It has been more than a week since a devastating fire broke out at the historic Finnish Labor Temple in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The fire investigation is ongoing, but community members are already trying to find a way to collect the pieces of the Northwestern Ontario emblem, which also housed the famous Hoito restaurant.
“You know the building was like a part of my family. It was like a kid of mine and now it’s gone, you know, so, I mean, it was really tough,” said Brad McKinnon who purchased the building in 2020.
McKinnon said the past week has been a whirlwind of emotions as he tries to sort through the aftermath of the fire. On the night of the fire, he had just arrived in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, when he heard flames going through the building.
He said he turned around and drove eight hours to Thunder Bay. When he arrived around 3 a.m. on December 23, city firefighters were still fighting the blaze.
“It’s a tragedy,” he said. “We are not going to leave the building in this condition. We will be rebuilding it immediately as soon as possible.”
McKinnon said he was determined to revive the building’s most iconic elements, including the Bay Street facade, tower and dome.
On Tuesday, McKinnon waited for the next steps to complete the investigation, process the insurance claim and clean the building to avoid further risk or damage.
“I mean, it’s probably one of the most iconic buildings in Thunder Bay. It was a tourist attraction. It was a sanctuary for the Finnish community,” he said. “It was a symbol of hope, care, generosity and, and off we go. And to let him, you know, to let him go like that would be a crime in itself,” he said.
McKinnon said reconstruction may not take place until spring, but said that in the meantime he hopes to recover an antique scale that was one of the few heritage pieces left in the building, according to Thunder Bay Finlandia Co-op. .
The human scale was at the entrance to the Hoito restaurant for decades. McKinnon hopes to display it in some sort of box outside for people visiting the Bay and Algoma neighborhood to see.
“Just to use that as a symbol of progress and determination, and the restaurant will come back and the building will come back,” he said.
McKinnon’s eagerness to rebuild was good news for Thunder Bay’s Finlandia Co-op, which was set to reopen Hoito Restaurant in June 2022.
The spirit of the building still there
The organization’s interim president, Paula Haapanen, said the board “agrees” and will work to develop a plan for next steps at its first general meeting on January 16.
“Really, our plans haven’t changed. It’s just, I guess the end goal has drifted off a bit,” Haapanen said in an interview with CBC News.
“There have been a lot of expressions of support to go on and you realize that the spirit of the building on many different levels is still there and and people want to see this continue in some form or another. so very encouraging, “she added.
On Wednesday, the fire scene investigation was underway. However, Thunder Bay Fire Rescue has confirmed to CBC News that arson is not an alleged cause of the blaze.
The Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) was called in to participate in the investigation to determine the cause, origin and circumstances of the fire.
The BCI investigation began on December 24 after the blaze was put out by the Thunder Bay Fire Department.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Fire Marshal told CBC News that part of the third floor of the building had collapsed into the second and it was unsafe to enter.