Doors Open Thunder Bay 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, after an hour, we left, hot on the trail of another Open Door.