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Fire ravages Thunder Bay's historic Finnish Labour Temple


An overnight fire has ravaged one of the most recognizable and historic buildings in Thunder Bay, Ont., fire officials said Thursday.  

The city's fire chief said the blaze that started Wednesday night in the Finnish Labour Temple has severely damaged the building's second and third floors as well as its roof, while the water used to put out the flames drained through to its basement. 

Greg Hankkio said the status of the century-old structure is uncertain as crews continue to fight smouldering hot spots in some parts of the building.

"How much damage and the structural usability cannot yet be assessed," he said in a statement. 

"Due to the construction type, this remains an active scene."

Hankkio said an investigation into what caused the fire will start as soon the building is determined to be safe.  The Office of the Fire Marshal has been called in, he said.

No one was injured in the fire, Thunder Bay Fire Rescue said.

Fire officials said crews arrived at the building around 7 p.m. and found thick smoke coming from the third floor and roof.

They said firefighters entered the building, but were pushed out as the fire worsened.

Mayor Bill Mauro said the building is one of Thunder Bay's most important historical landmarks and has been a community hub for more than a century. 

"This beautiful, internationally recognized building, was designated as a national historic site in 2015 and was originally built in 1909," he said. 

"This tragedy will be felt by the entire community, as well as nationally and internationally for many years to come."

The building was built between 1909 and 1910 to serve as a hall for two Finnish labour organizations.

"It played an important social and community role for Finnish immigrants, making available a range of social services and mutual aid, housing newspaper offices, and operating a reading room, library and the Hoito, a cooperative restaurant established in 1918," the federal heritage designation directory reads. 

"Its spacious auditorium hosted a vibrant mix of theatrical productions, concerts, dances, sporting events and festivals, thus contributing to the expression and later the preservation of Finnish cultural traditions throughout Canada." 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a tweet he is very sad to hear about the fire and that his thoughts "go out to all of those affected."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was heartbroken to hear about the fire while Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said he is very sorry to see the building on fire. 

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the building is an important piece of northern Ontario history. 

"It breaks my heart," he said in a tweet. "There is so much cultural, progressive and community history tied up in this place."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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