The new Thunder Bay City Council that will be elected in October of 2018 will have a number of economic and social challenges on its plate but there is one item that should be a source for celebration. The year 2020 will mark the 50th year of the amalgamation of the twin cities of Port Arthur and Fort William and the rural townships of Neebing and McIntyre to form Thunder Bay. The urban history of the Lakehead communities actually goes back to the late nineteenth century and both Port Arthur and Fort William obtained city status in the first decade of the twentieth century as the great boom drove their urban growth and development.
I always thought it was somewhat of a shame that not more effort was made to celebrate the centennials of the twin cities circa 2006-07 but I suspect the history of urban rivalry between the two cities was such that no one really wanted to deal with it. However, we now have an opportunity to celebrate amalgamation and I think it should go beyond simply a number of commemorative events and the publication of self-congratulatory histories. I think an effort should be made to leave behind something concrete that adds to the city’s environment and is a legacy for the future.
As a result of its urban history of being two separate cities, Thunder Bay has always lacked a more centrally located focal point that could serve as a gathering place for the public to celebrate events. Many cities around the world often have public squares or sites that can serve as gathering points for celebrations and events and that act as emblems for the city. Think of Trafalgar Square in London, for example or Washington Square or Times Square in New York or the iconic four columns in Barcelona.
We of course cannot reproduce these types of landmarks nor should we but I think as a city we can take the step of creating a public space that celebrates the creation of Thunder Bay as well as points the way to a future that includes all its residents. Somewhere in the Intercity area, preferably close to the banks of the McIntyre River – the old boundary between Port Arthur and Fort William – we should consider putting into place what I would like to call Unity Circle. It would be a celebration of amalgamation and the bringing together of the twin cities to form Thunder Bay and would also look towards the future by including First Nations.
Unity Circle would be a public space in the Intercity area that would contain a number of columns - I suggest six large columns of identical height arranged in a circle with the columns representing the original four municipalities that came together to form Thunder Bay, the City of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation. At the center of Unity Circle there would be a flame that would burn perpetually. I think a message of unity is very important given the many social challenges that have faced Thunder Bay over the last decade and may help represent a way of moving forward into the future.
So, it is just an idea. The actual piece of land and location is of course one of those details best left to the politicians and administrators and community leaders who make these decisions. The design of the space and a suitable set of commemorative structures is also of course up for discussion and debate. What is most important right now is the concept. The concept of a Unity Circle is something that celebrates our history and looks forwards by leaving the legacy of a substantial central public space that could form the focus of future public community events. I think it is worth consideration.