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Finnish Labour Temple

Finnish Labour Temple Undergoes Major Renovation

by Scott A. Sumner

The Finnish Labour Temple has been a landmark in Thunder Bay since it opened March 1910! The historic building, located at 314 Bay Street in the Bay and Algoma district, has been the centre of the large Finnish community of Thunder Bay.

The famed Hoito restaurant located in the basement of the three storey building opened on May 1st, 1918 and always was a major attraction for people local and from far away. The Hoito was established to feed hungry bush workers that could find lodging but not a decent meal when they came into Port Arthur. It served affordable, home-cooked meals to residents and visitors in the Bay and Algoma District until it’s recent closing due to financial difficulties. The Finlandia and the Hoito have been the home to cooperative and labour movements, and served as the economic anchors of the Bay and Algoma area in the beginning and Finnish businesses started establishing themselves in the area soon afterwards. Some of which included hotels, stores, bakeries and boarding houses, pool rooms, taxi services and of course, sauna.

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Brad McKinnon recently bought the Finnish Labour Temple, which includes >the Hoito restaurant, and has begun major renovations to transform the historic property.

Brad lives in Southern Ontario but was born and raised in Sault Ste Marie. He then spent 4 years in Thunder Bay at Lakehead University taking Forestry and Biology as well as education. Brad worked in the forest industry in NW Ontario for Domtar and Buchanan in silver culture technology and then went on to education in Barrie as a teacher. He is now a realtor with Century 21 in Barrie and completes real estate developments.

“ I loved the Hoito and the Bay and Algoma District as well as Thunder Bay while going to university, being partial to the Port Arthur side and lived on Van Norman Street then,” said Brad McKinnon. “ When I saw the Finnish Labour Temple up for sale I thought it could be a good opportunity to come in and rejuvenate the Hoito and the Bay and Algoma District. In my opinion the area looked a little run down, in need of some TLC. Renovating the Finnish Labour Temple and bringing new >residents to the area could be good financially and socially to Port Arthur. We want to try and bring people back to the downtown core.”

“ This is a complex project. In essence we have taken away everything but the brick and exterior frame.We have also left the historic facade >on the Bay Street side but are redoing the east side entrance facing Algoma. It was a mishmash of various renovations so we are trying to add something contemporary but also add to the heritage look.We also will clean up the parking lot and improve the whole lot.”says McKinnon.

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There will be 16 units in the property- 2 commercial and 14 residential. At this point they anticipate some sales and some rentals. In the next week or so the McKinnon team are going to start listing some units and see what the market demand is and what people are looking for. The citizens of Thunder Bay will tell us what they need notes McKinnon.

The Finnish Labour Temple will become 27,000 square feet in size with an addition of about 4,000 to 5,000 square feet.They are adding extra living space up in third storey, which was the attic space, and increasing the size of the east side entrance going up two stories. So they have the original envelope of the building and are adding to it.

There will also be the original Hoito Restaurant and Embassy Bar. The future of the Embassy Bar they are not sure of yet as it will depend on whether there is a higher or better use for the space.

The apartment units will be well finished with nice kitchens with Quartz counters tops, well equipped bathrooms, bedrooms all able to accommodate a queen or king bed with night stands, nice open hallways >with 10 foot plus ceilings and good trim detail.The size of the units will range from low 800’s square feet to almost 1800 square feet. The condos will be in line with the market at the upper end because of the amenities being put into them such as high end flooring, kitchens, spray foam insulation in all the walls and high efficiency hot water boiler heat pumps in every unit which should create low utility bills.

“ We have my own crew guys that work for me and local trades people from Thunder Bay including local electrician’s, plumbers, HVAC, sheet metal, drywall and other various trades,” said Brad. “ The time frame for completion is a quick as possible.We started November 16th, 2020, >took a month off for Christmas, and started up again for 5 months so far. I would say by the end of this year we should have the first floor finished and people moving in. Early 2022 we will finish the >second and third floors with an anticipated delivery date to the people >of Thunder Bay- so the main floor this year and the second and third floors by first and second quarters of 2022.”Mckinnon recently purchased the old Kivela Bakery building which fronts onto Secord street and shares a laneway with the Finnish Labour Temple. There will be three phases of the overall project with the Finnish Labour Temple. Phase 2 will be a 9 unit building facing Algoma Street and Phase 3 will be a 14 unit building facing Secord Street, both brand new 3 story buildings with excellent views.

Brad anticipates just the Finnish Labour Temple building renovation investment alone to be $ 3.5 to $ 4 million dollars.

“ We aren’t setting an actual date of construction of the next two buildings yet. I would like to start this year but the high cost of materials make it difficult.We aas 350%compared to last year. The cost of a 7/16 exterior sheeting for example is $50 now versus $12 last year.The high prices make it difficult for developers. We are in an inflationary period right now.” notes McKinnon. I have talked to other business owners in the neighbour and the reaction has been excellent.”“ There is an active real estate market in Thunder Bay right now. We have seen people leaving Toronto for other cities because they can work from home now. They come to Thunder Bay because you have great people and a great location. If you like the outdoors it is a phenomenal place to live and also very accessible with air travel. It may take as much time to travel by car through Toronto in traffic as it does to fly here.” says Brad.“ I think Thunder Bay and NW Ontario is an up and coming area. It is becoming trendy and a place where Southern Ontario people are looking to move to retire.”

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We asked Matthew Mills who is leading the project at Form Studio some
questions on the project.
This is a very interesting transformation of the historic Finnish Labour Temple.
This is a very exciting project, one which will transform the historic building into a new stage of its life while maintaining its ties to its rich history and keeping its iconic restaurant.
 
How has the design process gone converting and updating the space to include 14 residential units?
It’s been an enjoyable design process, with a client who has a great vision for the future of the building and who cares about the historical importance of the building and its ties to the history of the City and the local finish culture and heritage that it represents.
 
Has there been any challenges along the way?
There are always design challenges in historic buildings. Incorporating new construction processes without compromising the historical context and value of a building can be challenging. We look for innovative solutions to maintain the original look and feel of the building while giving it new life and meeting current building standards.
How will the new look of this project fit into the Bay and Algoma neighbourhood?
The greatest thing about this project is that the look of the building will remain relatively the same, preserving its strong historical connections within the Bay and Algoma community.
 
There are plans to include two new residential structures as well. How will that affect the overall nature of the project?
There are currently vacant lots within the Bay/Algoma area and the introduction of new residential structures will assist in the urban infill of the area and complement the existing ambiance. We really feel like this will add to the overall project, creating a more vibrant, safe, and active community.


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