Finnish Labour Temple Fire
by Scott A. Sumner
Unfortunately a major fire on December 22 , 2021 has destroyed the Finnish Labour Temple structure and all the work that developer Brad McKinnon had done over the previous year. We hadjust interviewed Brad in April and had been following his progress over the year.
It has been encouraging to hear that Brad has intentions of rebuilding the structure on the current site including some of it’s unique features.
In our May 2021 issue of Thunder Bay Business we produced a feature on the project which prior to the fire was nearing completion. Here is some of that article from then.
The Finnish Labour Temple had 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 Hoito was an icon in Thunder Bay forever. Many guests from out of town as well as the people of Thunder Bay were frequent visitors to the Hoito and Bay Street area. In my own family I know my sister and her family would always make the Hoito a stop when visiting from Toronto. It is personally very sad for me to see the historic building in such a poor state and I guess slated for demolition.
The famed Hoito restaurant located in the basement of the three storey building opened on May 1st, 1918. 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.
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.
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 waterboiler 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 are seeing the cost of lumber up as much as 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.”
I hope Brad and his team can rebuild the Finnish Labour Temple on the original site with some of the historic features in place.