

The Paterson Elevator in 1975, shortly before it was demolished. Peeping around the left corner is the N.M. Paterson Building. Photo George Lucas.

On September 9, the James Whalen is being lowered to the Paterson dock. Photo Jamie Ruggles – Photographer.

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