Built in 1912, the Donald Street Police Station and Court House was erected out of need. The Fort William Police Department was conducting their court sessions informally due to the inadequate space of their previous station. The Donald Street Station offered the Department lots of space. The building has three stories and a basement, creating enough space to house a courtroom, separate cell blocks for men, women, and juveniles, offices for law clerks and magistrates as well as a public hall for meetings. After 83 years of use by the Fort William Police Department, and later the Thunder Bay Police Department the Police Department moved to a new location to accommodate the expanding police force in Thunder Bay. The building was then converted into the Thunder Bay Museum in 1995. The Museum, which had for decades confronted problems with spacing at its numerous different locations, finally found a permanent home at 425 Donald Street in the old police station.
Built in 1912 the building is a combined courthouse and police station designed by R. E. Mason and constructed by Mr. Michael Braden. The Donald Street Police Station is a three-storey building and is an example of the Edwardian Classical style of architecture. This style of architecture flourished in the earliest years of the 20th Century until WWI and corresponds to the reign of Britain’s King Edward VII.
A wide flight of curving stone stairs surrounded by a solid, stepped stone parapet leads to an imposing portico. Subdivided into three sections, the central portion of the facade is recessed and framed by two massive columns. The free-standing columns rise stories and are accented by two pilasters that are attached to the facade wall on both sides of the entrance. The placement of these pilasters gives the impression that there are four columns instead of two, creating an interesting optical illusion.
The columns support a massive moulded architrave which extends across the facade, and over the entrance was a pediment with a bull’s eye window. The facade is rusticated stone up to the 2nd floor and the remainder of the facade is faced with Milton brick. Although the windows of the upper portion of the facade have been altered, the stone sills and lintels remain intact.
History of Thunder Bay Historical Society
The Thunder Bay Historical Society, which had its beginnings in 1908, was founded by Peter McKellar and received 100 dollars per year in funding from the Government of Ontario in 1910 . This funding proved to be enough to produce annual reports, which have given invaluable insight into the state of Port Arthur and Fort William during these early years. Unfortunately, the funding was discontinued after 1928 and a corresponding gap in annual reports resulted. Only two « bulletins » and one centennial issue (in 1967) were published in the following decades.
The Society suffered along with the rest of the area during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Membership dwindled to only eight, although those that remained were determined to keep the Society alive. Emerging from hard times, the Historical Society was revived with an invitation from the Minnesota Historical Society to participate in the La Verendrye Bicentennial celebration at Grand Portage. This spurred a ‘new phase,’ and forty members enrolled with the Society.
Despite the growing interest, the Society was without an established location. Meetings were held in the homes of the members, and by the mid 1930’s it became apparent that a space would be needed to house the artifacts being donated to the Society. In 1942 the former smoking room of the Brodie Street Library became available and was utilised by the Thunder Bay Historical Society as a Museum. Within a few short years, however, space was becoming too cramped for the expanding exhibits of the Museum but plans to acquire a larger structure failed. In 1957, the Library built an addition which proved to be adequate accommodation for the Museum for almost a decade.
The Thunder Bay Museum was forced to move in 1972, and it found a new home in a former registry office. Once again, the Museum outgrew this spatial arrangement and undertook a major campaign in 1995 to acquire and renovate the old police station at 425 Donald Street. The major exhibits of the Museum, which opened in 1997, have ample space as additions have been made to the already fair-sized structure.