Thunderbay (Canada) Prince Arthur Hotel

By: Kriss Hammond

Although Thunder Bay is no longer the main grain shipping port for the interior hinterlands of Ontario and the prairie provinces, the world’s largest grain elevators still stand as testament to the power of agriculture, with wheat, oats, and barley freighted across Lake Superior by mammoth ships and around the world.

Thunder Bay is a relatively new city in Canada, built on the namesake of Port Arthur and Port William, merging together as one cosmopolitan unit in the 1970s. The city now is a tourism draw and a center for small business and light industry. They even have their own Casino, a charity casino with the profits shifted to the national government. The Casino offers slots and table games of Blackjack, Caribbean Stud Poker, Let It Ride, Spanish 21, Texas Hold 'Em, and Roulette.

The most historic place to hang your hat while in town is the Prince Arthur Hotel, which was originally conceived in a 1908 poker game. While traveling to Winnipeg and back, John James Carrick, the mayor of Port Arthur, and Sir William Mackenzie, the president of the Canadian Northern Railway, together with Sir Donald Mann, were playing poker in Sir William’s and Sir Donald’s private rail car. In the small hours of the morning J. J. told Sir William that Port Arthur needed a good hotel and that the C.N.R. should build one. Without any authority from the city council, J.J. added that the town had an ideal location for the hotel (the existing site overlooking the waterfront) and was prepared to turn it over to the C.N.R. When Sir William showed an interest J. J. said that the hotel would cost about a quarter of a million dollars to build. Sir William agreed.

The following year (after the city council had agreed to the proposal and passed the necessary by-law), construction began on a four story hotel under the architectural supervision of Warren and Wetmore of New York City. To quote from Mr. J. D. Matheson of the firm, “The probability is that the entire exterior of the magnificent building will be of Simpson Isle or Isle Royal sandstone." The hotel was open for travelers on March 14, 1911, and was one of the best furnished and appointed hotels on the North American continent.

The hotel even had hot and cold running water! (Rates were $1.50 without bath and $2.00 with bath per day.) In April 1912, an addition was started and completed in 1914. The hotel cost more than the original estimate envisioned by J. J., coming in at about $850,000. The two story rotunda still exists. The original bedrooms were twenty feet long with an outside living room. The first three floors still are decked with the original mahogany, with the upper floors hewn weathered oak. The original dining room wass approached from the rotunda by way of a marble staircase. Now the Portside Restaurant is the hotel's major dining area.

Located in the "Heart of the Heart" of downtown Thunder Bay, on the corner of Red River Road and Cumberland Street, the Prince Arthur Hotel is the only full service waterfront hotel in town. Over the last two years the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel and Suites has invested over 2.5 million Canadian dollars for renovations and upgrades to the property, including wireless high speed internet access to all it guest rooms and conference rooms, according to Brandi Burns, hotel manager.

The hotel is still a sentinel for business conferences and banquets because of its prime location. I stayed in one of the Superior Lakeside rooms with a Jacuzzi and a superior view of Marina Park in the foreground and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in the distance. Sun streams through the clouds reflecting off the largest of the Great Lakes, and with such a breezy day I should have been out on the water sailing. I walk along the boardwalk circumnavigating the marina and I vow to return for the summer regatta racing season.

Legend of the Sleeping Giant —

Looking East across the shores of Lake Superior it requires little imagination to see the form of a sleeping body — a giant, arms folded across a massive chest as if in a deep sleep. Outside Thunder Bay, on Isle Royal , a tribe of Ojibway natives kept a loyalty to their Gods and industrious mode of living. Nanabijou, the spirit of the deep sea water, rewarded them with silver mines, but if the mines were ever revealed to the white man then the Nanabijou would be turned to stone and cover the silver mines. The Ojibway became famous for their beautiful silver ornaments, and when upon seeing them, the Sioux strove to wrest the secret from them. The Ojibway never divulged the secret of the mines, so their Sioux enemies devised a cunning plan. When a scout entered an Ojibway powwow disguised as one of them, he succeeded in learning the secret of the silver. The scout found the silver and stopped at a white settlement to trade silver for food, and the word was out to the white man. The Great Spirit lay down across what was once a bay and the Sleeping Giant has been guarding the Ojibway silver mines ever since. A warning fulfilled.

The Prince Arthur hotel is nearby the original train station that serves as the HQ now for fine dining restaurants that were unfortunately closed the day I was visiting. But the city is a melting pot of Italian, Chinese, Greek and French cuisine, and even Finnish fine food. Of course there are the steakhouses, because this is after all an agricultural center filled with mom and pop hometown cafés. One of the more popular lunch crowd pleasers near the hotel is Gargoyles, filled with grotesque statues, begging for a bite of my salad and my hosts' sandwiches. A blues bar is located just across the street from the hotel, and in fact, one of the most vibrant blues festivals is held at the Marina Park every July. The town even has a fringe theater festival where performance art rules and I am certain Prince Arthur Hotel is one of the venues. There is no better spot to watch the Canada Day fireworks blasted off at Marina Park than a lakeside room.

Other services that prop up the local economy are antique shops, photography and art galleries and studios, computer services, and a large health care hospital complex. The hotel touts itself as “The Heart of the Heart," and it is certainly trueBusiness Management Articles, because I met a computer programmer who was staying in the hotel while installing a new system at the regional hospital a few blocks away.

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